here is another excerpt from the novel
The Story of T. S. C. Lowe - Inventor, Scientist, Magician, and Father of the U. S. Air Force
IN THE SUMMER OF 1847, T. S. C. Lowe’s father decided, as his family was growing again, and his finances were still not doing well, they should move to Randolph. This town had been Clovis’s birthplace, and he had dreams of returning to a farm there and opening up a guest house.
Thaddeus listened patiently to his father’s schemes, but was secretly making plans of his own, knowing it was time for him to set off. He realized it would not be easy to leave as he loved his family. But he wanted to go to Boston, like his brother Joseph. After considerable discussion, the matter was settled. Although he was sorry to see his son go off, Thaddeus’s father wasted no time in talk, but agreed to write a letter to Joseph. Hopefully,Joseph would find an apprenticeship for his younger brother as a boot and shoe cutter. The father reminded his son if things didn’t work out, he could always return to the steady habits of home.
With the passing of each summer’s day, Thaddeus became more impatient when Joseph’s answer had not returned. Moreover, T. S. C. Lowe was not sure that he even wanted to follow in the cobbler’s vocation. Although he thought not unkindly of his father and brother, Thaddeus considered himself much more intelligent then they were. It was a difficult decision to make, but he felt he had more to do with his life. He had been brought up to believe that duty to ones family came before duty to ones self. Nevertheless, one moonless night Thaddeus packed his kit, and slid down a rope, secretly leaving without saying goodbye.
In August, 1847, toting his carpet bag on his shoulder and with two half eagles tied in a sack hidden under his shirt, young Thaddeus Lowe began his journey from his home in Jefferson to Portland Maine, more than 100 miles away. Lowe walked the dugways, and hitched rides on Owensboros with farmers, who often gave him food and a place to sleep in exchange for doing chores. At that time, $10 was an “almighty sum” for a boy of fifteen. Thaddeus had been saving this money since he was twelve. Despite his unusual height, and ungainly appearance, Lowe moved with a fluid grace, a skill he had learned from playing with Indian children when he was young, and hunting with them when he got older. Considered a clever lad, and a hard worker, Lowe had never had any difficulty finding jobs, and was good about saving his money.
When he finally arrived in Portland a month later, T.S.C. Lowe was overwhelmed. He had never seen so many buildings. Red-brick structures as tall as three stories lined the streets leading down to the wharves. The waterfront bustled with activity. Numerous drays and wagons rattled to and fro over the cobbled thoroughfares, the drivers shouting and fanning their horses with enthusiasm. There was commerce everywhere, with hawkers and peddlers doing business right out on the sidewalks as well as in the shops. The fishmongers shouted from their carts, and blew loud on their horns, selling porgies at five cents a pound. The salt air smelled of drying fish, wood, leather, tea, tar, tanning acid, and the dozens of other odors of cargoes coming and going to various ports around the world. After some searching, the awed mountain boy finally found a place to stay in exchange for doing odd jobs while he waited for a ship that would take him to Boston. A few days later he learned of a lumber boat going that way, and arranged to have a berth on it as a cabin boy.
Threatening clouds hung over the harbor as Lowe’s ship set sail the very next day. Never having been on the water before, the up and down movement, as the old hull creaked and groaned across the swells, did its best to upset the boy’s digestion. He spent the better part of his first morning with his head hanging over the rail. But Lowe soon became used to the boat’s motion. He loved the surge of power as the sails caught the wind, plowing the bow through the white waves, and the sudden change of direction as the boom came around causing the hull to tip, and the boat tacked off on a new heading. He decided that if he wasn’t to become a balloonist he would be a sailor. However, by the end of the trip, Lowe had set his choice firmly in favor of ballooning. The vast number of rats scurrying back and forth between the ship’s deck and hold, which one of his duties was to contain, and which he was told were an integral part of any sea voyage, had turned his mind to the clear skies.
After a sea voyage that lasted the better part of three days, young Lowe finally arrived in Boston. If he had been impressed by the city of Portland, Boston must have seemed to the boy to be the center of the world. The harbor was choked with boats of all sizes and descriptions. Masts towered above water as sloops, frigates, and whalers lay at anchor. Many ships in the vast armada were flying flags from nations which Thaddeus, even with his vast knowledge of geography, could not identify. The lumber boat had to wait in the harbor for a full day for a slip to be vacated.
When his ship finally docked Thaddeus Lowe ran down the ramp, relieved to be on land. He had no intention of ever going back to sea. Stories he heard from members of the crew of young lads being shanghaied and forced to go on voyages of sometimes two or three years, during which they were flogged for disobedience, had left him terrified.
Looking around him, the new arrival realized that he had been ridiculous to even consider remaining in Coos County. How could anyone with an interest in life remain there for long when there was such a stage as Boston? Lowe’s eyes danced about the many people engaged in diverse activities, from lawyers to chimney sweeps. The narrow, crooked streets hummed with the gabble of merchants, market men, ladies, priests, strumpets, street urchins, soldiers, and sailors; and rumbled with the clatter of horses, oxen, carts, coaches, broughams, and cabriolets. He could not stop long enough in any one place to catch his thoughts before his senses were assailed by some new experience or idea. Here, Thaddeus told himself, was where he would make his reputation.
The directions Lowe had received from a passer-by to his brother’s cobbler shop led through a labyrinth of dark and winding streets, lined with dank cavernous warehouses, where it appeared that even at midday the sun never greeted the ground. He wondered if he had been purposely led astray. The newcomer did not need to use his imagination to suspect that this neighborhood, the turf of rival street gangs, was not a place a person ventured into at night, especially if one was alone. To Thaddeus everyone appeared suspicious of everyone else; and he himself became the subject of numerous inquiring glances.
After a long, but for Thaddeus fascinating, trek through the tangle of narrow, foul smelling, streets Lowe found his brother’s place of work. Joseph asked his employer for the rest of the afternoon off. The two left the shop and set off walking, with Joseph catching up on the news from home. Thaddeus told of his falling out with his father over not wanting to move back to Randolph, and of their reconciliation, and how he had left without telling anyone. Out of indifference, or perhaps respect for their father, Joseph listened while saying little. What his thoughts were he did not divulge. The two boys had always tended to side with their mother in disagreements anyway. To them Alpha Lowe was an honored and beloved woman, possessed of exceptional energy, a strong will, and high moral principals, who they loved deeply. While Thaddeus had yet to take a serious interest in the opposite sex, these were traits he would discover in the woman who, after the briefest of courtships, he would eventually marry.
In a short while, the brothers came to a pleasant area with a green meadow and many trees. Overwhelmed by his rapid passage through what must have been the heart of the city, Thaddeus allowed as how he felt more comfortable now that they had arrived in the country. Joseph laughed, explaining they had not reached the outskirts, but were still in Boston, only in an enormous park called the Common,that sat right in the middle of town. Displaying his newly acquired urbanity, Joseph led his brother to the other side of the Common, where he showed the newcomer the wonder of Beacon Hill, lined with its elegant red brick houses, that led in orderly rows up to the massive yellow dome of the State House. Setting his bag down to admire the setting, Thaddeus asked his brother how much farther to their house?
The would-be shoemaker was disappointed when Joseph revealed they were merely “sight-seeing” in Boston. Thaddeus was being apprenticed to a Mr. William Otis Nash, who had taught his brother shoemaking. The boy who had come so far to get his start in the big city, would be living further down the south shore in the small town of Hingham. Sensing his brother’s disappointment, Joseph reminded Thaddeus, he couldn’t expect to start at the top, and should be grateful, as Nash, French, and Company was one of the best boot and shoe manufacturers in New England. He assured his younger brother that he would not come out on the “little end of the horn” in this situation. For Thaddeus, who had banked so much, against his better judgment, on working with his brother, it was a painful revelation. He went silent, torn between elation and despair over what might become of him.
Stephen Poleskie did a signing of copies of The Balloonist at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D. C. on Saturday, June 2, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.