Nov 4, 2011

Balloon Man

Garrett Cashman aloft with his cluster balloons - Life Magazine, September 20, 1954
 In 1954, Life Magazine published the picture shown above with the description, "Fulfilling an old dream, Garrett Cashman, 26, lashed 60 weather balloons to a bicycle wheel and a plywood seat and soared over Albany, N.Y.  At 6,200 feet, the sun's heat began popping his balloons, and he sank gently to earth, to answer charges of flying without a license."

It began on September 9th.  As described by Lawrence Gooley, a purveyor of upstate New York Popular history, "The people of Alba­ny, NY, looked skyward on Sep­tember 9, 1954, not believing what their eyes were seeing.  High above, 26-year old Gar­rett Cashman was fulfilling his childhood dream of soar­ing among the clouds. A grape-like cluster of 60 gas-filled balloons car­ried him slowly, silently, majesti­cally across the sky.  With only a light wind, Cashman stayed aloft for hours, enjoying the sun­shine, the spectacular view, and the exhilaration of achieving his life’s desire.

He rose into the clouds, and then broke free of them at 3,000 feet. When he reached 6,200 feet, the heat of the sun began expanding the bal­loons, causing some of them to burst.

Not a problem for Cash­man, who cut several balloons free, dropping in a controlled descent, and landing near Valatie, 21 miles from his launch point.

… Cashman was immedi­ately arrested by police.

Receiving dozens of re­ports, they had followed his progress down both sides of the Hudson River. He was charged with being an unlicensed pilot and operating an uncertified and unregistered aircraft.  For lack of $100 bail, Cash­man was taken to Albany county jail.

Hundreds had watched his flight as word spread, and both cops and onlookers now marveled at the seem­ingly fragile contraption that had carried Cashman so far. He weighed 140 pounds; the machine weighed 40 pounds; and he carried 30 pounds of sand.

Cashman had been seated on “a piece of ply­wood, 15 inches square, mounted on a spoke-less bicycle wheel swinging beneath two bunches of war surplus rubber bal­loons. Each was six feet across and contained 113 cubic feet of gas.

“An opened parachute was slung between the two clusters, just in case.” What seemed like insan­ity to everyone else was pure heaven to Cashman."

I remember vividly reading about Garrett Cashman in the Schenectady Gazette and the Schenectady Union-Star, our local newspapers.  I romanticized about how exciting it would be to try the same thing.  At age 14, my dreams didn't always coincide with my parents' goals.  I didn't get to go ballooning for many years, and then it was in a hot-air balloon in Mississippi.

In 1957, my friend Roland Racko ran for Vice President of our high school class.  Inspired by Garrett Cashman's ballooning adventures, we decided to float some giant weather balloons over the high school with banners promoting Roland's candidacy.  They did draw attention as we had anticipated and Roland won the election.

In later years, I read of Mr. Cashman's continuing ballooning adventures.  He tried repeatedly to get a balloonist's license and finally succeeded in November of 1954.  He appeared at Daytona's Speed Week in 1955.  He would ascend on a tether to promote business openings.  He would sometimes launch from the site of a carnival or race track and simply fly with the wind.  He reached altitudes of over 19,000 feet hanging beneath his helium or hydrogen filled balloons.  He descended by popping them with a slingshot, knife, or gun.  At one point, he was involved in promoting Ringling Brothers' Circus.  And while all this was happening, he invented things ranging from parachute brakes for downhill skiers to an indoor hickory barbeque broiler.
In 1976, Oscar Barker wrote about Garrett Cashman, Airman Extraordinaire in the Troy Record newspaper, "...that memorable morning when police and newspapers began receiving frantic telephone calls from the public – a man was dangling from a bunch of huge balloons as he floated a few hundred feet above the Capital District…Like a chase scene by the Keystone Cops, police and reporters tracked the strange craft down back roads and through fields...In the giddy months that followed, Cashman became a national news figure. Offers came in for him to perform with his beautiful balloons at fairs and the like….Especially memorable was the way the balloonist maneuvered his craft. He’d pull out a slingshot and, using fish-line sinkers as ammo, would puncture a weather balloon or two to descend somewhat.
They don’t make them like Garrett Cashman any more…which is a shame."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Garrett was a hoot.. he grew up on my street in Albany.. 2 houses a way, with my mother and uncles. His nephew and neice who lived with their mother (Garrett's sister, Janet, and Garrett's Gram were my first playmates. Garrett once bought a surplus sherman tank and plunked it down in his mother's backyard. It became our playground.