Rewind: August 1, 2022
Professor LaRoux & His High-Flying Brides
by Dave Waite
If the saying “Marriage, has its ups and downs” ever needed a practical example, an excellent candidate would be Professor Joseph LaRoux. The professor was a hot-air balloonist and self-proclaimed “one-man-band” who performed throughout the 1890s in Warren County and across much of New England. LaRoux, as we will see, had a knack for convincing young women not only to marry him but then before the words “I do” had barely passed their lips, leaving the ground together in his hot-air balloon.
(A detail, easy-to-read script of this article follows at the end of the column)
Laroux first surfaced in Warren County when in August of 1892, he performed on a tightrope at the Warren House in the village of Warrensburg. Only a few weeks later, LaRoux revealed his skills as an aeronaut when he took flight in a hot-air balloon at the Luzerne Fair. For the exhibition, he had constructed what was later described as a “mammoth airship,” with only a trapeze bar as his seat for the ascent. Rising four thousand feet above the village, he soon drifted over Lake Luzerne where he leaped from his perch and began his descent earthward using a parachute. Though he had planned to land in the water, strong winds aloft pushed him hundreds of feet off course and into the top of a fifty-foot tree. Unable to hold onto the uppermost branches, he dropped to the ground where he was found unconscious moments later. The professor was incredibly lucky that day, coming away from his accident with only strained muscles in his back and a sprained wrist. The next day, with his arm in a sling, he was back on the trapeze and ready to repeat his performance before the fair’s cheering crowd. He stayed with the balloon for this performance, making what was described as a “beautiful landing” in a nearby field.
Professor LaRoux took to the air again in 1893, this time adding some new features to his act. At the end of May, Professor LaRoux performed a unique night-time ascent at the Warrensburg Fairground. To help draw a crowd they featured music by the local Grand Army of the Republic band. At 10:30 that evening the balloon lifted off, with Professor LaRoux setting on the trapeze clutching a large bag of fireworks. The Warrensburg News of June 1, 1893, gave this description of his flight in an article under the headline, “Sailing among the Stars”:
When at a height of about five hundred feet he began shooting off the fireworks with which he was plentifully supplied. The effect was indescribably beautiful and elicited enthusiastic expressions of admiration from the crowd. When at a height of about 3,000 feet the balloon was hidden from sight behind a bank of clouds and the many-colored balls of fire descended from the heavens and shooting in all directions with no apparent source, resembling a shower of meteorites. In a short time, a speck made its appearance through the cloud and floated gracefully toward Mount Hackensack until it was lost in sight behind the mountain.
At Sacandaga Park in Fulton County later in the season, he gave two exhibitions to entertain the guests at the Booth & Company Annual Picnic. The first was an afternoon ascent where he carried with him on the trapeze below the balloon a live goose. Once he had risen high above the crowd, he released the bird who flew down and was quickly seized for the five-dollar gold coin that was offered for its recapture. After dark, he again rose above the crowd, this time nonchalantly smoking a cigar as he sat on the trapeze. After only rising a few hundred feet, the professor shot off fireworks to the loud approval of the spectators. Over the years, LaRoux would continue to add unique features to his act, including a pig named Pedro that he dropped by parachute over Lighthouse Point in New Haven, Connecticut.
The 1894 summer season brought a new feature to LaRoux’s act: marriage. For some weeks before the performance, the Glens Falls newspaper had been announcing both his engagement to a Miss Ella Nelson of Albany and their marriage at an evening balloon ascension by the bride and groom at the Warren Street ball field. As if their public ceremony were not enough, before the big event LaRoux planned to use his bride in a magic trick where she would be sewn into a large sack and then miraculously released without disturbing the seams.
For their wedding, the bridal party entered the grounds accompanied by boys bearing torches as the wedding march was played by a local band. Standing before Justice Nathan Pulver of Luzerne and the reported six thousand paid attendees, Joseph and Ella exchanged vows. The couple then climbed onto a trapeze slung from the bottom of the hot-air balloon and took to the sky. As they ascended, the two performed what was later described as “grand and lofty tumbling,” stopping occasionally to shoot off Roman candles and other fireworks. To finish their performance, both bride and groom dropped from their seats under the balloon and descended on parachutes as darkness fell over Glens Falls. In writing about this event, one newspaper offered this revelation: “This wedding is believed to be their first—in Glens Falls.”
While it is never reported how long the marriage of Joseph and Ella lasted, the groom was married again only a year later. This time his bride was Miss Ida M. Hart of Plattsburgh, New York. Their ceremony was held at Pleasure Island, a park on the western side of the Hudson River just north of Albany. It is likely that the ceremony was similar to what was performed in Glens Falls a year earlier.
For the next ten years LaRoux, with a wife as his partner, continued to give balloon exhibitions throughout the Northeastern United States. By 1906 he had left Ida Hart and married a woman named Christina, who went by the stage name of “Tiny.” For Professor Joseph LaRoux, entering and then leaving marriages was inevitable, so it was not surprising when in 1908 the Albany Argus ran this story:
Mrs. Tiny La Roux, a little woman living in Boston, and weighing less than 120 pounds, says she is the first woman to go up in a balloon that is her own property. She is very enthusiastic and is not satisfied to wait for some man to invite her to a place in his balloon and up to the present there are very few air machines “for rent.”
With any dangerous endeavor, tragedy can strike at any time. In the case of the aerial performances put on by Professor LaRoux, the victim was one of his employees, James Corcoran. At the 1909 Fourth of July celebration in Portland, Maine Corcoran took to the air in a hot-air balloon planning on parachuting back to earth at the signal of three shots from a revolver by the professor. Tragically, some of the spectators fired guns when the aeronaut was barely five hundred feet off the ground and Corcoran leaped to his death.
Joseph LaRoux and one of his wives stayed together long enough to bring a baby boy into the world.
In the Roanoke Virginia Times of September 21, 1910, we learn that Osby LaRoux, Joseph’s sixteen-year-old son made a successful balloon ascension and parachute jump during that year’s Roanoke Fair, allowing a second generation of the LaRoux family to continue to thrill audiences across the country.
From the newspaper article:
The above named Society has engaged, at enormous expense,
PROF. JOSEPH LA ROUX,
Of Paris, France, the talk of two hemispheres and the wonder of the 19th century. Thousands upon thousands are flocking everywhere to see this danger scorning Aeronaut in his thrilling aerial achievement and death defying Parachute drop from a balloon more than 5,000 feet above the earth, away up among the clouds, with nothing but space beneath and an umbrella over-head, and descends in perfect safety to terra firma. There is no trick, no deception about this, the most astounding and thrilling feat ever performed. Though seemingly wild and reckless, Prof. James La Roux has performed this marvelous feat with safety more than a scores of times, so the most timid need have no fear of witnessing this astounding act. This world famed aerial navigator whose unparallelled feats of daring have created such a genuine sensation in every civilized country of the world, will positively appear as above stated, at Bennington, Tuesday, Aug. 16th, 1892. He leaps from the swiftly soaring air ship and relying entirely upon the inflation of his umbrella, safely drops from the dome of the clouds to Mother Earth.
There will be also a glove contest, tug-of-war, throwing the hammer, exhibition drill by Benning Rifles, dancing, refreshments, etc.
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