South Carolina


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O#41: Mauldin, South Carolina
OSeptember 20, 2008



Mauldin is a city in the upstate region of South Carolina. The town was named after Lieutenant Governor W. L. Mauldin, who in 1820 helped persuade the local railroad to build their tracks through the town. The town dwindled in population during the Great Depression, and in the 1950's, by a vote of 115 to 106, narrowly avoided becoming part of the neighboring city of Greenville. More recently Mauldin has experienced rapid growth, its population rising from 4,000 in 1970 to around 18,000 today.


Perhaps as a consequence of having at one point withered away to almost nothing, today's Mauldin is a pleasantly modern town, with new housing developments and other neighborhoods a decade or two older; and one of every chain and franchise. The only obvious hint of some kind of historical past is a pioneer cabin, preserved on the grounds of the new Cultural Center, just across the street from the modern City Hall. There's not a whole lot of there there --an odd quality in a small Southern town, although to me as a Californian it seemed rather homelike.


Mauldinfest is the city's annual festival, held in September. The event takes place in Sunset Park, and features free musical entertainment, a car show, vendors and carnival rides. In 2008 I was invited by organizer Judy McKinley to do a cluster balloon flight at the event. I had read on the internet that there at one point had been a hot-air balloon festival associated with Mauldinfest, but was told that over the years they'd given up on hot-air balloons due to the weather -- in September, in upstate South Carolina, the wind in the afternoon was too strong for hot-air ballooning about half the time.



In light of that, I'm not sure why it seemed like a good idea to try a cluster balloon flight there. Probably some of it had to do with the relatively small number of balloon festivals in the state; and perhaps some of it was just optimism. The state seal of South Carolina sums this up nicely with the saying "Dum spiro spero" -- while I breathe, I hope. The palmetto tree featured on the state seal and flag commemorates a Revolutionary War battle, in which a fort made of palmetto logs was able to survive bombardment by cannon. Instead of being blown apart as a sturdier wood might have been, the soft, spongy palmetto logs had simply absorbed the British cannonballs. Things have a way of working out. Dum spiro spero.


The local Airgas store donated the helium for my flight. Airgas has provided the helium for my flights in many parts of the U.S., and wherever they are, they always seem to be supporting their local community through events like Mauldinfest. I've suggested that they need a national cluster ballooning spokesperson but still haven't heard back from them.

We began setting up at the place designated by the festival, over by the car show, but my crew chief Larry and I realized that the afternoon wind would in all likelihood line up with the length of the park and make the proposed site a wind tunnel. So we scouted out another site sheltered by trees at the far end of the park, and the guys from the city public works department helped us move all my sandbags, water ballast bags and helium tanks there.