Balloonfest, The Tragic Day in 1986 When 1.5 Million Balloons Were Launched Too Early in Cleveland, Ohio

“Balloonfest” is a short documentary by filmmaker Nathan Truesdell that tells the story of the day in 1986 when the United Way of Cleveland set out to break the world record for most balloons launched in a single day. Because of weather conditions, the 1.5 million balloons were launched earlier than planned, with most of them landing sooner than expected onto nearby Lake Erie.

The presence of these colorful balloons on the water tragically impeded the efforts of the Coast Guard who were searching for two fishermen who had disappeared from their boat during the subsequent storm.

In September 1986, the city of Cleveland attempted to set a special record: the simultaneous launch of 1.5 million balloons. But fate intervened, and the result was both crazier and more tragic than anyone could have imagined.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.