147 years later, Pea Ridge balloon landing site still attracts visitors
Union Daily Times, The (SC) - Monday, April 21, 2008

Professor T.S.C. Lowe 's balloon landing was enough to alarm the residents of Pea Ridge in 1861, but the unbelievable items he produced to show the gun toting planters almost got him shot.

Lowe 's balloon descended in Pea Ridge on April 20, 1861 after traveling 800 miles in nine hours after a departure at 4 a.m. from Cincinnati, Ohio. Today, a marker in front of the Mt. Joy Masonic Lodge commemorates the historic event.

Lowe , who died in 1913, continues to have followers. Several books have been written about him and he's the subject of Internet sites.

And Hoyt Haney, junior warden and past worshipful master of the Masonic Lodge, said folks from out of town still come to visit the marker site, which was placed by the Kelton Family and Community Leaders Club in April of 1998

“There's a lot of history there,” Haney said.

Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe was born on Aug. 20, 1831. According to the Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia, Lowe lived a life that was full of claims to fame.

Despite being born to a poor pioneer family, he showed an interest in meteorology, including studying winds and cloud movements. He recognized the strong easterly high altitude wind which gave him a notion of flying in it. As an older teen-ager, Lowe became fascinated with the properties of lighter-than-air gases, in particular, hydrogen. By the time he was 21, he had taken up aviation, which at that time was balloon flight. Between his chemistry lecturing and giving balloon rides he was able to put enough money together for a formal education, furthering his studies in chemistry, meteorology and aviation. By the 1850s he was well known for his advanced theories in the meteorological sciences as well as his balloon building. Among his aspirations, he made plans for a transatlantic flight via the high lofting winds-known today as the jet stream.

With the beginning of the Civil War, Lowe offered his services as a aeronaut to perform aerial reconnaissance on the Confederate troops for the Union Army. In July 1861, he was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as chief aeronaut of the Union Army Balloon Corps.

But before that, he made his historical landing in Pea Ridge. An account of it, in Lowe 's own words, is recorded in “A History of Union County” published by the Union County Historical Foundation in 1977.

Lowe said he decided to put together a lengthy balloon flight solely in the interest of science. He hoped eventually to inaugurate a balloon system that would convey information across the Atlantic. In those days, the only way of getting news across the ocean was by way of steamers.

With Lowe before he departed were a Mr. Potter, owner of the Cincinnati Commercial and Murat Halstead, the editor. They brought a number of delicacies for Lowe to take along, including a large jug of hot coffee, which Halstead wrapped in a number of blankets to keep it warm. He also brought 200 copies of the newspaper, which announced the preparations Lowe was making for the trip.

The average height at which Lowe sailed was about 16,000 feet. He descended enough in Virginia to ask some men plowing a field which state he was in. With their reply, he ascended again. Before reaching the Alleghenies, his balloon was drawn slightly southward. He sighted the coastal area of South Carolina and decided to go further inland and find a better landing place than the rice fields.

He thought about landing sooner, but chose the Pea Ridge area because he wanted to be nearer a railway.

“I was just above Pea Ridge, doubtless so named because it appeared as if nothing will grow on it except peas and pitch pine,” Lowe wrote.

His presence first was noticed by the chickens and other fowl, who seemed to take him for a great hawk. Their cackling aroused the people, most who fled into their homes. No one appeared to help him anchor the balloon.

“What a commotion my coming caused,” he wrote. “Not a soul was in sight. They had all taken shelter in the various cabins, from many of which I could hear groans, praying and other symptoms of distress and alarm.”

After the anchor took hold of a rail fence, Lowe called out to the Pea Ridgers. Some peeped out. He asked for someone to help him “steady the car.” At last a young white woman, 18 to 20, who was six feet tall and “well proportioned,” came forward with a pleasant manner and asked what she could do. Lowe explained that he needed to discharge enough gas from the balloon to allow the car to remain firmly on the ground. She took hold and a number of people, black and white, came to help.

Lowe described the Pea Ridgers as having long hair and beards, mostly sturdy red in color, reaching short, rotund stomachs. They wore slouch hats and blue jean clothes.

The smell of the gas antagonized the locals and all of Lowe 's movements were viewed with suspicion As the balloon grew smaller, the Pea Ridgers became more and more bold and aggressive in their remarks and gestures. Lowe wrote that many likely thought he was an inhabitant of some infernal region who had floated to earth to do them harm. He began bringing out his food, trying to show them he was human.

“I took from the basket quite a variety of cakes, crackers, bread and butter, rolls, cold meats, chicken, etc., and other delicacies presented to me when leaving Cincinnati, eating some myself and passing the rest around,” he wrote. “I also passed out several India rubber bottles of water which had frozen solid, and, to let them realize how cold it was in the upper regions of the atmosphere where I had been, I cut one of them open and took out a large mold of ice, shaped exactly the same as the bottle.”

This, Lowe wrote, was the worst thing he could have done.

“Immediately one man asked how could anyone but a devil put so large a piece of ice through so small a place as the nozzle,” Lowe recounted. “Others began to call attention to the differences in the cakes. Those portions which had been exposed were frozen, the others were not. Some of the apples and oranges which had been under blankets were perfectly good; others were frozen as hard as rocks.”

The two-gallon jug of coffee, wrapped in blankets, was still “hot as one would care to drink it.”

These astonishing and contradictory things, instead of impressing the Pea Ridgers, made them more alarmed than ever.

“One old man - of dissipated countenance - suggested that a Yankee who was capable of doing all these things was too dangerous a man to run loose,” Lowe wrote. “Therefore he moved he “be shot on the spot where he had dropped from the skies.”

Some agreed. Others thought further investigation was in order. The tall woman approached and told Lowe that most of the men who were there were cowards - the brave men of the neighborhood had gone to war.

Lowe showed the locals some of his equipment, including his altimeter for determining latitude and longitude his barometer, telescopes and hydrometers. When they became even more alarmed, he waved his Colt revolver.

“I then and there let the aggressive portion of my surrounders understand that the first man to make any hostile advances toward me would go into eternity far quicker than I had descended into their locality,” Lowe wrote.

Lowe suggested that a party be appointed to go with him to the county seat. He was dressed in black Prince Albert costume and silk hat. He sat in the basket on the back of a wagon pulled by six mules. They arrived in Unionville about 10 that night after a jolting and dusty ride.

He was first taken to the jail, where the keeper suggested Lowe might be better housed in the hotel. There, the “landlord” named Fant was familiar with Lowe , having made a cable trip with him in a balloon at Charleston the year before. He greeted Lowe with handshake and called him by name. Those who had escorted Lowe began offering apologies.

The next morning, Lowe met with a number of dignitaries, including the sheriff, the editor of the Unionville newspaper and a member of the South Carolina legislature. Lowe was asked if he had any tangible evidence that he had made the flight so quickly. Lowe produced the newspapers that had still be damp from the press the previous morning.

The next day he took the train north by way of Columbia. There he was taken to jail and there were threats to hang him.

Four days later, he returned to Cincinnati.

According to Wikipedia, Lowe 's work, though generally successful, was not fully appreciated by all members of the military and disputes over his operations and pay scale forced him to resign in 1863. He returned to the private sector and continued his scientific exploration of hydrogen gas manufacturing. He invented the process by which large amounts of hydrogen gas could be produced from steam and charcoal. His inventions and patents on this process and ice making machines made him a millionaire.

Lowe moved to Los Angeles, Calif., in 1887 and eventually built a 24,000-square-foot home in Pasadena. He opened several ice making plants and founded Citizen's Bank of Los Angeles. He was introduced to David J. Macpherson, a civil engineer, who had drawn up plans for a scenic mountain railroad. In 1891 they incorporated the Pasadena & Mount Wilson Railroad Co. and began the construction of what would become the Mount Lowe Railway in the hills above Altadena. It opened on July 4, 1893 and was met with quick interest and success. Lowe continued construction toward Oak Mountain, renamed Mount Lowe , at an exhaustive rate, both physically and financially. Lowe eventually lost the railway. His fortune all but gone, he lived out his remaining days at his daughter's home in Pasadena, where died at the age of 81.