July 4 balloon ascension, 1858

Two balloonists were the talk of Independence Day 1858 in Springfield.

The balloons were a traveling show, piloted by the “celebrated aeronauts … Messrs. White and Brooks,” the Illinois State Journal reported on July 6, 1858.

“An immense crowd congregated … to witness the ascension,” the paper said. The onlookers apparently weren’t discouraged by the tedious, seven-plus-hour process of inflating the balloons. (The paper didn’t say, but the balloons probably used either hydrogen or “town gas” – coal gas – as a lifting agent.)

Brooks’s balloon finally lifted off from a lot adjoining the United States Hotel, which was near Eighth and Adams streets. The Journal was there:

It was half-past six before the balloon was ready, though it was not full of gas, but was sufficient to carry one man; and Mr. Brooks determined not to disappoint the crowd. Accordingly the bags were loosened, Mr. B. stepped into the basket, and away he went, waving his hat, amid the hurrahs of the assembled multitude.

It was a most magnificent ascension. The sky was clear and cloudless. The crowd stood gazing with wonder and delight at the balloon as it rose higher and higher in the heavens, till its solitary passenger appeared but as a speck in the sky.

It’s a good bet that the enraptured spectators included Abraham Lincoln and his family. Thanks again to the Journal, it is known that Lincoln was in town for Independence Day. And on July 5, he participated in a related event, a dinner at the St. Nicholas Hotel honoring the Springfield Pioneer Fire Company. Lincoln delivered a toast:

The Pioneer Fire Company. May they extinguish all the bad flames, but keep the flame of patriotism ever burning brightly in the hearts of the ladies.

”After dark,” the Journal concluded, “there were several exhibitions of fire works creditable and amusing.”

Note: The first sentence of this entry has been edited to delete a reference to “hot air” balloonists, which they probably weren’t. Thanks to Facebook commenter Charles Prokopp.  

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