“A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.”
Jean de La Fontaine
Today marks the day in 1797, when 28 year old french balloonist Andre-Jacques Garnerin made the first parachute descent, landing safely from a height of about 3,000 feet over Paris.
Garnerin’s parachute resembled a closed umbrella before he ascended, with a pole running down its center and a rope running through a tube in the pole, which connected it to his balloon. As he rode in a basket attached to the bottom of the parachute, he severed the rope that connected his parachute to the balloon. Then the balloon continued skyward while Garnerin with his basket and parachute fell. It was reported that the basket swung violently during descent, then bumped and scraped when it landed, but Garnerin was uninjured.
Garnerin regularly staged tests and demonstrations in Paris, but these became a controversial issue when he announced that his next flight would include a woman as a passenger. Although the public and press were in favor, he was forced to appear in front of officials of the Central Bureau of Police to justify his project. Officials were concerned about the effect that reduced air pressure might have on the organs of the delicate female body and loss of consciousness, plus the moral implications of flying in such close proximity.
Unsatisfied with Garnerin’s responses, the police issued an injunction against him, forbidding the ascent on the grounds that the young woman was committing herself to the venture without any idea of the possible outcome.
Garnerin had the injunction overturned after consultation with both the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of the Police. Officials agreed that there was no more scandal in seeing two people of different sexes ascend in a balloon than it is to see them jump into a carriage.
Unfortunately, Garnerin died in a construction accident when he was hit by a wooden beam while making a balloon in Paris on August 18,1823.
It may not sound like much today, but 217 years ago parachuting was quite a feat. A large number of spectators would come from all over Europe to watch Garnerin parachute from his balloon. It even prompted the English to write this famous popular ballad:
Bold Garnerin went up
Which increased his Repute
And came safe to earth
In Garnerin’s Grand Parachute