Today we tell the story of what has been called “the most ridiculous duel in history,” in which two guys in France decided their duel should take place while they were flying hot air balloons.
Or, technically, maybe gas balloons.
Or, possibly, not at all – this is a story that’s been widely reprinted in books and online, and there is at least one newspaper article that appears to be from 1808, when this supposedly happened.
But honestly, listen to this and you may also wonder whether even in this bonkers world if this isn’t maybe more of a legend than anything else.
The world’s only known balloon duelists were Monsieur de Grandpré and Monsieur de Pique.
The newspaper article said that a renowned dancer at the Paris opera, Mademoiselle Tirevit, was being “kept” – that’s the word they used, “kept” – by Monsieur de Grandpré.
But she was also romantically involved with Monsieur de Pique.
So the men decided that they would vie for her hand in a duel, after which Mademoiselle Tirevit would “bestow her smile upon the survivor of the two.”
But rather than a swordfight, or even pistols at 10 paces, they came up with an entirely new field of honor.
They would each ride in a balloon, ascend to about 2,000 feet, and then shoot.
They would aim not at each other, but at each other’s balloon.
And each guy would have a second, who would help them pilot the balloon while they were getting shot at.
Again, I point out how bananas this story is.
Would it be fair to say this was like the Fyre Festival of balloon duels?
On May 3, 1808, at 9 am, they cut the ropes holding the balloons on the ground, and they started ascending.
It was de Pique who got off the first shot, but he missed, which to some commentators was the aerial version of not being able to hit the broad side of a barn.
Monsieur de Grandpré hit his target, sending his rival Le Pique, his balloon and his second a half mile or so back to the ground, where they landed on a housetop and were “dashed to pieces.”
Some accounts suggest that Parisians on the ground thought they were watching a balloon race, not a balloon duel, which would have made the outcome even that much more shocking.
After winning the duel, the Northampton Mercury wrote that Monsieur Grandpré “mounted aloft in the grandest style.”
I can only hope they were referring to ballooning.
In 1804, which was four years before the supposed French balloon duel, then Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a land-based duel.
The pistols were later used in the US Civil War, and in 1930 they became the property of Chase Bank.
They’re kept at JP Morgan Chase’s headquarters on Park Avenue in New York.
And I bet nobody gets to touch them except for maybe Lin-Manuel Miranda.
A Balloon Duel (Trove)
Photo via Pixabay