Deptford hosted its annual Come Fly with Us contest ceremony on Jan. 9 at the recreation center to commemorate the first hot-air balloon flight in U.S. history.
The nearly hour-long flight took place on Jan. 9, 1793, when Jean Pierre Blanchard’s hot-air balloon took off from Philadelphia, a launch attended by President George Washington, among other luminaries.
The balloon eventually landed in a field in the area of what is now Clements Bridge Road. Blanchard encountered two farmers armed with rifles and pitchforks, who mistook him for a threat. Because he didn’t speak English, the Frenchman referred to a letter in his possession from Washington and uttered the founding father’s name. Blanchard then joined the relieved farmers for a drink.
An oak tree along Clements Bridge Road marks the general area where the historic balloon landed, resulting in Deptford’s motto, “first in flight.”
“We do it not only as a fun event, but also as an educational event as well,” said Mayor Paul Medany of the commemoration. “We know from historical records that Blanchard landed in that field. I think it’s extremely important to Deptford, since different generations have celebrated the event.”
The contest had township students from preschool to 10th grade either draw a balloon or write an essay on the historic flight for display. Awards were handed out and students receiveded certificates.
According to Medany, about 400 people attended the event, despite heavy rains. The mayor spoke about the flights and other local history.
“I tell them that it was technically the first UFO sighting in the country, since the people who saw it land had no idea what it was,” Medany explained. “We like to have fun with it. He (Blanchard) was in the air for 46 minutes doing experiments. Back in that day, to take that kind of flight, took some real courage.”
The ceremony concluded with attendees conversing with Deptford council and each other about the flight and the township itself.