Their Love Kept Lifting Them Higher and Higher . . . An Airborne Wedding Takes Place in the Skies Above Ohio

October 19, 1874

The first airborne wedding that is verifiable took place above the vicinity of Cincinnati, Ohio, in what one newspaper account characterized as “a matrimonial sensation.” Mary Elizabeth Walsh and Charles Samuel Colton exchanged vows in a hot-air balloon named “P.T. Barnum.” (Both the bride and groom worked for the legendary showman’s traveling circus.) 

As the balloon’s pilot, William Harrison Donaldson transported up into the skies not only the marrying couple and the minister who performed the nuptials but also the bridesmaid, groomsman, and master of ceremonies. Approximately 50,000 people, including Barnum himself, were among those back down on the ground doing their best to cheer on and witness this first marriage among the clouds. 

The balloon, which was decorated with flags and flowers, eventually climbed more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) into the skies and then began to float away. The officiating minister, Reverend Howard B. Jeffries, later recalled that the actual ceremony occurred when it appeared that the balloon might drift over Kentucky – something, he maintained, that could have invalidated the wedding since the marriage license had been obtained in Ohio. 

After the ceremony was completed and the balloon had been in the air for more than an hour, the wedding party began their descent from what Reverend Jeffries called “the grandest, most wonderful, and happiest experience of our life” to successfully return to earth. 

For more information on the in-flight wedding of Mary Elizabeth Walsh and Charles Samuel Colton, please check out https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/First_Aerial_Wedding and https://www.futilitycloset.com/2015/12/24/lofty-sentiments/

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