PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE

NEWSPAPER ARTICLES

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.''

INDEX PAGE

BEFORE THE WAR

CIVIL WAR YEARS

INVENTIONS AND INDUSTRY

NORRISTOWN PENNSYLVANIA YEARS

PASADENA CALIFORNIA YEARS

MOUNT LOWE RAILWAY

AFTER THE RAILWAY

LOWE FAMILY

BOOKS ABOUT LOWE

NEWSPAPER ARTICLES

EVENTS AND REUNIONS

ARTIFACTS AND HISTORY

ENCYCLOPEDIA BIOGRAPHY

ACCLAMATIONS AND AWARDS

LINKS TO OTHER THADDEUS LOWE WEBSITES