On a summer's day in August of 1853, a crowd assembled at a lot on Third Street near Oakland's wharf, ready to see what they had twice been promised: a manned balloon flight, the first in California, the first in the American west.
The first two dates -- the Fourth of July, and then two weeks later on the 18th -- had come and gone without a launch. But now, on Sunday, August 28, the yellow balloon, 18 feet in diameter, was starting to inflate. Its owner, a man known only by the name of Mr. S. Kelly, had ordered it from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "No expense would be spared to have the whole affair of California magnificence," read Kelly's announcement in a local paper, historian Tom D. Crouch writes.
But things were not off to a good start. At the appointed hour, the balloon was not yet halfway full. Two hours passed. Accounts conflict as to what precisely happened next but it is said that Kelly was no light-weight, and with him on board the craft either remained firmly on the ground or just bounced about a few feet off the ground.
"Several bags of ballast were then thrown out, and he rose again and swept over the surface of the ground," a report from San Fracisco's Daily Bulletin told it years later. "The basket first struck against a fence, but clearing that the balloon came in collision with a tree, the basket swinging under the branches, and, on the rebound, precipitating Mr. Kelly headforemost to the earth."
It was decided that Kelly would need to be replaced. "One after another, a series of lighter-weight men took his place in the basket, but the balloon did nothing more than bump across the ground," Crouch recounts.