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Charles Samuel Colton

First Marriage Ever Celebrated in a Hot-Air Balloon

An "Airy" Wedding
A Beautiful Bridal Party and Fifty-Thousand Guests!

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It was a glorious afternoon when the Hippodrome performance closed, at half past-four yesterday. It was one of those days on the very eve of Indian Summer when we in Southern Ohio rejoice that we live there. There was a slight haze hanging over the city that softened, but did not obscure the sunlight. Both moon and sun were visible; the later sinking, round and lurid, to the West; the former rising, pale, crescent shaped from the Eastern hills.

A lovelier wedding hour never dawned on a happier bride, and bonnier bride never welcomed it than Miss Mary Elizabeth Walsh, equestrienne of Barnum’s Roman Hippodrome, who was wed in mid-air her fiance, Mr. Charles Samuel Colton, also of the great show.

The attendants were Miss Anna Rosette Yates, the beautiful and daring equestrienne, and Mr. W. C. Coup, Mr. Barnum’s popular business manager. The officiating minister was Rev. Howard B. Jeffries, of the Church of Christ, a branch of the Sweden borgiaus of Pittsburgh.

The audience at the great show poured out to see the ascension; Lincoln Park and all the adjoining space was filled with a multitude which numbered full fifty thousand people and which made up probably the largest wedding party on record!

Mr. Donaldson was ready promptly, dressed to kill, and with bridal favors. The “P. T. Barnum” was full almost to bursting with the best of gas. Her basket was trimmed with flags and flowers. The designs of America and Ireland hung gracefully from her . . . all that is unsightly or forboding about a balloon was hidden by the decorating care of loving hands. Rare bouquets hung from the ropes and baskets of exotics swung from the “lookout”. Mr. D. S. Thomas, the best of “press agents” had general charge, and not even the minutest detail was neglected. Mr. P. T. Barnum and his aide were of the select company admitted within the ropes. A pathway was kept clear for the bridal procession, at the head of which marched the Hippodrome band playing Mendelsohn’s Wedding March.

The suite entered the basket and were soon all ready to go. Then Mr. Donaldson found that the balloon would “lift” seven people, and Mr. Thomas was taken in, boutonniere and all. The bridal group was as picturesque in itself as any we have ever witnessed, even when all the fashionable world has famous churches to cast their eyes upon a long stylish marriage train.

The girls were fair, good, and exquisitely arrayed. The blonde bride wore a delicate pearl colored silk, with bias folds and heavy trimmings of fringe and puffing in the back. Her hat was the graceful “brigand” of the same shade as the dress with rakish white feather and “pearl” bird, the exquisite toilette being completed by white gloves to dainty hands. The bridesmaids toilette was equally elegant.

The first balloon to carry a life cargo --
a sheep, a duck and a rooster --
made its ascent on September 19, 1783

The balloon lifted slightly to the Northward and in ten minutes a parachute thrown out told that the nuptial ceremony had been completed. It was sent floating downward the precise moment the “Amen” was said to the ceremony. A pledge in sparkling wine to the Brides health and happiness. They laughed at the cock fight and the dog fight which they distinctly saw going on below. They grew solemn in their admiration as they saw below them both the sun and moon and clouds, and drank in the awful grandeur of the scene. When they left the balloon which Mr. Donaldson had succeeded in towing back to the city, gas and all, ready for today’s sail, a feat seldom accomplished, it was to drive to the Cathedral, where Father Quinn, in obedience to the brides religious scruples, performed a second ceremony. He married them “with the ring” and prefaced the solemnity with a few impressive remarks, complementing the bride on having in a strange city sought to find a Priest to marry her in the clouds and the husband on having yielded to his wife’s share of right. “Both things”, said Father Quinn, “argued future prosperity.” The bridal party were then briefly received by his grace the Most Rev. Archbishop Purcell, who impressed them, as he does all men, with the cordiality and kindness which goes hand in hand with his distinguished learning and piety.

Later in the evening, at the Crawford House there was a little reception at which there was a bounteous table and more than bounteous good will. It was a reunion of those who are endeared to each other by professional as well as personal ties, and there mingled with them, in brotherhood, Messrs. Hurd, Coup, Thomas and other prominent managers of the show. There were there too, newspaper men and others, who have a weak side for the better phases and kindlier hours of human nature. Many were the contributions, in every way to the enjoyment of the memorable night, among which we may quote the following extempore writing by Mr. A. Sellers, treasurer of the Hippodrome, to the bride:

To Mary,
Matches in heaven are made,
And hand to hand they clasp as seemeth best,
Far from us, undismayed,
Her happy chains are cast, and she is blest.
Down, down once more to earth,
We welcome her again, our bonnie bride;
To hope and joy and mirth,
Exempt from care and pain, Whate’ or betide.

The certificate given by Mr. Jeffries to the bride reads as follows:

Charles M. Colton

Miss Mary E. Walsh
In Balloon “P. T. Barnum”
One Mile High over Cincinnati, Ohio
October 19, 1874
Rev. H. B. Jeffries,
Officiating Clergyman

And such is a brief, plain history of the first mid-air marriage on record.

This story was taken from microfilm of the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer for the 19 October 1874 issue. This account is reprinted verbatim. Unfortunately, there are no photographs available.

It should be noted that the event was originally scheduled to take place a week earlier but was postponed because the wedding car broke down - the balloon collapsed!

Editors note: Charles and Mary Colton eventually settled in New York City where he was a Sergeant on the police force. They had three children:

  1. Charles Hurd Colton, b. 7 July 1875, d. 17 June 1876

  2. Sarah Colton, b. 14 May, 1877

  3. May Colton, b. 19 March, 1886

Charles Samuel Colton was born 6 May 1850 in Swanton Falls, VT.

His parents were Harmon Walker and Rhoda A. (Manzer) Colton.

He was a harness maker and lived the later part of his life in Fairmont, MN.

There we lose the trail of this record setting couple. If anyone has information on what happened to Charles & Mary Colton please contact myself at the address on this newsletter.

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