The Greatest Balloon Voyage Ever Made

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The feeble shimmer of the new moon was now mantling the earth beneath in a mellow light, and the western horizon was painted with gold and purple. Nothing could exceed the solemn grandeur of the scene. All was quiet and still as death; not a word was passing from the lips of the crew; every one seemed to be impressed with the profound silence that hung around us . . . In another moment the stillness was broken. Cattle began to low, and some loud-mouthed dogs greeted our ears with an occasional bark. This seemed to break the silence of the crew, and soon a lively conversation ensued.

As the darkness grew more intense, the great silken globe glowed in the darkness like a Chinese lantern. Its pale, orange-colored brilliance was bright enough for the crew to tell time by their watches, and in its glow every seam and every mesh in the network could be traced upon the balloon’s surface. Seeing this strange light, the travelers were at first frightened, expecting their air bubble to burst into flame. But as they floated on and nothing happened, they decided the illumination was some harmless phenomenon caused by the combination of heat, light, and coal gas.

Again Wise relaxed and wrote in his log book:

The heavens above were brilliantly studded with stars of every magnitude and color, the atmosphere having become perfectly clear; and when we crossed water we had the starry heavens as distinctly visible below as above . . . The forests appeared of a deep brown cast; and when a handful of sand was dropped overboard, at our greatest elevation, it could be distinctly heard raining upon the foliage of the trees. It answered as an index for our altitude, in accordance with the time that elapsed between the discharge of the sand and the noise of its contact with the trees.

 

Soon in the great stillness the chief aeronaut grew drowsy. He checked the position of the hose running into the balloon’s neck—the hose which served as a safety valve for the escape of the gas when the balloon became too distended from the lessening of atmospheric pressure. At the moment, the aeronaut observed, it was just where it should be—hanging over the edge of the car.

Leaning out of his basket, Wise called to the three men suspended in the boat beneath.

“I’m going to take a nap. Keep the ship well up, so we can get a more direct easterly course. Call me if you need me.”

Curling his considerable length in the cramped space of the car, the exhausted balloonist dozed off immediately. Below him in the bout, the three novices decided that the ballon was not sailing high enough and tossed out a liberal amount of ballast.

The huge bag responded instantly by soaring to a height where the atmospheric pressure was definitely diminished. Inevitably as the balloon filled out, its neck grew shorter. Before long the hose was drawn back into the car where it proceeded to discharge its poisonous coal gas into the mouth and nose of the sleeping aeronaut. He slept on, more heavily now.

At 12,000 feet, as measured by their barometer, the three wide-awake balloonists found the skies uncomfortably chilly and wished to come down to the lower air where it was warmer. Gager called up to Wise to yank the valve rope which hung in the car. No answer. Gager called again, then a third and fourth time. The only reply was a frightening silence.

His heart pounding, Gager pulled himself up the ropes to the basket. He found Wise unconscious with his breath coming in convulsive gasps. Jerking the poisonous hose away from the chief aeronaut’s lace, Gager set out to revive him. It was not long before the pure air restored Wise to consciousness.

The rest of the night passed quietly enough. For amusement they “hallooed” at the dogs on the ground. If they unleashed a great noisy canine commotion, they knew they were over a thick settlement. One lonely bark told them they were floating over some “lone log-cabin in the wild woods.” Occasionally, their shouts brought the frightening howl of wolves.

A little before dawn the Atlantic passed Fort Wayne, Indiana. The three in the boat were happy that their journey was going so well, but the veteran Wise observed the cloudless sky and the wind upon which they were riding and didn’t like the look of things.

 

He said nothing to his companions, however, and they sailed above the Maumee River until at 6:45 A.M. they passed out over Lake Erie with Toledo to the west and Sandusky to the southeast of their course. They were now whizzing along at about sixty miles an hour and calculated to reach Buffalo around 11 A.M.