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America's Daredevil Balloonist: W.H. Donaldson, 1840-1875

Raab, James W.

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ISBN 10: 0897452313 / ISBN 13: 9780897452311
Published by Sunflower University Press, Manhattan, Kansas, 1999
Condition: Fine Hardcover
From C. B. Petty, Bookseller (Madison, VA, U.S.A.)

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Slight 3/4" scuff mark to front cover, otherwise fine. Signed by author on frontispiece in blue ballpoint ink. Bookseller Inventory # 000003

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Bibliographic Details

Title: America's Daredevil Balloonist: W.H. ...

Publisher: Sunflower University Press, Manhattan, Kansas

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Pictorial Cover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: No Jacket

Signed: Signed by Author

About this title


Washington Harrison Donaldson, America's greatest daredevil balloonist, took to the sky when ballooning fever was at its zenith, performing daily ascensions and attempting a transAtlantic balloon trip to Europe.

Donaldson, naturally fond of romantic adventures, was introduced early on to pantomime and the stage, and was destined to become an exhibitionist. He was the first to use the velocipede on a tightrope the bicycle with pedals attached to the front wheel. He even offered, for money, to drive a mule over a wire rope stretched across Niagara Falls. In 1862, Donaldson thrilled Philadelphians by walking a rope spanning the Schuylkill River below Fairmount Bridge. The rope, 100 feet above the water, stretched over 1,000 feet. Forever the showman, Donaldson added to the excitement by leaping from the rope into the river!

But Donaldson became bored with the monotony of rope-walking, and in 1871 began his balloon ascensions, which he continued until July 15th, 1875, when he made his 139th and last flight from P.T. Barnum's Hippodrome in Chicago. His final, controversial flight was in the huge P.T. Barnum, with a capacity of 83,000 cubic feet of gas the balloon he had also used the year before to carry a wedding party aloft, the first marriage in the clouds.

On Thursday, July 15th, Donaldson and his passenger, reporter Newton S. Grimwood, lifted off from Chicago, in their attempt to cross tempestuous Lake Michigan. The adventurers were last sighted 30 miles out over the huge inland waterway, known for its sudden weather changes and turbulence. By Friday, it was evident that Donaldson and Grimwood seemed to have vanished. Sightings of a life preserver in the water . . . dispatches from Canada noting a "large balloon passing". . . even sightings of Donaldson abroad perpetuated "The Donaldson Mystery."

About the Author:

James W. Raab was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, and educated in Reading schools. He spent 2 years in the U.S. Infantry during World War II, then returned to Reading and graduated from Albright College with a B.S. in economics in 1950. Raab was a sales representative for the Prentice-Hall publishing company for 22 years, then in 1976 changed his occupation to become a circus booking agent for the next 20 years. It was during this time that he discovered the little-known story of America's early daredevil balloonist and stuntman, Washington H. Donaldson.

Raab, now of St. Augustine, Florida, is also the author of W. W. Loring Florida's Forgotten General (1996), a piece of literary detective work unfolding the 50-year military career of "Old Blizzards," a Civil War General who at 14 had volunteered with the Florida Militia.

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