Eyes fixed on the skies at 2013 Fair at New Boston

In an age of horses, wagons and ships, air travel was strictly for the birds. That doesn’t mean early Americans’ ambitions weren’t sky high.

The age of flight is coming to the 2013 Fair at New Boston, where curious visitors can see the possibilities of manned flight as late 18th- and early 19th-century Americans discovered it.

The Fair at New Boston will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, and Sunday, Sept. 1 at George Rogers Clark Park.

Dr. John Jeffries, an American physician caught on the wrong side of the American Revolution, will be on hand to demonstrate the capabilities of hot air balloons in the form of Tom Crouch.

“We tend to forget how excited people were for this back then,” said Crouch, a Tecumseh High School graduate and Senior Curator of Aeronautics at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., who will portray Jeffries.

These are not the kind of hot-air balloons people can ride in, rather models of about 6 feet. These balloons were made of nylon and fueled by propane and just the sight of them caught the public imagination, Crouch said.

Jeffries, who lived in England in the 1780s, met Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard, who was conducting flight experiments in Paris. He was so excited he paid to make a flight with Blanchard across the English Channel, and became the first American to fly.

His loyalties were forgiven and Jeffries became a celebrity, something of a Wright Brother of the time, meeting kings and queens.

“What’s interesting is from 1783 to 1903, this was the only way to leave the earth,” said Crouch. “It had a huge psychological impact.”

Flight is close to Crouch’s heart as he was born in one of the birthplaces of modern aviation, Dayton, and grew up in Medway, near George Rogers Clark Park.

Crouch said he was always interested in flight, but never explored it until working on his doctoral thesis and his career went up and up from there.

His accomplishments include helping open the Neil Armstrong Museum in Wapakoneta, working with the Ohio Historical Society and other noteworthy museums, and creating exhibits. He frequently gives lectures and has written award-winning books on aviation.

Although based in Washington D.C., he visits this area frequently to see his parents, to lecture and is part of the National Aviation Heritage Board. This weekend will mark a unique homecoming.

“I’ve talked about doing this for years and now I can do it in the place I grew up in.”

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