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Interesting Æronautic Journal.


May 1861

From The Missouri Democrat, Thursday, May 2, 1861.


Prof. Lowe’s Account of his Ærial Trip From Cincinnati to Columbia, S. C.

April 28th. 1861.

By request of many people in all sections of the country that I have lately traveled, I take this opportunity to give through your columns a statement of the result of my late ærial voyage from this city to the Atlantic coast, which was undertaken for the purpose of giving more information of the air currents, and to test my improvement in constructing air vessels.

My preparations for such a voyage were all completed on Friday, the 19th inst., and as I was to use a comparatively small machine, I had determined to make the voyage alone, and to prevent landing at night, I concluded to sail at an early hour in the morning, thereby having the whole day before me.  Accordingly at 12 0’clock at night the inflation was commenced.  At that hour there was hardly a breath of air stirring, and the moon and stars shone brightly.  Everything being arranged in perfect order, the inflation was not interrupted, and at 3 o’clock A. M. the work was completed; about three quarters of an hour more passed in making attachments, arranging the cordage and adjusting the various instruments, consisting of a fine mercurial barometer for measuring altitudes, a newly invented instrument called the altimetre, for getting latitude and longitude, an excellent telescope and thermometer, and a patent double polar line needle compass.  These being properly adjusted, and having a large quantity of provisions, hot coffee, fruit, &c., with a number of warm blankets contributed by Deland & Gossage, for the purpose of keeping warm in the frosty regions above, and also having on board a large number of the morning papers, just from the press, and a good supply of ballast, and various other things too numerous to mention, the new air ship for the first time was allowed to rise slowly from the earth to the length of the ropes.  Seeing that everything was right, I bid good-bye to the friends who had so generously denied themselves of rest to assist me, and in another moment all connection with earth was cut off, and the “Enterprise,” with her freight, was gracefully mounting upwards to the northwest.  A scene now presented itself which I never before had the pleasure of witnessing, and which any description that I can give would fail to do it justice.

I allude now to the appearance of the city with her thousands of street lights glittering in the pitchy darkness below, the moon had set, and at an elevation above two thousand feet not a thing was visible below, except the lights of the city, each one throwing its rays apparently about ten feet around.

As I rose higher, the squares which at first appeared the usual size, and gave the idea of an immense checker board, became smaller and smaller until they actually appeared like the stars above; the darkness preventing any object from being visible; thus it was easy to imagine that the distance from the lights on the earth were the same as that of the stars, and it seemed as though I were floating among the heavenly bodies.  All was still as death itself; and as I was silently floating over 170,000 sleeping souls, I could but hope for the first time to be near at hand, when each and every one could enjoy the same privilege.

In ten minutes I had attained an altitude of five thousand feet; here I felt a slight wave of the atmosphere and soon my course changed to the north, still ascending; and when at an altitude of 7,000 feet, changed to the east and moving very slowly.  Here the atmosphere was quite frosty, and the thermometer fell from 45º to 15º above zero.  I concluded to remain at this altitude until the rising sun should warm and dry the dew from the balloon, which alone would be sufficient to send me up several thousand feet more.  At four o’clock and fifteen minutes, a grey light appeared in the east, and the city of Cincinnati, with her tiny lights still glittering through the foggy mist was fast fading away on the west north-west horizon, showing that my course was a little south of east.

I will here mention that I have always found that the currents of the atmosphere follow the line of temperature; many years observation on the surface of the earth in different latitudes, also prove this fact; therefore, as there had been a strong cold wind from the North for several days, I was satisfied that the current was more or less affected to an elevation of twelve thousand feet, which was as high as I could go, and remain steadily with the sized vessel I had.  I therefore concluded that the current I was then in, would strike the coast about three degrees south of my starting point, and then after reaching the warm ocean, would bear north again, thus forming one great bend across the ocean, and would strike the coast of France, which is about the same temperature.

At a quarter to 5 o’clock, the light of day was spread over the surface of the earth, and the beautiful farms along the Ohio Valley presented a splendid appearance; the stars had disappeared one by one, and the Day God was fast approaching to take their place.  I was now over the Ohio river, on the Kentucky side and at an elevation of 8,000 feet, the thermometer standing at 13º.  At 5 o’clock and 5 minutes, the sun showed its golden rim above the horizon, and soon shone full upon the huge transparent globe overhead, which was now perfectly distended, and presented a splendid appearance.  In ten minutes more the rays of the sun appeared upon the tops of the hills and tall trees, making long shadows on the earth.  I now looked in the direction of Cincinnati, but it had entirely disappeared.  On looking to the southwestern horizon, I could discern a small village, which has since proved to be Falmouth, Ky., as appeared by the following dispatch:

“FALMOUTH, KY., April 20.—A balloon was seen passing, at high elevation, over Falmouth, going east southeast, at 5:30 this morning.”

The rays of the sun upon the balloon caused me gradually to ascend, and at 7 o’clock the barometer indicated an elevation of 11,000 feet.  At this height, my appetite being rather sharp, I partook of a hearty breakfast, after which I took my glass, for the purpose of hunting out objects of interest, and by the aid of which I could discern high peaks of mountains on the eastern horizon, also to the northeast and southeast.  At a quarter-past 3 o’clock [sic, more probably 8] was passing over a hilly section of country, and fast approaching tall mountains.  I was now south of the Ohio river, and could not discern it even with a telescope.  I now concluded that the course I was pursuing would take me to the Chesapeake Bay, considerably south of Washington, as that city was due east of Cincinnati, and I was moving east northeast.  At 9 o’clock I was passing over the northern range of the Cumberland Mountains, and here my course changed to southeast.  Below, and for miles around, was a barren wilderness, but at some distance ahead I could see occasionally a farm house.  Being desirous of ascertaining with more certainty my exact whereabouts, I let off gas, and gradually descended to within a short distance of the earth, with the hope of seeing some one to inquire of.  As I passed along here, I found a strong current blowing directly to the south.  Seeing some persons at work in a field, I descended near to them, and asked, “What State is this?”  The men, without answering, looked in all directions but upwards, and fearing that I should miss them, I again sang out at the top of my voice, when the reply came, “Virginia”—they still looking to a cluster of bushes, from whence probably came the echo.  I then asked what county, and threw out some sand to clear the tops of some tall trees.  This struck the ground with a spatter and caused them to look up, and instead of answering the question a yell of horror arose from them, and if the fleetness of foot is any indication of fright they must have been terribly frightened.

I was now mounting upwards but still in the influence of the southerly current and by the course I had taken I concluded I was near the township of Jeffersonville.  At fifteen minutes to 10 o’clock, I crossed the Alleghanies [sic], going but a trifle east of south.  Aboout [sic] seventy-five miles ahead was the Blue Ridge mountains, extending both north and south as far as the eye could see, and seemed to obstruct my passage in that direction.  When about half way between these two ranges of mountains, I found a very deep current moving south.  Here I could have discharged ballast and arisen out of the influence of the mountains, but I knew the country was rough and there was but little communication for hundreds of miles around, and to ascend high enough to reach the eastern current would require nearly all the ballast I had, and by so doing I might be obliged to descend on the other side far from a railroad—so I thought it best to sail down the side of the mountains and come out over the lowest points.  Looking to the south southeast I could distinctly see the highest peaks of the Blue Ridge mountains, which I knew divided North and South Carolina.

Feeling uneasy, lest I should get into South Carolina before I could get out of the current formed by the mountains, I discharged a quantity of ballast and again ascended, with the hope of clearing them to the north; but as I neared them I again glanced off to the south, until near the highest peaks, when, being determined to test the reliability of the upper current, in that unfavorable spot, I immediately discharged 60 lbs. of ballast, and in ten minutes my elevation was 15,000 feet, with gas rapidly discharging from the upper and lower valves, and then I continued to discharge weight and let off gas until I attained an elevation of 22,500 feet above the level of the sea.  Here, the thermometer fell to 10º below zero; the water, fruit, and other things froze, and it required all the clothing and blankets I had to keep me warm.  But I had gained one victory—I had cleared the mountains, whose tops were covered with snow, and was rapidly moving to the east.  It was now 12 0’clock, and I could distinguish the blue ocean in the eastern horizon.  Not having sufficient ballast to remain at that great altitude, the balloon gradually sank down to within 12,000 feet of the earth.

Here, the current was a little south of east again, and knowing that the coast in that direction was an uninhabited swamp, and being desirous of landing near a railroad, I concluded to descend and look out for a good place.  I heard the firing of cannon, and concluded I was near some village; and on nearing the earth, just over a plantation, caused great consternation among the inhabitants, who seemed to be entirely unacquainted with such a science, and it was some minutes before any one could be persuaded to approach, and when they did they would not render me any assistance, but threatened destruction of the “hellish” contrivance that had frightened them so, but I learned of them that I was in the township of Spartansburg, near the line of North and South Carolina.  They would not believe that I had sailed from the State of Ohio that morning, and informed me, that they would be very thankful if I would leave, and ordered the negroes to let go of the ropes they were holding.  Being desirous of getting near a railroad, I threw out a bag of sand and commenced to ascend, at that moment one of the bystanders seeing the bag of sand fall, sang out, “Hello, stranger, come back, I reckon you have lost your baggage.”

I now arose 7,000 feet and there remained until I was wafted some twenty miles farther to the east, which occupied about half an hour more, during which occupied about half an hour more, during which time I heard discharges of what I took to be muskets.  Not knowing, but being apprehensive that the globe over my head was the object of firing, I prepared for making all the signals possible when I should again near the earth, but while I was thus elevated I had no fear, for it was impossible to send a ball within a mile of me.  Having several yards of red silk in my car, I tied it to the edge, and let it hang down; by descending this would keep in motion and give the whole concern a more lifelike appearance.  Thus prepared, with hat in one hand ready to wave and valve rope in the other, I commenced a gradual descent.  When within a half a mile of the earth I heard loud cries of terror, and saw people running in all directions; but I was determined to land for good this time, let come what would, and in five minutes more the anchor took a firm hold in a short scrub oak, and the car gently swinging to and fro, presented a very lifelike appearance.  I soon noticed some heads peeping around the corner of a log hut that stood near by, and in which there seemed to be persons in great distress.  I called to them to come and assist me, at which they took no notice until I threatened to cut loose and run over them, after which two white boys, three old ladies and three negroes, in a body, ventured within twenty feet of me.  At that moment a gust of wind caused the balloon to swing over near the ground, and a general stampede took place, which caused me to abandon all hope of getting any assistance; but after telling them it was fastened to a tree and would not hurt them, they again ventured up, in company with a stalwart looking young woman, six feet high and well proportioned, and took hold of the edge of the car.  I inquired what was the matter in the house, and was told that several old persons were praying, as they thought the day of judgment had come.  I then asked if there were any white men about.  They said they expected them every minute; that they saw the great thing coming, and had run for their guns.  This was rather an unpleasant piece of information, and I was determined to keep as large a crowd around me as possible.  In a few minutes, men with muskets began to collect, but seeing women, children and negroes surrounding the air traveler, there seemed to be no use for firearms; so I discharged the gas unmolested, and packed up the machine ready to leave.  By this time several more rough-looking fellows arrived, and threatened destruction to the “devil” that could travel through the air; one adding that he had followed it ten miles and had shot at it six times without any effect.

The tall young woman aforesaid assured me there was no danger, for all the men then in the neighborhood were cowards, as all the brave ones had gone to the wars, notwithstanding they all declared they were not afraid; however, promising to give myself up when I arrived at the village, they consented that I should leave under a guard of nine armed men.  Procuring a team we started for Unionville, a village nine miles distant and arrived that evening, halting in front of a stone building with a small checkered window.  A council was then held with the jailor, who positively refused to allow any such animal as they described to come into the building; I was then taken to a hotel; and soon found persons of intelligence, who assured me that I was among friends.  Here I remained over the Sabbath, and was called upon by many persons of fine education, who informed me that of all the places in the South the spot where I landed the inhabitants were the most ignorant, for they could neither read nor write.

I asked for a certificate showing my time of landing, and was furnished with the following:


The citizens of Unionville received a visit from Professor T. S. C. Lowe, who arrived near this place on yesterday, at one o’clock, P. M., in his beautiful balloon the “Enterprise,” having ascended from the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, a little before four o’clock, A. M., making the passage in nine hours.  Mr. Lowe presented to several gentlemen the papers of Cincinnati of the same morning, which is certainly the next thing to the telegraph.  Mr. Lowe made his quarters at the hotel of Messrs. Fant and Powell, who extended every attention and courtesy to the adventurous gentleman.  Throughout the day he received the calls of our citizens generally, who were no less social and kind, than they were surprised.
P. M. WALLACE, Editor.       JOSEPH FANT, Sheriff.
JESSE LAMB, M. D.              A. POWELL.

April 21st, 1861.

The next morning I started en route for home, but news had reached Columbia, the Capital of South Carolina, that a man had brought papers from Cincinnati, Ohio, only nine hours old, I was therefore first arrested on suspicion of being a bearer of dispatches.  This brought together a number of learned and scientific gentlemen, who at once knew me by reputation, and saw my position, and I was immediately released, and furnished with a passport by the Mayor of Columbia.  From this time until I reached Cincinnati, no more impediments were placed in my way, but on the other hand, all with whom I met, strove to render me all the assistance in their power.  To Dr. John H. Boatwright, Mayor of Columbia; Andrew Lee, Esq., Adams Express agent, and E. C. Whittington, of the Daily South Carolinian, I am particularly indebted for personal favors.

Ere concluding this hasty narrative, a word or two is required concerning the success of the experiment, for which I will say that had my Air Ship been of ten thousand feet more capacity, which would have enabled me to sail a mile higher, I could have landed on the sea coast, in a due east direction from my starting point in less than six hours.  As it was, I was taken out of my course by the influence of the mountains and the local currents, over which, with my small machine, carrying heavy instruments, &c., I had no control, landing, by the course I traveled, about 1,200 miles in nine hours, which required five days and nights steady railroading to get home again.

From the experience I have gathered, I am convinced that to travel in the eastward current requires twice the altitude over land that it does on the coast and over the ocean, and when I consider that the local currents on the earth were during the whole day moving to the southwest, and with a machine of only one-eighteenth part the capacity of the one I have prepared to cross the ocean, and traveling the distance I did, and nearly east the most of the time, I can safely conclude that with my machine and its appliances it is an easy matter to cross the Atlantic in less than two days.

Previous to my return to Philadelphia to prosecute my plan, and by request of many citizens, I shall make one more experimental voyage, starting in the daytime, giving the public an opportunity of witnessing the departure, on which occasion I intend taking several passengers.