Wonderful Balloon Ascents/Part 1/Chapter 5
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Part 1, Chapter 5: Second Experiment.
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(Charles's Balloon, Paris, Champ de Mars, 27th of August, 1783.)
CHARLES'S BALLOON ON ITS WAY TO THE CHAMP DE MARS.
THE ASCENT OF CHARLES'S BALLOON FROM THE CHAMP DE MARS.
The thing thus arranged, a subscription was opened. The projected experiment having been talked of all over Paris, every one was struck with the idea, and subscriptions poured in. Even the most illustrious names are to be found in the list, which may be called the first national subscription in France. Nothing had been written of the forthcoming event in any public paper, yet all Paris seemed to flock to contribute to the curious experiment.
The inflation with hydrogen was effected in a very curious manner. As much as 1,125 lbs. of iron and 560 lbs. of sulphuric acid were found necessary to inflate a balloon which had scarcely a lifting power of 22 lbs., and the process of filling took no less than four hours. At length, however, at the end of the fourth hour, the balloon, composed of strips of silk, coated with varnish, floated, two-thirds full, from the workshop of the brothers Robert.
On the morning of the 26th of August, the day before the ascent was to be made, the balloon was visited at daybreak, and found to be in a promising state. At two o'clock on the following morning its constructors began to make preparations to transport it to the Champ de Mars, from which place it was to be let loose. Skilled workmen were employed in its removal, and every precaution was taken that the gas with which it was charged should not be allowed to escape. In the meantime the excitement of the people about this wonderful structure was rising to the highest pitch. The wagon on which it was placed for removal was surrounded on all sides by eager multitudes, and the night-patrols, both of horse and foot, which were set to guard the avenues leading to where it lay, were quite unable to stem the tide of human beings that poured along to get a glimpse of it.
The conveyance of the balloon to the Champ de Mars was a most singular spectacle. A vanguard, with lighted torches, preceded it; it was surrounded by special attendants, and was followed by detachments of night-patrols on foot and mounted. The size and shape of this structure, which was escorted with such pomp and precaution—the silence that prevailed—the unearthly hour, all helped to give an air of mystery to the proceedings. At last, having passed through the principal thoroughfares, it arrived at the Champ de Mars, where it was placed in an enclosure prepared for its reception.
When the dawn came, and the balloon had been fixed in its place by cords, attached around its middle and fixed to iron rings planted in the earth, the final process of inflation began.The Champ de Mars was guarded by troops, and the avenues were also guarded on all sides. As the day wore on an immense crowd covered the open space, and every advantageous spot in the neighborhood was crowded with people. At five o'clock the report of a cannon announced to the multitudes, and to scientific men who were posted on elevations to make observations of the great event, that the grand moment had come. The cords were withdrawn, and, to the vast delight and wonder of the crowd assembled, the balloon shot up with such rapidity that in two minutes it had ascended 488 fathoms. At this height it was lost in a cloud for an instant, and, reappearing, rose to a great height, and was again lost in higher clouds. The ascent was a
THE DESTRUCTION OF CHARLES'S BALLOON.
This balloon was 12 feet in diameter, 38 feet in circumference, and had a capacity of 943 cubic feet. The weight of the materials of which it was constructed was 25 lbs., and the force of ascension was that of 35 lbs.
The fall of the balloon was caused by the expansion and consequent explosion of the hydrogen gas. This event took place some distance out in the country, close to a number of peasants, whose terror at the sight and the sound of this strange monster from the skies was beyond description. The people assembled, and two monks having told them that the burst balloon was the hide of a monstrous animal, they immediately began to assail it vigorously with stones, flails, and pitchforks. The curé of the parish was obliged to walk up to the balloon to reassure his terrified flock. They finally attached the burst envelope to a horse's tail, and dragged it far across the fields.
Many drawings and engravings of the period represent the peasants armed with pitchforks, flails, and scythes, assailing it, a dog snapping at it, a garde-champêtre firing at it, a fat priest preaching at it, and a troop of young people throwing stones at the unfortunate machine.
The news of this fiasco came to Paris, but too late. When search was made for the covering, scarcely a fragment could be found.
A somewhat humorous result of all this was the issue of a communication from government to the people, entitled, "Warning to the People on kidnapping Air-balloons." This document, duly signed and approved of, describes the ascents at Annonay and at Paris, explains the nature and the causes of the phenomena, and warns the people not to be alarmed when they see something like a "black moon" in the sky, nor to give way to fear, as the seeming monster is nothing more than a bag of silk filled with gas.
This first ascent in Paris was an important event. Every one, from the smallest to the greatest, was deeply interested in it, while to the man of science it was one of the most exciting of incidents. For the purpose of observing the altitude to which the balloon rose, and the course it took, Le Gentil was on the observatory, Prevost was on one of the towers of Notre Dame, Jeaurat was on La Place Louis XV., and d'Agelet was on the Champ de Mars. It was only Lalande that frowned as he witnessed the success of the experiment. He had predicted the year before that air-navigation was impossible.