Trans-Atlantic Balloon Site Monuments

The Maine Solar System Model gets its inspiration in part from two monuments built to commemorate balloon crossings of the Atlantic Ocean. These monuments provide an important local precedent for the construction and funding of three-dimensional models of rather substantial size. The balloon models also provide information on contrasting construction and the effects of weathering. The Maine Solar System Model has benefited greatly from this experience. On August 11, 1978, the Double Eagle II lifted from a small field south of the City of Presque Isle. Carrying a crew of three, this balloon landed six days later in a field in France to become the first human-carrying free balloon to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Six years later, the second Atlantic balloon crossing was made by the Rosie O'Grady, with a crew of one, which lifted from a small field south of the City of Caribou. The Rosie O'Grady landed in Italy 5 days after leaving Maine, to set a new distance record and become the first balloon to make a solo crossing.

Assorted members of the Presque Isle and Caribou communities decided to commemorate these events with large-sized models of both balloons to be erected outdoors in small parks. Both models were designed and built locally, with much of the materials and labor donated. While the two monuments are similar in size and shape, they were built of different materials by different people. Both were built entirely by local resources.

The Presque Isle Site

Double EagleII Ballon The land was donated by the Merle Sprague family and the Spragueville Extension also helps maintain the site. The Presque Isle model was built primarily by the Northern Maine Technical College (NMTC), using migrant students in addition to NMTC faculty. The land was donated by the Merle Sprague family and the Spragueville Extension also helps maintain the site. The balloon has a steel structure onto which tin sheets have been riveted. The base is made of brickwork. The Presque Isle model differs from the one in Caribou in also having a scale model of the gondola. The grounds include a brick walkway with flowers and are maintained by the Presque Isle Parks and Recreation Department.

This monument has not weathered as well as the Caribou monument. The balloon envelope has lost some of its smooth shape, the brick base needs some repair, and there is some grafitti on the back of the gondola.

The Caribou Site

Caribou Balloon Site The Caribou balloon model, built to commemorate the site where Col. Joseph Kittinger initiated his 1984 solo crossing, was built in 1985. Col. Kittinger attended the unveiling ceremony to honor the 1-year anniversary. The balloon model has a wooden structure with a fiberglass cover. The base has a deep foundation of steel rods and cement with a fieldstone surface. The carpentry, welding and mortar work were all done by students at the Central Aroostook Vocational Education program at Caribou High School. The setting is a grassy field, with a gravel parking lot. Most materials were donated, with land for the site purchased by the City of Caribou and the Caribou Kiwanis.
Caribou site plaque This model, now 19 years old, has required no maintenance except for the replacement of the American flag. The paint is now becoming weathered and the plaque at the rear of the base needs replacement. There is no signage on South Main St. to direct visitors to the site. The local community, under leadership by Wilfred Bell and others, is starting to work towards revitalizing this structure.