PROFESSOR THADDEUS LOWE
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
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
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
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
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.
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