Ypsilanti Citizen Opinions Sidetrack

Thank you Ypsilanti
By Dan DuChene & Christine Laughren
Jun. 23, 2010   ·   5:07 p.m.

Christine Laughren and Dan DuChene, co-owners of the Ypsilanti Citizen, pose in front of their company's banner at Frenchie's during the Citizen's one-year anniversary party.

The Ypsilanti Citizen was launched in November 2008 to inform the Ypsilanti community about the news and events that were happening in their area.

Since our launch,...read more

Crossroads Summer Festival; rockin’ ladies night
By Dave Heikkinen and Frank Wright
Jun. 23, 2010   ·   4:37 p.m.

Barbara Payton and the Big Boss Trio rock Washington Street.

A special Ladies Night was held Friday at the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival in conjunction with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

Just...read more

Crossroads to hold Ladies Night for Relay for Life
By Dave Heikkinen and Frank Wright
Jun. 16, 2010   ·   9:13 a.m.

On June 11, the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival featured a rousing opening set from roots and blue grass band Dragon Wagon.

Dragon Wagon was joined on...read more

Electric rail pollution leads to dirty laundry
By Laura Bien
Jun. 15, 2010   ·   11:42 a.m.

From the approximate vantage point of the present-day Materials Unlimited, the interurban car barn and powerhouse on Michigan Avenue loomed large.

Maggie Smith was not looking forward to a forenoon of sewing pleats.

She put down her newest customer’s summer dress. Downstairs, she offered to get potatoes...read more

EMU students in wartime
By Laura Bien
Jun. 1, 2010   ·   10:32 a.m.

The 1942 Aurora yearbook, the 50th
anniversary edition, included images that contrasted modern and
old-time students.

Leroy Grindle was an Ypsilantian soldier who lost his life in WWII. He was a member of the Michigan Normal (EMU) class of ’41, and is memorialized with a black...read more

Ypsilanti's teen aeronaut

Chauncey Joslin was the first mayor of
Ypsilanti and the father of its first aeronaut. Photo by Ypsilanti Archives

Chauncey Joslin was the first mayor of Ypsilanti and the father of its first aeronaut.
Ypsilanti Farmers Market

To the Archives

By Laura Bien
Feb. 16, 2010    ·    9:32 a.m.

The young man gripped the slippery silk neck of his balloon where it connected to the fuel line. He listened to the hollow hiss of gas and glanced at the bulges of inflation slowly rippling over the surface. Something was wrong. The balloon was not rising as it should. He nervously glanced at the July 4th crowd at the Ann Arbor Fairgrounds watching him. Would he be able to make a successful ascent, or look like a fool?

Ben Joslin was 17 years old.

In addition to being the son of Ypsilanti’s first mayor, Chauncey Joslin, Ben had also gained notice around town for his interest in flight. He had “for 2 years past studied all the works he could find, aided by his father, pertaining to balloon navigation,” said the June 29, 1878 Ypsilanti Commercial. “He has become a scientific theorist and needs now only the experience. The 4th he makes his maiden effort in a splendid silk balloon, filled with gas, at Ann Arbor. Success to the youthful Aeronaut.”

Even a Grand Rapids paper took note. “The people of Ypsilanti have Ben Joslin, and [have been] worrying him so much that he has for the past year been fitting up a balloon, has secured a religious instructor, and on July 4th will start from Ann Arbor right up to heaven.”

Unfortunately, the attempt ended up closer to the opposite region.

“The balloon ascent was a failure,” said the Ann Arbor Argus afterwards. “This is the summary way in which all the Ann Arbor papers dispose of the matter,” responded The July 13, 1878 Ypsilanti Commercial. “We were informed by the man claiming to have the matter in charge that it was lack of supply of gas. Ben says, “Gas enough, such as it was, but it was too heavy.”

The Commercial was not about to have its native son impugned. “Justice would require the Ann Arbor papers to state the causes of failure, and not leave the implication that it was due to the youthful aeronaut. Ben has a nice, capacious balloon, plenty of pluck, and proposes hereafter to superintend or manufacture his own gas. Ben will make his mark yet.”

After the failed Ann Arbor ascent, Ben folded and packed his silk balloon and went home to Ypsilanti. He returned to his job in a machine shop, and came home every night to his father’s home, where Chauncey, his second wife Sarah, Ben’s older sister Ella (one of his five siblings), and servant Lydia Chambers lived. Despite his failure, Ben didn’t give up.

Five years later, his persistence paid off.

The 23-year-old oversaw another inflation, which lasted throughout one August night in 1883. A little of the gas leaked out, smelling of rotten eggs.

It was coal gas, straight from the Ypsilanti municipal gas line. Coal gas was produced by burning coal at Ypsilanti’s gasworks, at the southeast corner of Forest Avenue and the railroad bridge (now the Michigan Ladder Co. parking lot). The resulting vapor was piped to Ypsilanti homes for lighting. Coal gas was convenient to obtain, and had about half the lifting power of hydrogen—which in that day was too difficult to efficiently manufacture. Helium would not be discovered until 1895. The default gas, coal gas, did have one drawback.

It was highly explosive. If all went well, Ben would be riding a few feet beneath a gigantic bomb.

Preparations began on the night of Wednesday, August 8, 1883. “At about 11 o’clock Wednesday night preparations were begun, the ballast bags having been filled during the afternoon,” said the August 11 Commercial. “At 2 o’clock Thursday morning inflation began and 15,000 feet or thereabouts of gas such as is being furnished to consumers were run in the balloon before breakfast time.”

The balloon was a long teardrop shape 40 feet high and 25 feet in circumference. After its inflation at a city gas line, it had to be walked over to Recreation Park, led by ropes gripped by several helpers, for the ascent.

Ben climbed in and made a final check. Castoff! “At about 3:25 p.m., it left the earth, the basket having a solitary occupant. Ben has worked all the night before & up to the moment of ascension to get all in readiness. Ypsilanti city band gave him a good send off and the balloon gracefully rose nearly a mile, taking a westward direction, bearing to the north.”

There had been one small change in plans. “Since the advertisements appeared stating that a living dog would be thrown out attached to a parachute, not a dog had offered his services, and a bag of sand aided as substitute. It lit on the case farm, uninjured. Somewhere near the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern crossing on the south Ann Arbor road [near modern-day Carpenter and Packard], the balloon came so near the ground that a conversation was carried on.

“By the aid of a telescope or through an opera glass, both of which were furnished us by the kindness of Mr. F. A. Earl, we could plainly see the basket and the sand descending. By telephoning the Courier office it was ascertained that the balloon passed 1 mile south of Ann Arbor at ½ or ¾ of a mile high. At 3:40 it came down on the farm of Byron Sutherland, two and ½ miles north of Saline, in a wheat field.” The landing spot was slightly northeast of Saline.

“This is the first ascension which has ever taken place at Ypsilanti,” concluded the paper.

It wouldn’t be the last.

Modern-day EMU aeronauts train at the Eagle Flight Center at Willow Run. Eagle Flight Center flight instructor Christopher Sorenson notes in an email, “We have over a dozen training aircraft with some of the newest flight training technology available, [such as] G-1000 all glass cockpits.”

Robert D’Alimonte, president of the EMU co-ed aviation Greek group Alpha Eta Rho (whose initials spell “aer,”) mentions in an email that several recent graduates have gone on to successful aviation jobs. Pilot Ben Best is an A10 pilot with the Air National Guard, and pilot Amelia Clark is a first officer for Mesaba Airlines.

It may be that some of the current pilot trainees perform training flights that buzz over Ypsilanti and southwestward, retracing the more leisurely cruise of their fellow young aeronaut over a century ago.

Laura Bien is the author of "Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives," to be published this winter. She also writes the historical blog "Dusty Diary" and may be contacted at ypsidixit@gmail.com.

The Rocket
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