April 1965 - Monthly. Vol. 29, No. 4
Publication Office - Dublin, New Hampshire 03444
Contributed by Brenda Tackett, 7-5-10
the Penobscot River and my 'chute caught in the top rigging of a three-masted schooner, and there I hung,
helpless. But I got free and landed in the water--barely missing athe Boston-Bangor boat."
Bonnette said his greatest hazards were church spires, chimneys, and radio aerials, that often got entangled in the loose ropes that he might be dragging. After dusting the 'chute, he repacked it very carefully. "Had a close call in Springfield," he laughed, tightening a buckle. "There was a big crowd on hand and I went up higher than usual to give them a good show. I didn't know much about cross-currents of wind, and when I cut loose, I hit a pocket and must have dropped 600 feet before the 'chute opened. I saw I was headed for the spire of a tall church, and just then a piece of the 'chute became entangled with a weather vane, and I came to a halt.
"Below me I could see the milling crowd, wagons and autos, and the hard paving and brick sidewalk. "Bonnette," I says to myself, "if that weather vane snaps, you're a goner. Then I heard the fire whistle and realized somebody had pulled the alarm. Trucks and men with ladders and nets arrived in a jiffy--and somehow got me untangled."
He ran his slender fingers through his bushy white hair and looked up at the clear blue sky. "It's live wires I dread most. That's how my wife got injured just two years after we were married."
In halting words he described the scene in Malone, New York the day they made a double parachute jump. His wife came down smack in a stretch of live wires--and although she caught hold of a few, they broke and she landed on the hard pavement with a broken back. For the next twenty-five years she suffered as few women have; but her husband was ever ready and willing to provide the best care and most expert medical help he could get. He had a special wheel chair-bed designed, and in it she followed Bonnette wherever he went--and watched him jump. "She got her biggest thrill when I perfected
the cannon trick. Ever see that enacted?"
Bonnette fished out a few photos and an advertising poster that showed him being fired from a cannon, suspended from a free balloon, a mile or so in the air. It was as spectacular as it was unusual.
"How did I do it? Easy!" he laughed, "It's mostly an optical illusion. Come over to the barn and I'll show you my cannon."
It was a six-foot hunk of rusted sheet iron pipe, with a powerful spring at one end that could be sprung like a rat trap. Next to the spring was a loose bag, filled with confetti, mostly tiny chunks of black paper.
"Here's how I do it," said Bonnette, laying aside his pipe for a huge cigar. "First I fill the bag with confetti and pack it next to the seat of the spring. Then I wiggle into the pipe, head first, and light my cigar. I keep my feet snug against the spring, and in my left hand I hold a big firecracker made expressly for this purpose. When my balloon is high enough in the air, I touch the end of the long fuse of the firecracker with the end of my cigar, count ten, jam back on my foot pad which releases the sping, and I shoot out of the cannon, the parachute strapped to my back. the sound of tha firecracker exploding and the sight of all that black confetti makes folks think I have been ejected by gunpowder. It's quite a stunt and very popular--but easy when you know how."
Editor's Note: In 1946, at age seventy-five, Bonnette wrote Alton Blackington that he could not pass the physical examinations necessary to allow him to do his acrobatics from a parachute. "I cancelled a lot of good contracts," he wrote, "but will hope to get them another season. I'm not quitting the balloon game, and, if all goes well, I will be at it again in 1947. I hate to lay off." But he never did make his 5,000 jump even though, until the end came in 1949, he believed that his "next year would be the biggest year of all."