Landmarks of Dekalb County, Alabama


Around 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 6, 1909, a mysterious object was sighted in the bright summer sky over Fort Payne at an altitude of approximately one mile. Drifting slowly toward the south, a big gas bag, carrying two men, remained in sight for an hour before sinking below the horizon and landing on Lookout Mountain near Sigsbee at about 7:00 p.m.

University City Balloon
University City Balloon

The “aeronauts”, as they were referred to in the newspapers, explained to the curious mountain residents that they were one of six balloon teams which had left Indianapolis at 5:00 the previous afternoon. A silver trophy was to be awarded the winners of an endurance contest who remained in the air the longest.

John Berry and P.J. McCullough, who had manned the University City, had covered some 400 miles in 25 hours but had lost the current of air in which they had been traveling somewhere over DeKalb County. Attempts to rise to a higher current by throwing out ballast failed and the two adventurere finally decided to come to the ground and end their trip.

It was later learned that several other balloons had come to Alabama. One had gone as far south as Birmingham before being swept northward by a different current and carried to Corinth, Mississippi, where it landed. Another had come down near Hartselle, hovering low enough to talk to several people in the vicinity before going back up and proceeding on its trip. As it floated upward one baffled farmer took a shot at it with his rifle, but fortunately missed both the balloon and its passengers. Two balloons passed over Decatur, one of which was also sighed over Cullman. The balloons traveled at an average speed of from fifteen to twenty miles an hour.

The two Indiana men accepted the hospitality of the Sigsbee community and spent the night there. The next day they procured a team of horses and carried their balloon to Fort Payne, where they caught a northbound afternoon train. One of the balloonists was overheard to say that he was glad they had landed when they did after all. He had been able, he explained, to see something that he had never seen before — something which was still a fairly common sight in DeKalb County in 1909 — an oxen team.

This history was taken from Landmarks, The DeKalb Legend, Bicentennial Edition, 1975 – 76 which was reprinted in 1992.