The First Real Flying Reindeer!

The first real flying reindeer?

A reindeer flying over Stockholm in 1851? Seriously?

Yes, it happened.

I was rereading Augusta’s diary entry about her outing on 18 June 1851 to watch the first balloon ride in Stockholm.

On Wednesday we walked to Skeppsbron to, if possible, take a boat over to Djurgården, where an Italian intended to ascend by an air balloon, but seeing the dense crowd along the pier, we realized that it would be impossible to get to our destination that way. Erik, therefore, borrowed a boat from a captain, but it was so full of water that Nanna and I had to stand on a board with the danger of at any moment losing our balance and falling overboard.

Arriving at our destination, we chose a hill from where we could best see the balloon and happened upon the company of the Crown Princess, Princess Eugenie, and Prince August, who had come on foot from Rosendahl, and the Crown Prince on horseback and a whole host of court ladies and cavaliers, all packed with the rest of the crowd and with their eyes following the ever-rising balloon.

After we had had a cup of tea at Davidsons and avoided a shower, we went home in an omnibus. (Augusta’s Diary, Stockholm, June 1851)

So here was Augusta, seeing for the first time an air balloon. But all she wrote about were the crowds, the uncomfortable boat ride, and the royal family. And that it rained. Nothing about the balloon or how it would be to fly over Stockholm.

I decided to find out a little more about the event.

The Italian aeronaut: Guiseppe (Joseph) Tardini

Tardini came to Stockholm in the summer of 1851. On 18 June, he was to give a performance that no citizen of Stockholm had ever seen. He would fill his 12.5-meter wide balloon, named Samson, with hydrogen gas and soar into the sky. Cannons would be fired and a military band would give a concert.

The flight was a success according to the next day’s papers. It had been a magnificent show. The stately balloon had quickly soared and the sailor, dressed in a picturesque sailors outfit, had climbed up from the gondola, waving a red and white flag to the crowd below. The balloon had sailed high over the waters and then disappeared into a rain cloud. The balloon had then successfully touched down at Hornstull.

Tardini made 4 more flights in Stockholm and asked for volunteers to accompany him. During two of those, Per Ambjörn Sparre volunteered. He was an adventurer and an inventor, having given up on his medical studies. His brother, Count Erik Sparre, would marry Augusta’s best friend and relative, Hanna Schubert later that summer. Augusta mentioned in her diary that Per Ambjörn was at the wedding – I wonder if she asked him about his balloon ride?

Someone must have had a crazy idea!

On the 27 July 1851, Tardini was going to make his last flight in Stockholm. But why ride in a gondola under the balloon if you could do something more spectacular? Someone must have had a crazy idea because Tardini announced that he would be standing on a live reindeer which would be tied to the balloon!

Tardini standing on a reindeer

How would a reindeer react if it was tied to a huge balloon being filled up with gas! And with a military brass band playing a march specifically composed for the occasion! I assume any animal would freak out!

And why a reindeer? I had to look up the history of flying reindeers to see if I had missed something. The first reference to a flying reindeer was an illustrated Christmas poem in 1821.  But was that what Tardini had in mind? And who provided the reindeer?

Nevertheless, the flight actually took place and was described in the papers the following day.

Stockholms Dagblad, 26 July 1851

Everything went as planned with Tardini standing on the reindeer and taking off from Humlegården. There was only a slight breeze and the balloon sailed away towards Lidingö. Then the wind changed direction and the balloon changed its course towards Värmdö where it finally landed. The captain on a passing steamboat volunteered to take them back to Stockholm but Tardini, who had to take care of the balloon, asked if the captain could just take the reindeer. The reindeer, which was unharmed, was led onboard. The day ended with a huge display of fireworks in Humlegården (hopefully, the reindeer didn’t have to witness that as well).

So there it is; the first real flying reindeer.

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