Balloon Glow grounded in Freedom Festival tradition

Thousands expected at annual Cedar Rapids event

A hot-air balloon in 1976 being blown up on the First Avenue Lawn of the Brucemore Mansion. (Photo From Brucemore Archives)
A hot-air balloon in 1976 being blown up on the First Avenue Lawn of the Brucemore Mansion. (Photo From Brucemore Archives)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Ballooning is in the family for Adam Magee.

His mother, who fostered his interest in the hobby when he was 5 years old, took him on his first flight at the age of 6. Decked out in a bike helmet and knee pads, the weather was expected to be calm for Magee’s first trip in a hot-air balloon.

However, Magee recalls, that wasn’t the case. Because of heavy winds, the basket holding Magee tipped over during their landing.

“My dad always says when I got out of the basket that I couldn’t stop talking (about it),” Magee said.

Nearly 22 years later, Magee still hasn’t stopped.

He’ll be piloting one of the five hot air balloons on display during the annual Freedom Festival Balloon Glow set from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday on lawn at Brucemore, 2160 Linden Dr. SE.

The Balloon Glow is open to the public. Admission is a $5 Freedom Festival button available for purchase at the gate.

The Balloon Glow found its grounding in 1989, when roughly 100 people gathered at Brucemore to watch two balloons inflate as the sun set, said David Janssen, executive director of the estate.

“It really had its origins when this was a privately owned home,” Janssen said. “Margaret Hall was living here in 1976 when Peter Stamats launched a balloon from the lawn.”

Hall later used the picture of the balloon on her Christmas card that year.

In 1990, the Balloon Glow was replicated and drew a crowd of nearly 1,000. Tuesday, it celebrates 28 years.

Magee, 26, will be participating in the event for the second time. He and his wife Kim — who he met through ballooning — moved to the area three years ago.

Magee said he enjoys the Balloon Glow because of its setting.

“With 10,000 people all packed into the lawn, it’s a really unique setting at Brucemore,” Magee said.

Magee said the ballooning community is a small group.

“As you go around the Midwest you get to know everybody,” Magee said. “Even around the world, we’re all friends on Facebook.”

But with thousands turning out for the Balloon Glow each year, the interest in the hobby is consistently there.

“People come up and talk to us,” Magee said. “Part of the fun is just sharing ballooning with everybody.”

Janssen agrees.

“It (the Balloon Glow) is very satisfying, it’s exactly what we hoped Brucemore would be when we were envisioning how this site could be a part of the community,” he said. “There’s nothing like seeing families and kids and people from all over the city and the county just enjoying the space.

“There’s so much vibrancy, excitement, color and music, but all of that against the backdrop of a mansion that was built in 1886 and an estate that was fully formed by 1910, there’s just nothing like it.”

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