At the moment I am writing the third adventure in my Florence Nightingale Comedy Mystery series: The Cheeky Coroner.I determined that young Queen Victoria would have the opportunity to take a hot air balloon excursion—for two reasons: one, because they were all the rage in late 18thand the 19thcenturies AND two, because I love hot air balloons. At one time I took up racing the colorful airborne monsters. Okay…I was just the co-pilot as it takes muscles (things I never have acquired) to open the top of the envelope (balloon) to raise and lower the balloon. It also takes a good bit of steady nerves not to panic as you find yourself over vast expanses of water, quarry pits, and powerlines. Not that Victorians had to worry about powerlines.
You can’t imagine how heavy those balloons are!
Let me begin my post with this little tidbit. It gave me a good chuckle and perhaps the image might tickle you.
The French were the first to throw caution to the wind and begin in earnest to create a balloon, which might carry persons aloft. I will skip most of the technical details and cut to the chase…not the chase but the finish.
An adventuresome fellow named Jacques Charles designed one of the earliest balloons, along with two brothers named Roberts. The team constructed a lightweight, airtight gas bag to hold the hydrogen. They sold subscriptions—an early GO-FUND-ME. The Roberts dissolved rubber in a solution of turpentine, then varnished sheets of stitched together sheets of silk to make the main envelope (balloon.)
The Roberts brothers and Jacques Charles began filling the world’s first hydrogen balloon on the 23rdof August 1783, just outside Paris. The balloon was only about 13 feet in diameter and only able to lift twenty pounds.
Daily progress bulletins were issued on the inflation, as it was a lengthy, touchy process to create the hydrogen. The crowd of interested Parisians became so great that three days later the balloon was moved secretly by night to what is now the site of the Eiffel Tower. On August 27th, the balloon was released; Benjamin Franklin was among the crowd of onlookers.
The balloon flew north for about 45 minutes, followed by chasers on horseback, and landed about 13 miles away in the village of Gonesse where the reportedly terrified local peasants attacked it with pitchforks and knives, destroying it because they didn’t know what it was.
It must be my Wile E Coyote sense of humor or perhaps the memories of the poor panicked cows racing away as our balloon floated over the Georgia and North Carolina pastures, that causes me to chuckle. I wish to publicly apologize to all the farmers whose cows we accidently stampeded and thank them for not stabbing our balloon with pitchforks.
As I write the scenes that place young Queen Victoria in a hot air balloon headed for goodness knows where, I can’t help but imagine how utterly awesome the huge creations must have seemed back then…fire belching hot air bags. (Sounds like a few people I know.)
With love & laughter! May all your balloons rise gently into the sky.