August 16, 2012
In 1871, Mary Breed Hawley married “aerial navigator” Carl Myers, an inventor of balloon fabric.
As she watched her husband ascend in his balloons day after day, Mary decided she’d like to fly too. She adopted the moniker Carlotta, the Lady Aeronaut (Myers was dubbed “the Professor”), and in July 1880, in Little Falls, New York, she made her first ascent, as a crowd of 15,000 gathered to watch.
The following account of a September 1880 flight is from Aerial Adventures of Carlotta; or, Sky-Larking in Cloudland (1883), and is included in the Library of America’s wonderful book Into the Blue: American Writing on Aviation and Spaceflight (reviewed in our August 2012 issue).
[After entering a storm,] “I became anxious about the safety of the balloon, which during this unchecked upward flight must be rapidly expanding and in need of attention….
“Finally…I arose above the snow-white mountains of cloud-land. Sailing above and occasionally through these topmost peaks was chilly sport, which soon ended in my attempting to ‘slide down hill,’ by letting out gas…. [T]he earth suddenly jumped up at me, and I found myself swiftly diving at a few feet elevation over a woods…. [A] gust of rain rendered the balloon too heavy to rise, and it bounded rapidly across the tree-tops…. I cast anchor immediately…
“By and by a hunter came shouting through the woods, attracted by my calls, and looking everywhere except high enough. He laughed at my situation and asked me why I hadn’t found a taller tree to land in. His companions, a man and a boy, soon joined him. They ‘didn’t see how I could be got down.’ It was twenty feet from the balloon to the trunk of the tree, eighty feet to the ground, and two and a-half miles to the nearest house, and I began to think the basket might have to be my hammock for the night which was approaching, but I resolved to escape before if possible.”
Six smaller trees below the balloon had to be felled before Carlotta’s balloon could be safely lowered.
“I found myself on the ground after hanging up there nearly two hours. We were all much fatigued, and glad to shake hands together, as we felt quite like old friends. The men said they never knew a woman could engineer a job so well before, but I guess that may be because they never before caught one ‘up a tree!’”