3. Touring the West

PARK DID NOT stay in Peach Springs for long. The Salt Lake Athlete Association contracted Van Tassel to make a balloon launch at Salt Lake City for Independence Day festivities at Washington Square. He moved on to Los Angeles1 and then briefly to San Francisco, staying at the Baldwin Hotel on March 15, 1883, perhaps to pick up supplies.2 His new City of Albuquerque was shipped to Salt Lake City and rechristened the City of Salt Lake. Many Utahans were excited by the opportunity to witness a balloon ascension in person, something they had only read about in the newspapers. A reporter from Montana made arrangements to travel all the way to Salt Lake for the opportunity to fly in the balloon with Van Tassel.3 The balloon arrived via train on June 13, 1883, while the community was already preparing in earnest for Independence Day (which also included bicycle and footraces and a baseball game between the Ogden and Salt Lake clubs).4 He made preparations on the balloon at Pitts’ Pleasure Gardens in various states of inflation and deflation.5 On Friday June 23, with the balloon in a state of inflation, several men were seen meddling with the balloon while Van Tassel was away. The balloon broke loose from its moorings, and the ensuing movements of the balloon carried some of the men into the air as they clung to the ropes. But eventually the balloon was secured.6 On July 4, officials told crowds to avoid the area near Second East and Second South Streets, where the balloon was to be filled. Citizens were also kindly reminded to refrain “from burning fireworks in close proximity to the balloon.”7 The area was carefully guarded by local police to ensure safety. Large crowds gathered around the balloon as it was inflated in the afternoon. Between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m., the filled balloon was taken to Washington Square. Newspaper reports indicated that George A. Meears’s popular monkey, named Jack, would accompany Van Tassel as his first passenger. After the release, the balloon rose and drifted slightly to the east in the direction of Fort Douglas. It then encountered a different current and floated to the northeast, finally coming to a nice landing in Red Butte Canyon. While the balloon was nearing Fort Douglas, the barometer indicated a relative altitude of 15,700 feet above sea level, high enough to warrant concern over hypoxia, but perhaps Van Tassel was unaware of the risk. The descent was made rapidly to avoid going over the Wasatch Range.8 This flight was hailed as the first gas balloon ascension in Utah’s history.9 A man named O. P. Arnold raced after the balloon on his horse and was the first to reach Van Tassel after his landing, which had already startled a group of picnickers nearby.10 On July 11, the Deseret News published a letter to the editor by Van Tassel:11

Editor Deseret News:

Please permit me through your columns to thank the many citizens who kindly aided me during the preparation for the balloon ascension. To Mr. Geo. A. Meears I am especially indebted, as without his aid I could not have kept my contract with the public.

I have been solicited to make an ascension on the 24th inst., and should take pleasure in doing so, if I can be assured of liberal encouragement, otherwise I must accept other propositions, as my late ascension paid me very little indeed.


Prof. Van Tassel, Aeronaut

Salt Lake City, July 7, 1883.

Arrangements were made for Van Tassel’s next balloon ascension, on Pioneer’s Day, July 24, 1883, also at Washington Square. The Salt Lake Herald admonished those Utahans who had watched the July 4 flight without paying the fair entry fee, encouraging them to pay for this next event.12 The newspaper also noted that a Mrs. Fannie Hoyt was going to accompany Van Tassel on this flight.13 Some members of the public complained in the paper that it was improper for a man to take another man’s wife for a balloon ride.14 Not to be outdone by Salt Lake City, the city of Ogden made hasty arrangements for Van Tassel to perform an ascension there, also on July 24.15 However, H. J. Stone sued Van Tassel to recover $182, which he claimed was owed to him for some unknown reason, and the case was to be heard before a Justice Home on the morning of July 25.

Meanwhile, Van Tassel continued his arrangements for the launch. When the day arrived, a large audience gathered at Washington Square. While many expected Hoyt to back out at the last minute, she persevered. Together Van Tassel and Hoyt launched skyward. The balloon floated to the southeast, eventually to a safe landing in Mill Creek Ward, south of Parley’s Canyon.16 This flight was so perfect that it motivated Van Tassel to consider longer cross-country flights. He noted, “One of the longest trips I ever made . . . I started at Salt Lake City and crossed the Wasatch mountains, a distance of 143 miles. I reached an altitude over 15,000 feet above the level of the sea and it was a wonderful trip, taking six hours and a half to make it. An hour of this time was spent hanging over the Great Salt Lake in a calm. A young lady accompanied me and she displayed nerve and heroism.”17 Later, in 1884, the New York Times reported that the memorable flight had had a duration of six hours and thirty-two minutes.18 On July 29, 1883, having had much success, Van Tassel left Salt Lake City on the early train bound for San Francisco, arriving at the Baldwin Hotel on August 3.19 He spent the remainder of August planning his next tour.

In September 1883, Van Tassel traveled to Portland, Oregon. An ascension was made on September 5, 1883, with a reporter from the New Northwest as a passenger. The flight was a complete success except that Park and the reporter were forced to dump every possible type of ballast during their descent, including their drinking water. However, the people of Portland were delighted; this was reportedly the first balloon ascension in Portland, possibly the first in Oregon.20 Park made several more ascensions in Oregon, including a flight in late September from Portland, with his balloon flying over a forest fire. He made yet another successful ascension from Portland on the afternoon of November 5, 1883, in front of an “immense crowd” at the Oregon State Fair.21 Traveling about 5 miles in fifty minutes, he reached a maximum altitude of 9,000 feet, ending with a perfect landing near the Columbia River after flying over the Willamette River.22 With this string of very successful and well-publicized launches, things were finally starting to click for Van Tassel.

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