One of the newer, permanent exhibits at the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park near Indianapolis is their “1859 Balloon Voyage” celebrating early aviation.
The balloon is an interesting contrast to the period school house, doctor’s office, smithy, and other living history exhibits–complete with workers in character.
I found the balloon ride very interesting after having just read and reviewed Kris Jackson’s novel ABOVE THE FRAY. Jackson’s novel follows the exploits of Thaddeus Lowe and his Civil War balloon corps. I enjoyed experiencing at Connor Prairie the story I visualized while reading. Of course, nobody was firing artillery rounds at us during the flight.
Lowe used hydrogen for his tethered balloons. While some of his competitors preferred free flight, Lowe thought tethered balloons were easier to control; plus with the air-to-ground telegraph wire, he could provide real-time data about the locations and activities of Confederate troops. The free-flight balloons could easily be blown out over the camp of the enemy troops.
The Connor Prairie balloon rises up 350 feet on a cable during the 15-minute ride. Lowe took his balloons up to a thousand feet or more. Even so, I enjoyed experiencing for myself what I had just read about in the historical novel. I could also see why the generals Lowe took up in his balloons for a test ride quickly became believers in the value of aerial reconnaissance. At 350 feet in a helium balloon, the view was not only exceptional but exhilarating. Kudos to Kris Jackson for describing the process so well in his novel.