Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: October 1993 Volume 31 Number 4, Pages 161–163

When a Balloon Landed in Berwyn

Elizabeth Goshorn

Page 161

It was at about twilight on August 14th, 1980. I had just started the noisy dishwasher, and then bumped a big metal serving spoon off its hook. It fell to the kitchen floor with a clatter. My husband called, "What's that noise?"

When I started to explain what had happened, he said, "No, no! What is that roar?" Sure enough, through the open window came a most peculiar sound -- like the growling of a very big, but not very angry, bear.

In a few seconds we heard it again. "Well, come on! Let's go see," I said, and rushed out to the road in front of the house. We looked eastward, right down the railroad tracks, and there hung a huge, yellow, orange and green hot-air balloon! It was large enough to support three people in the basket below it. Centered between the trees to the north and the trees to the south, it was going at a fast pace (at least for a balloon) towards Philadelphia.

Our neighbors, large and small, were also out on the road, gazing up at it, as it floated quite majestically.

"Hurry! Don't just stand there! Go get the MG!" I said. Off Bob went, to get the car to find out more about what was happening. In the meantime our neighbor reported that she had seen the words "Four Winds" in big letters on the balloon as it drifted by.

Page 162

By the time we got around the corner and down to the Pike [Lancaster Avenue] at the Daylesford station, the balloon could no longer be seen, but as we drove towards Berwyn we saw a number of cars parked on the highway near the great sloping lawns of the Devereux School [now "The Highlands" development] on the south side of Route 30, where Berwyn-Paoli Road comes into it. We parked too, and hurried over to the balloon, now collapsed on the green grass. Nearby was a black van, decorated with a picture of a manned balloon and the words "BALLOON CHASE VEHICLE". Already there was a good-sized crowd of people around it, inspecting both the van and the collapsed balloon, and talking excitedly.

A short, neat, but rather nervous-looking man was in the center of the crowd. He smoked his cigarette jerkily, and answered the many eager questions. (When I saw Bob sidling closer and closer to him, with that "gathering in accurate information" look on his face, I thought to myself "That guy doesn't know it, but he'll soon be in print under the heading 'When a Balloon Landed in Berwyn'!")

Then I heard someone say, "It's really his wife's balloon" -- but his wife was nowhere to be seen. Apparently this was the first time that Frank Rainier had tried to fly the balloon himself. He had taken off, with two friends, from the grounds of the Church Farm School in Frazer. Soon he found that the winds from the west were blowing him to the east, along the railroad tracks and Lincoln Highway, so fast that there soon would be no suitable place --a large area of land without buildings or trees or roads -- for him to come down. When he saw the lawn of the Devereux School, he used the burner to control the altitude of the balloon to try to bring it down there. (That was the odd noise we had heard.)

He had just cleared the bordering trees and narrowly missed the power lines, with, fortunately no damage at all to the balloon, as he brought it down. As he neared the ground, he shouted to his friends, "Throw out a rope!", hoping the people below would grab it and bring the balloon to rest. His friends did as he commanded -- but the rope fell into a big pine tree. Luckily, as the balloon continued to travel eastward, the rope was pulled part way out of the tree. The people gathered on the grass below were then able to grab it and hang on and bring the men and their beautiful "sky-boat" to earth.

I heard Rainier say, "The sun was going down. The balloon was going down. Everything was going down!" He seemed mighty relieved that he and his friends had landed safely.

We then watched as a flat blue plastic case, about 20' long, was laid on the ground between the van and the neatly arranged and folded balloon. Then a vacuum apparatus was started by the van, and the balloon was sucked easily and smoothly into the tubing. It was then packed into the van, followed by the basket, and then the big burner used to heat the air to make the balloon rise.

After that some of his friends also jumped into the back of the truck and the rear doors were closed. On each door was a bright pink sticker. One said "HOT AIR IS MY BAG"; the other said "HAVE BALLOON. WILL TRAVEL".

Page 163

He certainly did that night -- faster and farther and in a different direction than he had planned!



I have since learned of another unexpected balloon landing in our area. It also brought much excitement. It happened almost exactly 146 years earlier, on August 15, 1834, when James Mills descended near what is now Strafford, after taking off from Philadelphia in the late afternoon.

As Julius Sasche described it, in his Wayside Inns on Lancaster Turnpike, it was "an incident ... which probably caused more excitement and sensation in the immediate vicinity of Sitersville than had ever been known on any previous occasion within the memory of the oldest inhabitant".

Sasche also included "the bold aeronaut's own description of what took place": "Warned by the increasing obscurity of the world below I began to descend and at six o'clock and twenty reached the earth in a fine green field, near the Spread Eagle, on the Lancaster Turnpike, 16 miles from Philadelphia. As I descended very slowly, two young gentleman and Dr. M , of Philadelphia, came to my assistance, and, laying hold of the car in which I remained towed me about a quarter of a mile to the tavern, where I alighted, balloon and passenger, safe and sound. Before discharging the gas, several ladies got successively into the car and were let up as far as the anchor rope would permit. The gas was [then] let out and the balloon folded. In doing this a cricket was unfortunately included, and having to cut his way out he made the only break in the balloon which occurred on this expedition. Mr. Home [the innkeeper] of the Spread Eagle, treated me with great kindness, and Dr. M politely offered me a conveyance to the city, which I reached at one o'clock this morning."

Apparently James Mills was both a more experienced and a more eloquent balloonist than Frank Rainier.


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