Rhode Island

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O#43: Cumberland, Rhode Island
OAugust 7, 2010


Cumberland is a town of 30,000 people in the Northeastern part of Rhode Island.

The first European settler in the Cumberland area was William Blackstone. Blackstone is perhaps better known as the first European settler of Boston. There, after generously inviting some Puritans to settle nearby, Blackstone was persecuted by his new neighbors for his Anglican faith, and forced moved south to Rhode Island. This may sound rude and less than gracious, but if you've ever lived in Boston, it may make a certain amount of sense to you.

Cumberland was also the scene of the Nine Men's Misery, an incident in 1676 in which the Naragansett Indians tortured and killed nine white prisoners.

The town's other claims to fame are that a diary farm in Cumberland gave rise to the Cumberland Farms chain of convenience stores in the Northeast, and that the Ann & Hope discount department store in Cumberland was an early source of inspiration to Sam Walton for his own dabblings in retail.


Rhode Island is geographically the smallest state in the U.S. It also has the longest name -- officially, it is the state of "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" those being the two separate colonies that were merged together into the colossus of today.

Being a small state, Rhode Island has only one hot-air balloon festival -- one famous (among balloonsists) for taking place in a densely tree-filled area with very few landing spots, bordered by the ocean, where one festival participant in recent years was memorably forced to ditch (it is also called "the Ocean state"). Given these problems, I began looking for other options, and was fortunate to hear about Cumberlandfest.

Cumberlandfest is an annual community festival, which raises funds for youth sports programs in Cumberland. There are carnival rides, vendors, food and various types of entertainment, such as concerts, a car show, a dog show and semi-professional wrestling. Key to me, Cumberland is located in the northern part of the state, farther from the ocean and from the Providence airport airspace. I corresponded with Nicole Noury of the Cumberlandfest organizing committee, who arranged for me to be part of the event in 2010, the 20th anniversary year of Cumberlandfest.


The day before I was to travel to Rhode Island, I learned that UPS ("What can Brown do to you?") had lost a box of my rigging on its way to Rhode Island. So Larry and I spent the day before the flight driving around Rhode Island and Massachusetts trying to find carabiners, mountain climbing runners, webbing and water bladders. The staff at various REI stores were very helpful, although one of them shouted "not warranteed for balloon use!" as we were leaving with my replacement gear.


The evening before the flight was quite windy until well after dark. It made me wonder what conditions would be like on the following afternoon, although the forecast still looked reasonable.

The next morning, I was fortunate to be joined by ballooning friends from Connecticut and New Jersey: Dick Young, Gary and Carol Weed, Al and Bev Theodore, and Dave and Sue Lee. They helped me put together my makeshift rigging, then reviewed maps with Larry for the chase.


Cumberlandfest takes place at Diamond Hill State Park, a large woody area that was once a ski hill. Nicole had assigned us a large area for the inflation, sheltered from the wind by tall trees. When we arrived, the treetops were waving pretty briskly; in our clearing it was generally calm, but every once in a while the wind would gust and swirl around down where we were. My crew rolled out the helium cylinders and positioned the sandbags.


At 4 PM, the Cumberlandfest volunteers showed up to inflate the balloons. We delayed for a while, because of the wind, but after a while conditions improved to the point where our inflation area was consistently calm. We began the inflation.


Nicole Noury and John

The Fire Marshal and Gregg Noury