Flight of Serendipity

By Susan Overath Woolley

Moravian’s Main Street campus from the air. The just-completed Priscilla Payne Hurd Academic Complex is in the center, at the top. Reeves Library, with its blue entrance canopy, is above, at right, with the Haupert Union Building just above it. Comenius Hall, at left, faces the sunrise. Between Comenius and the library are Hamilton, Zinzendorf, Monocacy, and Memorial Halls.

A sleepy-looking group gathered behind Moravian’s Colonial Hall in the chilly pre-dawn of October 24. Some had come bearing the necessary equipment (and talent): Fred Grotenhuis of Balloonatics and Aeronuts, with a hot-air balloon packed up in a compact bundle on the back of his SUV, and photographer John Kish, loaded with cameras. Some had come to help: Charlie Bowden, Josh Zagorski, Brian Cascioli, and Marc Zimmerman, all of the Class of ’03. Some had come for the chance of a thrill: a free balloon ride over Moravian’s Main Street campus.

And one had come wondering if she had been crazy to hatch the whole idea in the first place: that was me.

It had all begun with a conversation last summer about the need for new aerial photographs, particularly of the Main Street campus, now that the row of small houses opposite the Haupert Union Building had been torn down and the magnificent new Priscilla Payne Hurd Academic Complex had risen on the spot. In September, I had my first experience of a hot-air balloon flight, and I was enthralled by the view, the quiet, the way it was possible to turn and take photographs in any direction, and the way people had come out of their houses to wave as the balloon passed overhead. I thought, “Why not do it over Moravian?” My flights of fancy included skimming Moravian’s rooftops while crowds of students smiled up and waved enthusiastically.

Fred Grotenhuis, the balloon pilot, was willing. Flying a balloon over Moravian, however, turned out to be more complicated than drifting over the New Jersey countryside on a Sunday morning. Moravian is in the flight path of the Lehigh Valley International Airport, and we had to get permission from the tower, which was readily given. Also, we knew where we wanted to go: over Moravian. We couldn’t just let ourselves be blown anywhere the wind cared to take us.

The prevailing wind, according to Fred, was from the west or southwest. If it stayed there, we could take off from the soccer field west of the HUB, drift across campus, and come down in the football field. This would also take care of another concern: Moravian’s neighborhood is not the open countryside; we could not land in the front yard of some neighbor’s house. But that meant that we couldn’t make our flight in the afternoon, because the playing fields would be in use. Balloon flights must take place just after dawn or just before sunset; it looked as if the early-bird flight was our only choice.

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Above, the balloon gradually fills with cold air. Below, Neil Dobracki ’05 helps to hold the balloon open for inflation, and watches (with apparent dubiousness) as the giant propane flame heats the air inside it.

Photos: John Kish IV