Once Aeronaut Mary Myers took flight in a lighter-than-air passenger balloon, her eyes remained forever skyward. She was born August 1, 1849 and died on August 1, 1932. Myers launched her lucrative career over Little Falls, New York on July 4 1880, making her debut as Carlotta the Lady Aeronaut. Fifteen thousand people watched from the ground, mesmerized by her antics. That day she became the first American woman to fly solo in a lighter-than-air balloon.
The beautiful blonde bombshell became a favorite on the circuit of county fairs and outdoor events. Aeronaut Mary Myers became known for her fabulous costumes and nerves of steel. But unlike other beloved performers including Leona Dare who dangled by her teeth from a hot air balloon piloted by Eduard Spelterini, Meyers became a superstar for her engineering skills. In one stellar performance, she sailed over the famed elephant of Coney Island, watched by an audience of 154,000 people. She became known as the Mistress of the Winds who ruled the skies until hanging up her ropes in 1891.
She set many records during her career. Among them:
-She was the first woman in the United States to pilot her own aircraft on her Independence Day debut. Like sending a tweet to friends, she released a carrier pigeon as she to deliver a note to friends announcing that her ascent had begun.
-She set a world record for altitude in a passenger balloon (20,000 feet) without oxygen.
-She made more balloon flights by the time she retired in 1891 than any other person up to that time.
Aeronaut Mary Myers also had more than her share of mishaps. Astonishingly, she handled all of them with grace and was never badly injured. Her ability to remain calm during emergencies was legendary.
Among the most spectacular:
-September 1880, shortly after her debut, she hit a rainstorm two miles above Norwich. A gust of wind rendered her balloon too heavy to rise and she bounded rapidly across treetops. She cast anchor and ended up stuck in an 80-foot tree. Locals eventually helped her down, unscathed.
-July 2, 1883, she was in her balloon Flying Cloud when it broke into pieces at high altitudes. She grabbed on to fragments of the balloon, which she used like a makeshift parachute that eventually carried her safely to the ground.
-Myers had to make an emergency landing in Onondaga when her daughter Bessie was three years old. Myers kept them afloat for an hour until help arrived.
-When she set the record for highest ascent without breathing assistance in 1886, she came close to blacking out—or worse. “My eyes bulged out, the blood ran from my nose, my ears rang and my cheeks flapped in and out like sails…my breath came in short convulsive gasps.”
Carl and Mary Myers married in 1871. He was a man of many talents and careers, but found his greatest success as an aeronautical engineer. His passion for “aeronautical navigation” was contagious, and his wife happily caught the bug. Together and individually, they innovated countless designs, systems, and improvements in aeronautics. They also held multiple patents.
Carl designed and built many types of hydrogen balloon airships and the equipment that went with them. He invented a machine that varnished the fabric for balloons. He also worked with the government on weather balloons and rainmaking devices. He was one of the managers of the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. He also oversaw the fair’s balloon demonstrations at the Aeronautic Concourse.
Aeronaut Mary Myers became famous for pinpointing the exact spot of her landings. Rather than floating aimlessly at the mercy of the wind currents, she and Carl devised methods to ensure precision in her flights. She controlled the direction and speed of her flights by taking copious barometric and altitude readings to make the best possible use of air currents.
In his 1924 book Careers of Danger and Daring, Cleveland Moffett asked Carl Myers how they could ride the wind with such precision. Carl Myers said:
“We can know a good deal by studying the clouds and by observations with kites and other instruments. And we would know much more if experimenters would work on these lines of conquering nature by yielding to her rather than opposing her.”
Mary Myers read the winds expertly. She was meticulous in recording flight information so she would know the altitudes at which she would reach specific air currents. She harnessed the wind for navigation using valves to release hydrogen gas, sandbags to change the gondola’s weight or balance and fin-like rudder apparatuses to fine-tune direction.
They purchased a five-acre farm with a three-story, thirty-room Victorian house in Frankfort New York in 1889. This became known as the Balloon Farm. Cleveland Moffett wrote about his visit to the farm in his book.
“Suppose we begin with the balloon farm, which is certainly a queer place. It is a joke in the neighborhood that the professor plants his balloon crop in the spring, gathers it in the fall, and stores it away through the winter. Certain it is that in summer-time the visitor (and visitors come in swarms) sees fields marked off in rows with stakes and cross-poles, on which balloon-cloth by hundreds of yards seem to be growing (really, it is drying); and other fields, that look like an Eskimo village, with houses of crinkly yellowish stuff (really, half-inflated balloons); and groups of men boiling varnish in great kettles which are always getting on fire and may explode; and other men working nimbly at the knitting of nets; and others experimenting with parachutes; and the professor paddling away at the height of three thousand feet for his afternoon “sky cycle” sail; and Mme. Carlotta, the celebrated aeronaut (also the professor’s wife), making an ascension now and then from the front lawn in a chosen one of her twenty-odd balloons.”
“And in winter, should you explore the upper rooms of the house, you would find all the balloons tucked away snugly in cocoons, as it were, fast asleep, ranged along the attic floor, each under its net, each ticketed with a record of its work, marked for good or bad conduct after it has been tested by master or mistress.”
“Professor Myers, like most aeronauts, insists that traveling by balloon, for one who understands it, is no more perilous, but rather less so, than ordinary travel by rail or trolley or motor carriage. He points out that for thirty-odd years he and his wife have led a most active aeronaut existence, have done all things that are done in balloons, besides some new ones, and got no harm from it- some substantial good rather, notably an aerial torpedo (operated by electricity from the ground), which flies swiftly in any desired direction, its silken fans and aluminum propeller under perfect control from a switchboard; also the “sky cycle” balloon, which lifts the aeronaut in a suspended saddle and allows him, by the help of sail propeller and flapping aeroplanes (these driven by hands and feet), to make a gain on the wind, when going with it, of ten or twelve miles an hour.
On this “sky cycle” Professor Myers has paddled hundreds of miles, not trying to go against the wind, but selecting currents from the many available ones that favor his purpose. “What is the use, “says he, “of fighting the wind when you can make the wind fight for you? People who take trains or boats wait for a certain hour or a certain tide, in the same way we wait for a certain wind current, and there is never long to wait, for the wind blows in totally different directions at different altitudes.”
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