Vault Balloon.JPG

An advertisement from the June 30, 1906, East Oregonian for a balloonist trapeze act taking part in the annual Fourth of July festivities in Pendleton.

In 1906, in the days before the Pendleton Round-Up, the city's biggest to-do of the year was staged on the Fourth of July. A novel acrobatic act was scheduled for the day-long festivities: a balloonist who performed on a trapeze 1,500 feet in the air and then parachuted to safety on the ground.

The Fourth of July committee pulled out all the stops for the annual event, scheduling a full day of activities for old and young alike. The event began at 7 a.m. with a cannon blast, followed by a parade at 10 a.m. with prizes for the best decorated wheel, best makeup and best sustained character during the parade, and the ugliest float during an afternoon Plug Ugly parade.

Six hours of races and athletic events, dances, and performances by bands from the Pendleton Eagles Lodge, Pilot Rock and Milton ran throughout the day. The local fire department staged hose cart races and other competitions. And a bronco busting contest, held at the city stockyards, boasted $50 prizes for the champion riders.

An illuminated parade featuring members of the fraternal organizations from all over the region also offered prizes of$25 for the lodge with the best float, and $15 for the order having the best showing during the parade.

But one event was a complete bust: the balloon ascension. Aeronaut Paul, as he styled himself, was unable to get his craft off the ground because the balloon would not hold the hot air needed for the ascension.

Paul, describing the balloon as faulty in shape, made a second attempt at his ascension on July 5 after removing 10 feet from the bottom of the craft. Taking off from the O.R. & N. train depot, he climbed aboard his trapeze with the intention of performing his act before a large crowd that had gathered to watch the performance a few minutes after 8 p.m.

In only a few moments, however, it was clear that the balloon again was leaking hot air, as the craft began to droop. As it passed over the railroad's roundhouse the balloonist hit the roof with a thud. At the same time, the ropes hit a guy wire and Paul was forced to let go of his swing. After it had passed over the wire he was unable to catch it again, and the balloon sailed away toward the west end of town, where it landed in the backyard of a house, catching on the chimney as it passed and pulling it down. The balloon crumpled, leaking hot air and smoke out of a tear in the fabric.

The owner of the house, John Van Orsdall, presented a bill to the Fourth of July Committee for $16, to pay for the damage to his chimney. He also retained the balloon in his possession as security for his loss.

On July 15, after securing permission from the Fourth of July Committee to use his confiscated balloon, Aeronaut Paul made another attempt, this time launching from the baseball grounds. The balloon, well filled, rose in the air with Paul swinging from his trapeze for about 50 feet. The craft then began to descend again, and touched down within just a few minutes, to the disappointment of the crowd at the ballfields and the residents watching from the surrounding hills.

Frustrated with his failures to achieve a proper ascent, Aeronaut Paul packed up his bags and left town.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.