PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE
IN NETHER PROVIDENCE FAMILY, BALLOONING TRADITION STILL RISES \ IT LAUNCHED WITH THREE BROTHERS AFTER THE CIVIL WAR.
Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA) - Sunday, February 14, 1999
Author: Dan Hardy, INQUIRER SUBURBAN STAFF
U.S. aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe was among
the first to employ observation balloons in warfare, using tethered,
hydrogen-filled gas bags to spy on Confederate positions for Union Gen.
George McClellan in the 1862 campaign against Richmond.
Lowe was also indirectly responsible
for launching the careers of four generations of balloonists from the
same family, including former daredevil stunt-balloonist Eddie Allen
Jr., now 80, and his son, hot-air balloonist David Allen, 45. Eddie
Allen lived for 41 years in Newtown Township; he now lives with David
in Nether Providence Township.
``When people ask me how I became a
balloonist, I tell them it's not my fault. It's in my blood,'' David
Allen said with a chuckle last week.
The Allens said that Ira Allen, Eddie
Allen Jr.'s great-uncle, was an Army private from Dansville, N.Y., who
fought in the Civil War. Ira Allen and his brother, Martin, had already
performed circus-type stunts before the war: An old photo shows them
riding a bicycle on a rope suspended above a Dansville street. Ira saw
Lowe 's balloons during the war. When he returned home, he decided to
make one himself.
``He bought a sewing machine and
cloth and built a balloon big enough to carry him aloft,'' Eddie Allen
said. ``Ira, Martin and their brother Comfort caused a sensation with
the balloon at carnivals and firemen's picnics; that's how the whole
thing got started.''
Comfort Allen's son, ``Captain''
Eddie Allen Sr., was ``one of the most renowned stunt balloonists of
his era,'' Joseph G. Rauber, director of the New York State Festival of
Balloons, said last week. Born in 1896, he started performing at age 15
and kept at it until he was injured in 1976, when he was 80. He died in
1984, and his exploits are still honored at the Balloon Federation of
America's museum in Indianola, Iowa.
Captain Eddie's son, Eddie Jr., and
daughters Gloria and Florence later joined the troupe, which was called
The Flying Allens. Young Eddie Allen performed from 1934, when he was
16, until the early 1940s. Gloria and Florence stayed with the act a
few more years.
Ballooning was very different then,
Eddie Allen Jr. said. ``We filled a 70-foot-tall cotton balloon with
smoke and hot air on the ground, from a trench filled with combustible
materials. The balloon was tied to two tree trunks.
``I would hang by one hand on a
trapeze bar [suspended from the balloon], sometimes eating an ice cream
cone. The balloon would take off fast and zoom up to between 2,000 and
5,000 feet. Then I would jump and come down in a parachute. On the
Fourth of July, I would use three of them - one red, one white, one
blue. The balloon came down separately. I sometimes landed in God-awful
places: lakes, trees, one time in a lady's rose bushes.''
Eddie Allen Jr. started attending the
University of Pennsylvania in 1939. He returned to the Flying Allens
for several summers. World War II interrupted his studies and his
performances. In 1945 he returned to Penn and became a football
All-American. He went on to play fullback for George Halas' Chicago
Bears. After a career-ending knee injury, he coached football at Drexel
University. Later, he became an investment adviser. He never again
earned a living as a balloonist.
When Captain Eddie Allen finally
retired from ballooning, it seemed that the family's long romance with
ballooning was over. It wasn't. David Allen had caught the bug.
David Allen never rode a balloon with
his grandfather, but he watched him perform several times. After high
school, he worked at a series of conventional jobs, but ``I eventually
realized that people out there were flying balloons for a living and
making money at it,'' he said. ``I saved every dime I made, and my
wife-to-be, Janet, helped out.''
In 1986, he bought a modern hot-air
balloon made of polyester fiber and heated by a propane burner and
began entering competitions and carrying passengers for pay. ``I
discovered that ballooning was indeed in my blood,'' he said. ``I'd
only been piloting for a few months when I won a tri-state championship
competition. Pretty soon, I was winning everything I entered.''
Allen's balloon business is called
Magical Mystery Flights; his father sometimes helps out. He operates
mostly in Chester County, taking people on half-hour and hour-long
ascents. He also competes in balloon accuracy and distance contests.
Robert Dicks, a Bucks County
balloonist and balloon festival official who has known Allen for many
years, said last week that ``often, making a living at something you
love is very difficult. Because of variable weather, it's hard to make
steady money as a balloonist. David is an accomplished pilot who has
pursued his dream and succeeded at it. I admire him for that.''
Asked if there would be a fifth
generation of flying Allens, David Allen said that his daughter Alaina,
9, has already made more than 40 ascents.
``She says she wants to teach and
pilot a balloon in the summer,'' he said with a laugh. ``Given the
family history, she probably will.''
BEFORE THE WAR
CIVIL WAR YEARS
INVENTIONS AND INDUSTRY
PASADENA CALIFORNIA YEARS
MOUNT LOWE RAILWAY
AFTER THE RAILWAY
BOOKS ABOUT LOWE
EVENTS AND REUNIONS
ARTIFACTS AND HISTORY
ACCLAMATIONS AND AWARDS
LINKS TO OTHER THADDEUS LOWE WEBSITES