County Seat Newspaper
of Clare County

Balloonists Early Fair Entertainment


Real photo postcards like this really make you wonder what is going on in this scene! I found this card searching for items to bring attention to the digitization contest to preserve early Marion newspapers.

Obviously, we see a balloon in downtown Marion in what appears to be a street fair. So even though the early Marion newspapers aren’t digitized I started to search the Digital Michigan Newspapers site for answers.

In 1914 there are a lot of ads for fair and street fair that include advertisement for balloon ascension.

In October of 1914 in the Empire Journal a performance is described at the Benzie-Leelanau fair.

“In the centre of the grounds a large platform has been built. About 5 o’clock a big balloon will be sent up with a balloonist performing on a trapeze while the big bag is shooting skyward. Then comes a thriller. A triple parachute drop. After cutting free from the balloon a parachute drop will be made, to be followed by two more before terra firma is reached.”

In June of 1914 several papers report the death of a balloonist including the Clare Sentinel.

“Falling from a balloon 800 feet in the air, Nettie St. Clair was killed at an amusement park Sunday, just before dark. She had made the ascent successfully, and was preparing to drop in a parachute, when she lost her hold and plunged earthward. She was 22 years old, and her home was at Cedar Springs. Her husband, F.F. St. Clair, is now at Muskegon.”

Also, in the Clare Sentinel in their August 14, 1914, issue under Temple items reads, “Several attended the celebration at Marion Aug. 7 and all report a good time.” And presumably balloon accidents.

The July 11, 1884 issue of the Clare County Press reports, “The display of fire works in the evening was quite fair, although it was not quite as good as expected. The balloon ascension was good and was witnessed by a large crowd. Thus passed away one of the best and most enjoyable Fourth, attended by the largest crowd on that day that Clare had ever had.”

In 1919, the balloonist that visit Clare was a veteran of the war. The July 31, 1919, issue of the Clare Sentinel carries an advertisement that reads, “Mr. Coleman has the reputation of making some of the most thrilling flights that were ever made in the army or civilian life. He served with the 32nd division in France and was one of thirteen to come back out of the company.”

The August 26, 1927, issue of the Clare Sentinel reports an unsuccessful balloon ascension but fortunately no one was hurt.

“The balloon ascension was not a success, but it was not the fault of the fireman or the aeronauts. The contract was for a double ascension, and in order to fill a balloon with enough gas to carry two persons, it is necessary to use the trench method of generating gas. This sand trench caved in and the side of the balloon came in contact with the stack and a large hold was burned in the canvass, with the result that not enough gas was generated to lift the great bag into the air. However, one of the St. Clair sisters did attempt the ascension and barely missed the high-tension electric wires, and the balloon went about thirty feet high and then slowly settled to the earth.”

Balloon ascension is just one of the many interesting entertainments you can find in old newspapers. Others include local “baby show” (a beautiful baby contest), daylight fireworks, bicycle races, ball throwing and wheel of fortune games, and Vaudeville shows.


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