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Great Forest Park Balloon Race, 1995
Great Forest Park Balloon race, 1995. Photo: Richard Goodyear

Great Forest Park Balloon Race

Held the third weekend in September each year in St. Louis' Forest Park, the Great Forest Park Balloon Race today hosts more than 67 balloons and 200,00 spectators. The Forest Park event is the largest and one of the most prestigious one-day balloon races in the world. The event free to spectators; corporate sponsorship, including St. Louis hometown company Energizer, pays pilot expenses. In 1994, the largest hot-air balloon manufactured in the United States, the ten-story high Energizer Bunny Hot Hare Balloon, made its debut at the race and, since that time, has become a real crowd favorite. Another crowd-pleaser, the St. Louis Symphony in 1992 began the tradition of a open-air performance before lift-off, a benefit event for the restoration of Forest Park, the "Glow in the Park."

Balloon racing has a long tradition in St. Louis; it was 1906 when the New York Herald Tribune sponsored an international long-distance balloon race, and St. Louis was selected as its first site. Balloons made prior to 1960 were carried aloft by helium, a lighter-than-air gas that provided buoyancy. Modern balloons, known as hot-air balloons, carry an on-board burner that heats ordinary air to provide buoyancy. In December 1973, pioneer woman pilot Nikki Caplan brought the first Forest Park hot-Air balloon race to St. Louis, with six balloons and 20 spectators, at an informal weekend gathering. The 25th anniversary in 1997 of the Great Forest Park Balloon Race was celebrated; a special poster depicting the Race was commissioned to commemorative the event.

Particularly prestigious and challenging, the race is by invitation only to pilots with greater than average requirements for flight hours and experience. Launch is from the middle of a major city, as opposed to being in open fields. One pilot noted: "When we got above the trees...[t]here were simply no open spots, just TV antennas, rooftops, trees and wires." Backyards, baseball diamonds, golf courses, lawns, street intersections, and, in one instance, the walled convent grounds of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, have been pressed into service as landing sites.

The race is documented in a written history; ten 8 x 10 photographs (eight color, two black and white); two videotapes, one of which is a 1993 KMOV, St. Louis, television special, and the other the 25th anniversary celebration in 1997; programs from the event for various years; promotional brochures; a commemorative print; nine posters; several drawings, news articles, and two commemorative pilot gifts.

Originally submitted by: Richard A. Gephardt, Representative (3rd District).



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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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