Adirondack Balloon Festival 1999 — Another hurricane

Maury Thompson
2 min readSep 20, 2019

Yesterday I wrote about launches canceled at the 1989 Adirondack Balloon Festival because of Hurricane Hugo.

Ten years later another storm worked itself into a wrath and interrupted the 1999 Adirondack Balloon Festival.

“If Mother Nature and Hurricane Floyd cooperate, more than 100 hot-air balloons will fill the skies today through Saturday,” Post-Star reporter Suzanne Seay wrote on Sept. 16, 1999.

Floyd did not cooperate. Its winds knocked down trees, interrupted power to 18,000 homes in the region, and canceled the Thursday and Friday balloon launches.

Winds had subsided in time for the Saturday morning launch to proceed as planned.

I like to tell people: “Balloonists don’t compete with nature. They cooperate with nature, and hope that nature cooperates with them.”

Walter Grishkot, the festival’s co-founder and long-time organizer, said it this way: “If you could only order no wind — that would be a great, great idea.”

When balloonists gather, they recite the Balloonist’s Prayer:

“The winds have welcomed you with softness. The sun has blessed you with his warm hands. You have flown so high and so well that God has joined you in laughter and set you back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.”

In 2000, that prayer was manifested in a super natural way when Mother Nature had a change of heart that brought not only a rainbow, but also an even more powerful sign of hope.

It’s a story that brought tears to the eyes of Walter and Joan Grishkot every time they recounted it.

Foul weather had kept balloons from flying at the Sunday launch that year.

So Mel Hanson, pilot of the Energizer Bunny-shaped balloon, stayed over for a special Monday afternoon flight, launching from Crandall Park with Walt as a passenger.

As it so happened, the wind direction was taking the balloon toward the Northway, a destination balloonists try to avoid.

“So we’re up flying, and we’re going the wrong direction,” Walt told the story.

But it actually was the right direction, for this one particular occasion.

The wind took the balloon directly over the Cunningham Avenue home of Geoffrey Sommo, an eight-year-old boy who had died just minutes earlier from adrenoleukodysrophy, a rare terminal disease.

The youngster’s nickname was the Energizer Bunny, and the parents took the balloon appearance as a sign of hope.

Sources: The Post-Star, Sept. 16, 19, 1999; “The Biggest Kid at the Balloon Festival: The Walter Grishkot Story.”

Click here to read my most recent previous Adirondack Balloon Festival history post.

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Maury Thompson

Freelance history writer and documentary film producer from Ticonderoga, NY