Missouri school's balloon messages travel as far as Pennsylvania

Kevin McClintock

When children from Mark Twain Elementary school in Carthage released hundreds of balloons last Tuesday, tiny notes tied to each multi-colored ball urged the nameless and faceless strangers who might find them to write the students back if they could.

Within days, the first response to the project, part of a reading program at the school, were flowing into the school’s office and Principal Laurel Rosenthal’s hands.

Some envelopes held cards; others hand-written notes. One had a picture of a smiling baby, while another had a map of the town marking the end of one balloon’s journey. Still another card had a picture on the front cover of one of the yellow balloons near an American flag.

“There are some very interesting things that people have told us, and the kids are thrilled to get back these letters,” Rosenthal said. The kids have promised to write a letter back to their new friends.

The longest ride taken by an individual balloon so far was recorded by Andy Graff, who lived in Baden, Penn. In a short note mailed back to the school, it read — “We got your balloon on the morning of May 2 while turkey hunting. What a ride this balloon must have had in just four days. It’s a long way from Carthage, Mo.”

Roughly 800 miles worth.

“It just really warms your heart that people will take the time to write back to our kids. It means so much to them,” Rosenthal said.

The card with the American flag on its cover was from Anita L. Massey of Carthage. She found her yellow balloon after she came home from work on the 28th at around 5 p.m.

Another balloon was found just off I-44 at exit 4 near Petro. Gweneth Johnson wrote “Your balloon almost made it to Oklahoma!”

Another card — flowers in the shape of a butterfly — came from Betty McDonald, who found a third westbound balloon in her backyard on Wednesday the 29th, on the west side of Joplin.

A fourth letter was sent not by an individual but a company — PCS Phosphate Company Inc. — who wrote in a typed letter, “Your balloon … was down by our pond, which (is) located on the Missouri and Kansas state line, just north of Highway 66 in Joplin. We are excited to send you this letter to let you know that yours was found. I hope your reading program went well this year.”

While winds near the ground were whipping steadily west on the day of the release, the furthest distances so far recorded were made by eastbound balloons — some traveling as far east as the Ohio/Indiana border.

Mrs. Edward Kropf, in Everton — a small town just west of Ash Grove and south of Greenfield — found the balloon at 4 p.m. on April 28 and wrote a hand-written letter, stating, “I was looking out the window and saw something blue in the fence row by the field (in) back of our house. Our school children had a balloon launch recently so I thought about it and told my daughter Mary (6) that she should go look, maybe somebody else had a balloon launch. So she went out to see and sure enough she brought in a balloon with a note!”

She went on to say her family is Amish Mennonites who “drive cars … and have electricity but we don’t have radios or televisions, etc.”

Another woman, this one near Bloomsdale, located south of St. Louis, was driving down Interstate 55 at around 7 p.m. Wednesday with her two daughters, ages 3 and 2, when the young ones spied a balloon hanging from a cedar tree.

“We stopped because we (saw) a note with it. I read what your note said to my daughters and they want to tell (you) hello, and that they love balloons. Our family went home, looked at an atlas and located your town. We hope to (hear) from you soon!”

But other balloons said adios to the Show-Me State and bobbed further east.

Charles L Grube, a dairy farmer living in Fort Recovery, Ohio, sent the school a letter, a picture of his 1-year-old son, and an Ohio map showing where the town is located.

“I noticed that your balloon launch was a part of a celebration for your reading program. Reading has always been a hobby of mine. I was lucky to have a mom who was a librarian and always kept my sisters and me supplied with books of all kinds.”

Fran Brown of Columbia City, Ind. (near the Great Lakes), was the first stranger outside Missouri to alert the school, when she noticed a bright blue balloon snagged to her pink magnolia tree.

“My fourth grade teacher in Pine Apple, Ala., told my class, ‘To be well read, you should read five books each week.’ Well, I am now 83 years old/young and have done just that — that comes out to about 260 books per year, so in 72 years, I’ve read 18,820 and I’m oh so glad!” she wrote.

The very first letter brought a round of laughs when Sarah Hunt, a Mark Twain teacher, snagged a balloon from a nearby tree branch and quickly wrote a note on a card — “I found the card to your balloon at my place of employment. It was in our back playground. See, I am a teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School in Carthage, Mo.

“P.S. – Maybe I’ll see ya’ sometime since you go to Mark Twain!”

How they traveled

So exactly how far did some of the Mark Twain balloons travel? Thanks to the help from Google Maps, here are some of the mileage totals — not bad for a little balloon, eh?

- Carthage west to 3522 Dakota Lane, Joplin = 22 miles

- Carthage west to Missouri/Kansas state line = 30.4 miles

- Carthage east to Everton, Mo. = 62.5 miles

- Carthage east to Bloomsdale, Mo. = 308 miles

- Carthage to Fort Recovery, Ohio = 641 miles

- Carthage to Columbia City, Ind. = 662 miles

- Carthage to Baden, Penn. = 800 miles

Carthage Press