A event in which the United Way of Cleveland set a world record by releasing almost one-and-a-half million balloons. The event was intended to be a harmless fundraising publicity stunt.
On Saturday, September 27, 1986, with a rainstorm approaching, organizers decided on an early release of the balloons. Balloons rose up from Cleveland’s Public Square, surrounding Terminal Tower and surpassing a world record set the previous year on the 30th anniversary of Disneyland.
The balloons collided with a front of cool air and rain and dropped towards the ground, still inflated, clogging the land and waterways of Northeast Ohio. In the days following the event, balloons were reported washed ashore on the Canadian side of Lake Erie.
Two fishermen, Raymond Broderick and Bernard Sulzer, who had gone out on September 26, were reported missing by their families on the day of the event. A search-and-rescue boat crew tried to spot the fishermen floating in the lake, but Guard officials said balloons in the water made it impossible to see whether anyone was in the lake. On September 29, the Coast Guard suspended its search. The fishermen’s bodies subsequently washed ashore.
Burke Lakefront Airport had to shut down a runway for half an hour after balloons landed there. Traffic collisions were also reported “as drivers swerved to avoid slow motion blizzards of multicolored orbs or took their eyes off the road to gawk at the overhead spectacle”.
The 1988 copy of The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes the event as a world record “largest ever mass balloon release”.
Featured Image: Balloonfest 1986 / Image: Thom Sheridan