Dirigible pilots had a bit more control
over their gas filled, motorized, cigar-shaped craft than did the hot smoke
balloon aeronaughts who were little more than circus stunt performers. Patrons of the park were willing to pay extra
for special event tickets to watch
dirigible races. One young dirigible
pilot, feeling the need of some publicity, performed a feat that was the talk
of the town for some time after. Here is
his story as it was reported at the time :
“A small dirigible balloon, bearing a
youthful aeronaut, went on a rampage over the lower end of Manhattan and over
into Brooklyn yesterday. After an exciting
journey through the air, in which he bumped up against a chimney or two,
brushed along the sides of a few skyscrapers, and came tumbling into City Hall
Park the young aeronaut and his machine fell into a tree top at Gates and
Nostrand Avenues, Brooklyn, and there he remained until a squad of Brooklyn
firemen arrived and plucked him out.
The young man who went through this
rather eventful experience was Frederick F. Owens, who is employed at Hillside
Park, Belleville, N. J., to make daily ascensions whenever the weather is
suitable. Owens wandered through the air
far out of his bailiwick yesterday, and it nearly cost him his life. Although he had steered his dirigible over
the Jersey meadows and all around the Newark section in the last few weeks,
Manhattan Island was an undiscovered spot for him so far as aerial journeying
Owens decided early yesterday morning
that in view of Hamilton’s record-breaking feat of the day before, he had
better bestir himself and draw a little public attention his way. He called up Mayor Gaynor’s office at City
Hall on the telephone and wanted to know if he would be allowed to alight in
City Hall Park. Robert Adamson, the
Mayor’s secretary, told Owens that he would have to see the Park Commissioner
But Owens was in a hurry. He decided to take a chance on alighting
anyhow, so, climbing on to the stage like structure beneath the sixty-foot bag
of his dirigible balloon, the young aeronaut gave the word to cast loose and
headed his aircraft toward Manhattan.
Rising gradually into the air from Belleville, he skirted over Jersey
City, and borne along by the light northwest wind, quickly crossed the North
River. Near the Manhattan shore he lost
his exhaust pipe, which put one of his cylinders out of commission. He was soon hovering over City Hall Park at a
height of 1,000 feet.
Some one in the park saw him and a shout
went up: “Here comes an airship !” It
brought most of the officials at City Hall hastening to the windows and out
upon the steps. Owens began to circle
slowly above the park, gradually descending.
The news soon spread through the City and County Courts and the park
rapidly filled with men and women, all craning their necks to get a view.
Three times Owens circled the park, and
on the last lap he picked out what appeared to be a likely spot to alight. He stopped his motor, thinking that the
dirigible would drop easily to the ground.
But it was caught in a gust of wind and was borne swiftly towards the
office buildings along Park Row.
Owens turned and skirted over the top of
the Hall of Records, intending to alight there, but soon found that he could
not. In dodging the building, his switch
line fell out as it dangled in the street a dozen men sprang forward, gave a
sharp pull, and the rope broke close to the balloon. This put his motor entirely out of business.
Up went the dirigible again and collided
against a chimney of the Hall of Records, tearing away part of the aeronaut’s
platform. Owens made a flying leap for
the cordage which held the platform and grasped the framework at the base of
the bag. There he held on with one hand
while he securely fastened the valve of the gas bag. Up went the balloon again, and, carried by
the wind, sailed over toward Park Row, narrowly escaping the Pulitzer Building.
Still gradually rising, it swung toward
Brooklyn Bridge while the crowd in City Hall Park shouted excitedly. Owens narrowly missed the high bridge tower
close to the Manhattan shore. Over the
Brooklyn Navy Yard went the balloon. The
motor was working well again by this time.
Owens tried to locate a place in the navy yard where he could alight,
but the trees were too dense.
Hovering over Fort Greene Park, he saw
what appeared to be a favorable open space, but just then the sun came out and
expanded the gas and the balloon shot up several thousand feet. For nearly an hour he kept circling over that
section of Brooklyn, while crowds in the streets and on the roofs watched him.
At last, about 11:20 o’clock, Owens
espied the flat roof of the Long Island Storage Warehouses, on the southwest
corner of Gates and Nostrand Avenues. He
tried to alight there, but missed the roof and dropped into a back yard several
doors away. He threw out several bags of
sand and again the balloon started to rise.
It swung across the street and slammed into the top of a tree in front
of 391 Gates Avenue.
Owens grabbed hold of a limb and held on
for dear life. Policeman Welge of the
Gates Avenue Station sent in a call for the reserves, and also sounded a fire
alarm, and in a few minutes the crew of Truck Company 52 and several dozen
policemen arrived. A crowd of several
hundred persons had gathered and they were shouting advice to the unfortunate
aeronaut. The firemen put a ladder up
the tree and told him to come down.
“Say, I don’t want to lose this
Owens. “If I
let go now it will shoot up like a rocket.”
The firemen tossed Owens a rope and he
tied it to the balloon, then, with a dozen men tugging at the rope, the
dirigible was dragged to the street.
Owens watched it safely down and descended the ladder while the crowd
The balloon was badly damaged by contact
with the chimney and with the tree. It
was soon packed into an automobile truck and carried back to Belleville.
Owens said afterward that he was not
thinking of paying New York another visit via the air route very soon.”