Long before “Lawnchair Larry” (the man who attached 45 weather balloons to his lawn chair and flew to 15,000 feet into the controlled airspace near Long Beach Airport in 1982), cameraman Al Mingalone made history. On September 28, 1937, he was assigned to “jump over a house” using a parachute harness and hydrogen-filled weather balloons for a commercial entitled “House Hopping.” He was to film the whole thing with his movie camera.
Unfortunately, the highest Al was able to jump with this rig was 25-feet. Dusk was approaching. Al told the crew to attach a safety line and add five more balloons. This was more than enough to do the job. Mingalone rocketed to the end of the tether (a clothesline tied to a car bumper), the line snapped, and Al disappeared into the low clouds seven hundred feet above. From there, the wind quickly carried him away.
Al’s father and the film crew jumped into an automobile and chased after him. A local priest, who happened to be a crack shot, grabbed his high-powered 22 and joined them. They followed Al for the next hour as he soared first for the Atlantic Ocean and then back inland.
During the chase, Mingalone remembered he had a pair of scissors in his pocket and tried to haul himself up to reach the lines holding the assortment of balloons, but it was no use. “I’d entered the lower bank of a quick rising fog and couldn’t see a thing. I tried to pull myself up the ten feet to the balloon lines. Partway, cramps grabbed me, and I stopped. A sudden squall struck. I was jerked backward and dropped to the end of my harness. My camera fell free. Having lost twelve pounds of ballast, I shot skyward again. My clothes were wet. The air was cold and raw. I must have been about 700 feet off the ground. After nearly an hour had gone by, I saw the car.”
Father James J. Mullen of St. Margaret’s Church jumped out of the car with his rifle and stood on the golf course of Old Orchard Beach, Maine. He shot twice, piercing three balloons “and Al, balloons and all, came down on a farm in North Kennebunkport.”
The story has a happy ending. Mingalone had dropped the Bell & Howell movie camera into a potato field. It was recovered, and Bell & Howell used it to promote their product’s durability. Al’s film made as the accident took place was awarded “Best Domestic Newsreel Scene of the Year” by the National Headliners Club, and he went on to make commercials for Camel cigarettes (“He grabs his meals as he can, but getting the picture comes first! ‘With Camel’s help,’ Al says, ‘my digestion always stands up under the strain.’”)
As Christians, we won’t need weather balloons to soar into the sky. The Apostle Paul tells us:
For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15 – 18).