Tales of My Home
Stories about the Lower Merrimack Valley region of Massachusetts
#52Ancestors Challenge, Week 4: My great great grandfather's balloon accident, 1896
Above: Photo of "Lady Parachutist" and Eugene McCarthy, caught in the lines of a hot air balloon and carried aloft at a country fair, Waitsfield Vermont, September 1896
In September 1896, Eugene McCarthy [often spelled McCarty], dairy farmer in Waitsfield Vermont took an involuntary hot air balloon ride that was captured on film. According to the "History of Waitsfield Vermont 1789-2000" by Richard M. Bisbee, "It seems, in 1896, Gene McCarty went to the fair with four of his six children. He became a volunteer with the balloon launching. In the process, as the balloon began to rise, Gene McCarty got tangled in the line and grabbed the ropes above and soon found himself 3,000 feet in the air, but he hung on. 'Far over Bald Mountain he surveyed the scenery which showed the Montreal mountains, the White peaks in New Hampshire, the whole sweep of Vermont…….' Finally the hot smoky air in the balloon bag cooled and began to descend taking him 'half a mile from the park behind a clump of trees in Fayston Valley.' Gene McCarty started walking immediately back to the Fair grounds, gathered up his children and drove the horse and wagon home." (the quotes in this excerpt are from a 1964 article about the incident in the Burlington Free Press newspaper)
The photo above is in my family. According to the note written on the back by Gene McCarthy's niece, "he caught his foot in a rope as the balloon started up with lady parachutist. He landed safely while his family was frantic at his experience. He died about two years later of pneumonia." Family legend is that the trauma of the experience weakened him so that he died a few years later, in 1899, at age 45.
Upon the death of the man of the house, his wife and younger kids, including my great grandfather Florence, sold the farm and moved to the mill town of Lawrence, Mass. According to family history, the last straw that caused the family to give up the farm and move to Lawrence was the barn burning down.
Below: Reverse side of photo including note
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