Conner Prairie to Host Balloon Festival
Photography Provided by Conner Prairie
In 1859, a crowd gathered in Lafayette, Indiana, to watch the Jupiter balloon take its inaugural flight. Piloted by inventor John Wise, the Jupiter provided the first successful airmail delivery in the U.S. For years Conner Prairie has invited guests to enjoy an 1859 Balloon Voyage on the 105’ balloon, which is as tall as an eight-story building.
The actual balloon itself is referred to as a balloon envelope, constructed from long nylon sections called gores. These envelopes need to be replaced every seven to eight years. It was recently time to replace the one at Conner Prairie, which happened to coincide with the rebranding of Conner Prairie as well as the receipt of a grant that enabled them to reimagine the entire exhibit. Jesse Kramer, director of exhibits, came up with design and content ideas.
“Jesse’s magic touch made it all come together,” says Christine DeJoy, director of public affairs for Conner Prairie.
The brand-new balloon will reflect the colors of the new branding. As an unveiling of sorts, Conner Prairie is hosting the Conner Prairie Balloon Festival from July 15 to 18. Admission to the festival requires a separate ticket unless you are a member, in which case you get in for free.
The festival kicks off on the evening of July 15 when, from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., they will have the balloon glow, which will feature between 15 and 20 hot-air balloons.
“It’s after-hours in the evening,” DeJoy says. “Like a typical balloon festival that takes place out west in places like Arizona, the glow is at night after the sun has set. We will light the balloons, fill them up, and everyone will get to walk around to see the pilots and check out the balloons up close.”
To add to the festival atmosphere, they will have a music stage, food trucks, games and other activities.
On July 16 they will hold the Hare and Hounds race, which kicks off bright and early at 6:30 a.m. in the south field and ends one hour later. For those unfamiliar with this race, all balloons launch from the same location. The Hare balloon takes off first, followed by the other balloons called the Hounds, which “chase” the Hare. Because the event is being held so early, anyone can come watch it at no charge.
The new balloon exhibit, which opens July 1, includes a video, an interactive station that describes lighter-than-air technologies, and a lighter-than-air history from the 19th century to today.
Conner Prairie will offer aeronautical programming so that visitors may soak in the knowledge. It’ll include games, learning tools and picture opportunities. The spot where guests used to buy tickets to get on the balloon now offers a little something extra – it will include information on the future of flight. The exhibit includes a new component with monitors that show what the weather is like, as well as the air quality – all shown in real time.
“It’s great because with this new reimagined exhibit, visitors can still learn about the balloon and experience it even if it’s unable to fly due to weather,” DeJoy says. “Now it’s more of a multipurpose exhibit as opposed to, ‘Oh, look at all this stuff’ just as you’re getting on the balloon. Before, if the balloon wasn’t flying, people wouldn’t go look at all of that.”
By the time of the Balloon Festival, the new balloon envelope will have been installed, test runs will have been completed, and if the weather allows, it’ll be flying.
“People can go on our balloon once again,” says DeJoy, who is sure guests will appreciate the fact that balloon enthusiasts from all over the state have come to be a part of this festival.
“The balloon culture is great,” DeJoy says. “You have all these men and women who all know one another. As soon as the call went out asking for balloons to participate in this festival, we got all these offers.”
DeJoy anticipates positive reviews and reactions from guests, as well as a great crowd for the event, not only because it’ll be fun and educational, but also because after a year of disappointments and cancellations, the community is eager to get out and have fun again. And because Conner Prairie is so vast, it can accommodate a large crowd without a feeling of congestion.
“With the pandemic finally ending, everyone is wanting to get outside, do something fun and different, and not be locked in their houses anymore,” DeJoy says. “We are happy to be providing something new that we’ve never done before, and something that is so visually stimulating.”
Conner Prairie is located at 13400 Allisonville Road in Fishers. For more information, call 317-776-6000 or visit connerprairie.org.