ADVENTURES AT PIERPONT
HINDENBURG IN MINIATURE:
In the mid-70s most college students had probably heard the tales of helium party balloons equipped with long tails of aluminum foil being set adrift, being picked up by military radar, and being confused for UFOs. As the tails danced and were bent by the wind, the foil would provide an ever-changing radar image. There were also tales of people making hot air balloons of trash bags and candles. Once they were airborne, the inner glow led some in an unsuspecting public to believe they, too, were UFOs. Given that this story took place at night, I suspect my roommate Ray Fredericks and his accomplice intended the latter effect.
Their balloon was well constructed consisting of a large translucent blue trash bag, and an X made of a broken yardstick upon which sat about 20 small candles. The idea was that once the hot air from the candles filled the trash bag, it would obtain some lift and float off like other self-respecting hot air balloons.
Having free access to the Pierpont roof just seemed to be one of those old dorm traditions that pre-dated my arrival. Whenever the Physical Plant tried to lock or chain the access door to the roof, some militant would find a way to bust it open. About 9pm Ray, his coconspirator, a small crowd and myself headed up to the Pierpont roof to witness the balloon's maiden flight.
Looking at the picture I snapped that night, it's hard to imagine the candles could be easily lit without setting the plastic bag on fire, but they managed. It was quite the site as the trash bag began to puff out, lit from below by the candles. But, alas, it fill up but would not fly. There was too much weight or not enough candles to generate sufficient lift. Perhaps there the weight of the candles was the culprit. Perhaps the trashbag was too small. Who knew. But in retrospect one of us should have realized it just was not going to fly.
Which is why Ray's next idea was a dubious brainstorm. Perhaps it would not fly from the roof. But what if he dropped it off the roof into the courtyard? Maybe it would manage to generate some lift on the way down and fly off. So Ray dropped it off the roof where it proceeded to gracefully fall... that is until it hit the open casement window of someone's dorm room. Within seconds, the candles made contact with the balloon and it burst into flames. But it was worst. The flaming balloon didn't just fall to the ground. The flaming mass melted around the window.We gasped in horror then broke out laughing. That was until we heard a scream from downstairs as someone looked out their dorm window to see it ablaze. Oh, the humanity! Within seconds, the lot of us was storming down the stairwell making good our escape never to look back.