Iona, MI Balloon Collapse, Jul 1873

The Fourth Fearful Death at Ionia of Prof. La Mountain - His Balloon Collapses and He Falls 2,000 feet.

Ionia, July 5, 1873

Among the many advertised attractions of the celebration of the Fourth by our citizens was that of the ascension of Prof. LaMountain, of Brooklyn, Mich., in his mammoth air ship. The imminent danger which always characterizes such events excited the morbid curiosity of several thousand spectators who thronged the Public Square for hours before the appointed time. A heavy squall of wind necessarily delayed the ascension for two or three hours, but at the end of that time the air became perfectly calm. Under direction of the Professor the balloon was got into position and its inflation with hot air was commenced. The canvas soon filled and loomed up nearly 75 feet high. The basket was a willow one of a size sufficient to hold one person comfortably. It was attached to the balloon by six of eight long ropes, which were fastened at the top to a round piece of wood some two or three feet in diameter. The ropes were in no manner fastened together between the top and the basket. As each piece was 100 feet long it seemed, even to the inexperienced eye, that there should have been some webbing or net work, at least over the bag or bulge of the canvas. The fear was generally expressed that some accident might occur by the canvas slipping through between the ropes. It was also noticed that the ropes were unevenly distributed - three or four being in a comparative cluster, leaving the other strands far apart. Nothing was said of this matter, as the Professor, who gave the whole structure a thorough look before taking his seat in the car, made no comment on the fact, and it was thought that his experience was sufficient for the occasion. Everything being in readiness, the words "Let her go" were given, and the air-ship darted up with great rapidity, while the daring aeronaut waved his hat to the uneasy, uncertain multitude, who, almost breathlessly and in silence, watched his flight. Immediately upon leaving the ground the mouth of the canvas began to flap around with great violence. The impression that a catastrophe was about to occur instinctively broke upon every person like a flash. When fully a half mile from the earth, and when the whole structure looked no larger that a hogshead, the balloon slipped between the ropes and was instantly inverted. The car and its occupant dropped like a shot, and when the ropes were pulled taut the round piece of wood before alluded to was torn from the canvas. With the most terrific velocity the unfortunate man descended clinging to the basket. That he was conscious was evident from his struggles. With all the intensity of a life, with but one chance, he strove to raise the basket above him, evidently hoping to use it as a parachute. He succeeded in his object, but when about 100 feet high he loosed his hold, folded his hands and arms before his face, and feet first, struck the ground with a dull heavy thud.

Then ensued a panic and uproar in the crowded multitude which is indescribable. Women fainted, strong men wept, and to add to the confusion the canvas came flying over the crowd like a huge bird. Some one cried out to get from the way as it would fall with crushing force. Then the cry was taken up and a general rush was made for safety, in which many were more or less injured.

LaMountain was crushed into a literal pulp. Not a sign of motion or life was visible when he was reached. Medical examination disclosed the fact that hardly a whole bone was left. Many were ground and splintered to powder. His jaws fell upon his arms and were pulverized. The blood spurted from his mouth and ears. Where he struck there was an indenture made in hard gravel ground, five or six inches deep. The corpse was laid out and placed on the Public Square, where it was viewed by thousands during the afternoon. His remains are properly cared for, and will be sent to his home to-day. The casualty cast a gloom over the remainder of the exercises.

Aside from this accident the celebration here was a remarkable success. The attendance was beyond all calculation, it being thought by good judges that over 15,000 people were present. No special accident, save that of the balloon, happened. The Horribles, in consequence of the accident, did not appear. Base ball, fireworks and jumping matches took place as advertised.

The Grand Traverse Herald, Traverse City, MI 10 Jul 1873