A St. Louis Balloon Chase – The Great Forest Park Balloon Race – Meeting Mayor Francis Slay

I had not firmly planned on going to The Great Forest Park Balloon Race, but coming back home just before 5pm, I saw that they had not as yet taken off. Also, it was wonderful to see hundreds of people lined up around the park in their lawn chairs waiting to see the balloons launch, and I wanted to be a part of it all. So I rushed home, grabbed my camera and a long lens, jumped on my bike, and headed for the park. Indeed, getting in on bike or walking was the only way to get in the park at that time, though in truth in most of the park parking was not allowed to help with traffic.

Standing with thousands on the Athletic Fields at yet another free event–St. Louis is blessed with many, many of these–I was once again reminded of why I love this city, as I stood amidst a truly diverse crowd, in the country’s largest urban park, while it all still had a bit of a small town feel to it with the funnel cake vendors and beer stalls, amongst many others.

And then after watching several balloons lift gently into the sky to the cheers of the crowd, I rather spontaneously decided to get on my bicycle and give them chase. And chasing it was, as the winds were rather good this year and the balloons did not have to stop at stop lights. If you are a St. Louisan, you may notice that my chase was a good 6 miles or so, through Tower Grove Park, our second jewel of a park, and down to the Anheuser-Busch brewery by the river.

And there I was pleasantly surprised to see that one balloon had landed in a little park not a quarter of a mile from the Mississippi, which all of the other balloons crossed. And as I watched them pack up the balloon, I noticed that not only was it the City of St. Louis balloon but that one of the gentlemen standing next to it was St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay himself. Me: “You are the mayor, right.” Him, reaching out to shake my hand: “Yes, Francis Slay.” And then I got watch and listen as the balloonist read the Balloonist’s Prayer and opened a bottle of champagne. Then the balloonists packed up some more, the Mayor glad handed and conversed with the small crowd that had gathered, and then they headed to their car and I got on my bike and faced the prospect of the long uphills to Dogtown and then the downhill to my home later that night.

I hope you enjoy the illustration of the tale in the gallery, and may the grace of the Balloonist’s Prayer be true for you:

May the winds welcome you with softness.
May the sun bless you with its warm hands.
May you fly so high and so well that God
joins you in laughter and sets you gently
back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

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