Balloonfest 1986, a Publicity Stunt That Turned into Cleveland’s Horror Story
Balloons are generally nice to look at – they are like colorful floating balls that easily attract everyone’s attention. But believe it or not, these can also start disasters, which is exactly what happened in Cleveland in 1986, coincidentally the event that took home a Guinness World Record.
The city was aiming to snatch a world record for the biggest mass balloon release and Cleveland went all-out in preparing for their grandest show of publicity yet. But things went from delight to horror in a span of few hours, proving that putting the place back in the map wasn’t an easy task. Ironically, it all started from the good intent of helping other people out.
The event, dubbed as the Balloonfest ‘86, was a fund-raiser organized by United Way in a bid to help other nonprofit organizations. It was held on Sept. 27, 1986, a Saturday, probably so more people could watch the publicity stunt. The local charity planned to hit two birds with one stone with this: raising funds and bringing a community together, and bring Cleveland some international recognition through the prestigious accolade.
The plan was easy: the organization thought of something that the whole town could witness and at the same time collect money for a cause. Hence, the brilliant idea of releasing 1.5 million balloons up in the air to beat the record-holder Disneyland, which released over 1.2 million balloons in Anaheim, California on its 30th anniversary. The previous record was set a year before the Cleveland disaster.
BalloonArt by Treb of Los Angeles, the same company that made it possible for the theme park to earn the title the year prior to the Balloonfest, took over the logistics. Treb Heining, the company’s founder, assured that nothing would go wrong since they had accomplished the feat many times in the past, citing Super Bowl and presidential nominations as some of their works.
The hard work in the hours leading to the release had seen the many volunteers including students working round the clock, making sure everything was perfect before the big reveal. The helium-filled latex balloons were to stay in a large mesh net for containment before the big tah-dah moment, which made the whole scene like children’s big ball pit arena sitting at the central Park Square.
The idea was to release all the balloons at once and have them ascend in the skies, painting the horizon in different colors. The balloons were expected to remain afloat until finally falling back to the ground, and eventually biodegrading. Of course, this was the scenario organizers had in mind, but they didn’t know that this will only work in the perfect weather condition. The odds were not in their favor that day and the succeeding days.
Weather forecast for that day wasn’t good either, but it was already too late to cancel the big event. Organizers might have skipped the forecast on TV because they were busy prepping for the big reveal or that they simply didn’t realize how the change in weather could affect the feat, or the whole city for that matter.
Upon knowing that the weather will literally pour down on their parade, organizers decided to release the balloons earlier than planned. At 1:50 pm, in front of the massive audience, 1.5 million balloons were finally freed from the net and the citizens were in awe of something that the world had never seen before.
From afar, the sky resembled a blank canvas with spatters of pink, white, yellow and blue like it had suddenly started raining confettis. At first the audience was in awe upon looking at the stunning scene – just imagine witnessing more than a million balloons go up in the air and scatter in the sky.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
But that day soon took a turn for the worse. What the organizers forgot was that what goes up must come down as shortly after the reveal, it rained, causing the balloons to land everywhere, including the Burke Lakefront Airport, which was forced to close a runway.
Some of the balloons also went to Medina County and landed on pastures, frightening some of the horses there. As a result, the owner sued the organizers but eventually settled. To make matters worse, some blanketed the Lake Erie, where a search operation was on for two fishermen who went missing the day before.
Because of the multicolored balloons scattered over the entire water body, it became difficult for the coast guard to locate the two missing persons or to spot their life jackets. Days later, the dead bodies surfaced and one of the deceased’s wife sued the charity but settled for a huge a amount later. Most of the balloons got blown to Canada, where residents complained of the colorful litter on their beaches.
There were even more dire consequences due to the historic event, but despite everything, Cleveland got their coveted Guinness World Record. A few years later, this record was snatched by Wiltshire, England in 1994 which released 1.7 million balloons.
More in History Mystery
The Beatles’ Animated Series that Everyone Almost Forgot
Everything about The Beatles is celebrated – from their undying music to the talented individuals that made up the team –...June 19, 2020
Top ’80s Classic Video Games You Totally Miss
One of the best ways to entertain yourself is playing video games since advanced technology took over the world. These addictive...June 4, 2020
This Photographer Has The Best Way Of Recreating Throwback Photos
We capture precious moments of our lives every day in the form of still photos and moving videos thanks to the...June 3, 2020
Why Burning Spear’s ‘Marcus Garvey’ Is a Classic That Can Never be Forgotten
For those unfamiliar with reggae music, there’s more to this wide-ranging genre than Bob Marley, who became iconic because of the...June 3, 2020
Craziest Pokémon Toys Ever Created – Which Ones Do You Remember?
Growing up, everyone loved the Pokémon franchise. After all it is one of the oldest and most popular monster series to...June 2, 2020
Top 5 Games from 1998 Which Make it the Best Year in Gaming History
The year 1998 was a huge turning point for the gaming community, with some saying that it was the best one...May 25, 2020
The Bizarre History of ‘Amazing Grace’ Documentary on Aretha Franklin
Almost four months after her death, iconic singer Aretha Franklin’s much lauded gospel performance captured in a documentary film titled Amazing...May 15, 2020
LEGO Announces Giant Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle Set
Get ready to visit the Hogwarts Castle on September 1 as LEGO is all set to release the building. You and your...May 15, 2020
Greatest Action Films of 2000’s – We Bet You Haven’t Watched Them All
If you’re an adventure seeker who loves high speed cars and flying superheroes, this list is for you. In the past...May 14, 2020