Video Vault: Cleveland's 1986 Balloonfest, the world record that went bust

CLEVELAND - Those of us who remember the classic “turkey drop” episode of TV’s “WKRP in Cincinnati,” recall a publicity stunt gone horribly wrong.

The fictitious station dropped turkeys from a helicopter in a goodwill gesture to Cincy thinking the birds could fly. Instead, they plummeted earthward splattering into parking lots.

“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly,” said beleaguered WKRP General Manager Arthur Carlson.

Cleveland’s Balloonfest in 1986 had a similar plot.

The United Way event was to launch a million and a half balloons from Public Square. The number of balloons would break the world record for balloons sent skyward. It was to highlight the good work the organization does and act as a fundraiser too.

A net was constructed on the Square to hold the balloons in place. Volunteers filled balloon after balloon until the signal to launch was given.

The law of unintended consequences showed up that September day. With rain moving in, the launch went off, the balloons went up and away, for a short while.

As cooler air and rain collided with the helium balloons, the balloons fell back to earth, littering the landscape and waterways of northeast Ohio. Reports had balloons washing ashore on the Canadian side of Lake Erie in the days that followed.

The video in our player from September 28, 1986, is a music montage paying tribute to the balloon event. Watching our music video, you would never know anything had gone wrong and maybe it’s better that way. The shots of Chopper 5 flying through the clouds of balloons are something to behold.

Enjoy a spectacular look at Cleveland’s Balloonfest and let the bad memories fade away.

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