ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth

The Weekly Star

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory: May 30, 1903

John Leonard, Klondike Balloonist

Balloon Ascension

      No more highly enthusiastic assemblage ever gathered on the streets of Whitehorse than the one which congregated on Monday evening last [May 25] to witness the balloon ascension by Leonard the ‘Prince of the Air,’ and none other was ever more satisfied with an exhibition of aeronautical engineering.

      At about 7:30 p.m. the aeronaut appeared on the street, where the balloon hung suspended like a large tent. Calling about twenty men from the crowd to assist at the inflation he soon had everything in position, lighted the fire in the furnace and the splendid balloon began to show its graceful outlines. In thirty-five minutes from the start, there she floated in the air, straining at her moorings, in all the stately beauty of that proud air ship the ’Island Mail,’ manufactured by the aeronaut last season at Honolulu, H.I. Silencing the ever present small boys as best he could, he explained to the crowd, in a short speech, how he made his money; then bidding the helpers ‘let-go’ he grasped the bar of the parachute and away he went.

      Almost straight up went the beautiful balloon for 800 or 900 feet and then it entered a current which carried it to the north and east, and for several minutes the bold aeronaut hung suspended directly over the icy river; still ascending, the balloon finally drifted across the Yukon and then the excited crowd witnessed an exhibition seldom seen in any part of the world, for the aeronaut, releasing the parachute at an altitude of 2,000 feet, and directly over the eastern shore, deliberately aeroplaned the parachute the entire breadth of the river and landed easily on the solid ground twenty yards from the western bank.

      Still high in the heavens soared the great balloon until it turned upside down and then, belching forth its heat and smoke, it began a series of wild gyrations, its weird contortions reminding one of a dream of some strange Martian coming to conquer the world. After it landed, a half mile east of the river bluff, everybody seemed to think they had seen an ascension and parachute leap par excellence.

      After the ascension the STAR man had an interesting talk with the balloonist and listened to the following:

      This will be my 20th season riding gas and hot air balloons, and my fourth along the Yukon. Last year I started for the Durbar at Delhi, but after making six ascensions on the Hawaiian Islands I had to return, on account of sickness, to the States, and as I wish to be at the St. Louis exposition next year to take part in the aeronautical demonstrations I concluded to tour the Yukon valley again this season so as to be close at hand.

      Do I like the business? Well, I know of no other that would suit me so well; having travelled all my life it would be hard indeed to settle down and watch the world pass by the door. I like to meet strange people and see uncommon sights; beautiful panoramas! Ah, it would do you good to dangle from the balloon and look down over this pretty little town; to see the green hills and the distant snowy mountains; the glassy Yukon with its silvery border of ice winding away to the north and south; to watch the human beings that, dwindling down to the size of China dolls, seem to grovel in the dust.

      I always like to exhibit where there are Indians or other savage or half-savage people; the ascension is always such a surprise to them. During the inflation their eyes grow wider as the balloon expands; the awful expressions on their dark faces after one returns among them is why I am always sorry I do not understand their language so as to get their opinions of ballooning."