In 1986, Cleveland proved once and for all that balloons, held by most of us to be a symbol of festivities and celebration, can also serve as surreal and terrifying proof that there can be too much of a good thing.
It all started with the superficially awesome but fundamentally disastrous goal of setting the world record for simultaneously-released helium balloons. Photographer Thom Sheridan captured images of this beautiful but eventually catastrophic event. This feat, which involved filling 1.5 million latex balloons with helium and capturing them under a massive net, was dubbed Balloonfest ’86. It was organized by United Way as a sort of charity event, but the unexpectedly chaotic event wound up causing more in damages than it raised.
To read more about the chaos that ensued, read on below the images!
For one, there were storms forecast later in the day, so the event’s organizers wound up releasing the balloons early. When the rain did come, it wet the balloons and caused them to descend without popping.
They ended up covering the surface of Lake Erie and hampering the Coast Guard’s search efforts for two men who had been lost on the lake after their boat capsized. They were later found dead. The floating balloons made finding the head of someone fighting to stay above water impossible.
They also spooked several expensive racehorses, which caused them to injure themselves and prompted their owner to successfully sue for damages.
And while latex balloons are biodegradable, they managed to cause a great nuisance throughout the region until they eventually degraded.
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