From research into a new version of LEST WE SEE WHERE WE ARE for Basel – a collaboration with Tim Etchells, with research assistance by Jessica Huber.
Found this photo in the Basel archives – Spelterini going up from the gasworks, now Voltaplatz, where Novartis have their global HQ, and where we’re considering siting the project.
Having made this show already for Dresden, Gent and Utrecht, I know when a photo is going to work… the more you look at this one the more you see, and the more you look into what’s going on, the more you find.
It seems that by this point he was no longer working with the acrobat LEONA DARE. They met in England, but ended up travelling widely.
Here’s a strange entry in the NY Times about Leona before they had met.
Spelterini’s brief wiki-entry life story is at first heart stopping, then heart breaking…
The outbreak of World War I put an end to Spelterini’s travels. Borders were closed, and Spelterini’s balloons remained grounded. He retired as an independent gentleman to Coppet near Geneva with his wife Emma (née Karpf), whom he had married on January 28, 1914 in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London. But although he was well off financially, his savings diminished in the war years, and what was left of it was eaten up by the post-war inflation. The airplane had surpassed ballooning, nobody cared anymore about his pre-war exploits, and Spelterini was all but forgotten. In 1922, he hired out as a showman at theTivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, posing for photos and taking people for short rides in a captive balloon. He detested it.Disappointed, he retired to Zipf near Vöcklabruck in Austria, where he had bought a small house and lived from the sale of the eggs of his 300 chickens. In 1926, he tried a last time to revive his old ballooning adventures. With the financial help of some friends, he started from Zurich in a rented balloon. But he fell unconscious during the voyage; his passengers just barely managed to crash-land the balloon in Vorarlberg. Spelterini returned to Zipf, where he died impoverished and largely unknown in 1931.
Back to the photo above… the paragraph below suggests his basket was stuffed with scientists at this time. It wouldn’t be suprising – Basel’s pharma companies were already getting big, and very curious…
In 1891, Spelterini returned to Switzerland. By that time, he was famous for his ballooning adventures. On July 26, 1891, Spelterini made his first ascent in Switzerland, starting at the Heimplatz in Zurich. The initial skepticism of the people vanished quickly, and his starts soon attracted crowds wherever he turned up: Zurich, Winterthur, St. Gall, Interlaken, Vevey, … His endeavours also caught the attention of scientists. On various occasions, Spelterini made ascents with scientists solely for the purpose of conducting experiments: with physicists to study the atmosphere, with physicians to study human blood cells at low atmospheric pressure, with geologists to study the earth from above.