Deptford’s annual Come Fly with Us awards ceremony at the recreation center on Jan. 9 celebrated the artistic and literary contributions of township students on the subject of the first manned flight in American history.
That 15-mile hot-air balloon flight happened on Jan. 9, 1793 and ended in the township. The students’ work included drawings of the flight and essays on what makes Deptford a great town. They were on display as hundreds gathered to see council honor children from preschool to the 10th grade at the rec center.
“It’s a great story,” said Mayor Paul Medany about the flight. “It started with Jean Pierre Blanchard taking off from Philadelphia, in the old prison yard, and as you tell this story, you have to imagine what was happening. He came over from France, where he had experimented and flew a balloon before, but nobody in this country before had seen a human being lifted off into the air.
“It was a huge event,” the mayor added. “They actually sold tickets to it, and there were so many dignitaries there. George Washington himself.”
It was President Washington who gave Blanchard a letter that served as a passport. Also at the takeoff were future U.S presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, who saw a dog hop into the balloon, making the journey the first time an animal flew in America’s history. Blanchard also performed experiments in the air.
The French scientist was aloft for 46 minutes before landing at a farm in Deptford, where he was greeted by two farmers armed with rifles and pitchforks. Though Blanchard spoke no English, he brought up Washington’s name and showed his greeters farm the letter. The three then shared a drink – and the rest is history.
The story resulted in Deptford’s slogan: First Flight in America. The town has a volunteer balloon crew headed by Steve Moylan, a resident and retired police officer.
“You have to give Steve and his crew a round of applause,” noted Medany. “He’s been here every year since we’ve been doing this.”
For their efforts, the township students earned a certificate and a $15 gift card.