Conner Prairie’s newest exhibit will sweep you and your family away. Literally.
Starting in June 2009, the 1859 Balloon Voyage will launch, carrying visitors 350 feet above the interactive history park.
“1859 Balloon Voyage will tell the remarkable story of how the first successful delivery of air mail via balloon happened to occur in Indiana,” said Ellen Rosenthal, president and CEO of Conner Prairie.
I took some time to visit the balloon as it was being assembled and inflated this week, and visited with BJ Sullivan, Chief Balloon Pilot, and Angea Tuell, public relations manager for Conner Prairie. I was invited to a media preview of the balloon in a few weeks, and I wanted to be sure of the safety before I went. I’m a little scared of heights.
“Oh, there’s nothing to worry about,” said Sullivan. “People lose their fear on a balloon.”
“You’re not just saying that?” I asked.
“No, there’s actually a phenomenon that people who are afraid of heights are not afraid of being up in a balloon, because you’re floating rather than standing on something, like a ladder. Basically, if you can handle being two feet off the ground, you can handle 200.”
Or 350 feet. That’s how high the balloon will float above the Clowes Commons for 10 – 15 minutes at a time, carrying up to 20 guests per flight (it is wheelchair accessible too). The balloon will be tethered to a large steel cable about as big as my wrist. (Angela also said there will be nets all the way around the balloon’s gondola, so people of any age can ride in complete safety.
The cost of a voyage is $12 per person for members and $15 for non-members. But — and this is great news! — you can get a $5 off coupon for up to six people at any BP am/pm gas station from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne. This brings the price down to $7 for members, $10 for non-members. You can find coupon locations at the Conner Prairie website. You can also purchase tickets in advance beginning May 19, online, by phone, or at the Conner Prairie Guest Services desk.
The balloon will only be in operation from June through November, so be sure to visit it. However, it’s a permanent exhibit, so if you miss this year, it will be around for a good long time.
But if you don’t want to ride the balloon, there’s still plenty of stuff to do and see in the exhibit. You can learn about ballooning in 1859 by visiting the Lafayette 1859 to see what other balloons and airships looked like 150 years ago, watch a balloon be inflated with coal gas, and even have their picture taken in a balloon basket.
Miscellaneous-but-cool stuff about the 1859 Balloon Voyage:
- The balloon is 105 high, taller than a 10-story building, and 72 feet in diameter.
- At this size, the Conner Prairie balloon is larger than your typical hot-air balloon.
- The balloon itself is made of composite materials and aluminum. It’s filled with helium, rather than hot air. Helium is an inert, nonflammable gas.
- The first manned air mail balloon flight was in Lafayette in 1859. John Wise took more than 100 pieces of mail aloft in the balloon. It was supposed to travel to New York, but got as far as Connserville.