"Professor" Park Van Tassel
An American Aeronautical Pioneer
"Professor" Park Van Tassel
Jenny Rumary Van Tassel
*Photos courtesy of Irene Rumary, niece of Jenny
Park was born abt 1853 in Cass County, Indiana, the son of Rufus Van Tassel (d. Feb 1899, Kosciusko Co. Ind.) and Nancy ?. The 1860 U.S. Census lists Rufus Van Tassel, 37 yrs old, b. Miami Co. Ohio, Nancy 33 yrs. old, b. Bartholomew, Co. Indiana, Eliza I. age 14, Clarissa A. age 9, Parker A. age 7, and Rosa B. age 1.
Park Van Tassel's balloon flying exploits began in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, July 4, 1882. Over the next ten years his travelling show would take him throughout the western U.S., Hawaii, Australia, and eventually to Dacca (spelled Dhaka now) Bangladesh. On 16 March, 1892, a tragic accident appears to have ended the aeronaut's ballooning exploits. The incident was recounted in a December 7, 2001 article of a Bangladeshi newspaper, "The Independent":
Van Tassel, the balloon woman from America
In the Narinda Christian graveyard is buried Jeanette Van Tassel, a daredevil balloonist who enthralled thousands of amazed Dhakiites by her airborne exploits way back in 1892. Unfortunately, the exhibition ended on a tragic note as the adventurous lady met her end during her descent. During the 19th century the social life of Dhaka was centred around the Nawab and his family. The Nawabs were famous for their love for entertainment and pageantry. For the benefit of the city dwellers they often organised special events. It was because of one such initiative of the then Nawab of Dhaka Khwaja Ahsanullah that this lady was flown in from America. From the newspaper reports of that period we learn that the exhibition generated a good deal of enthusiasm among citizens. She started her ascent at 6.20 PM on 16 March 1892 in front of Ahsan Manzil. This flight by a balloon was something totally new for the people. The Nawab himself and local and foreign dignitaries witnessed the event. However, after floating high into the sky tragedy struck on her way down. To the shock of the onlookers, her balloon got entangled with a tree at the Ramna garden . The police rushed in to rescue. But while getting down holding on to a bamboo Tassel got severely injured. She died a couple of days later in a hospital. It is alleged that her misforune was the result of police apathy. So certain things have not really changed.
A follow-up commentary appeared in the December 11 issue of
The American lady who died unsung
It must have been a major event in 1892 in the sleepy town of Dacca (as it was spelt then). On 16 March of that year the citizens of the town were in a state of great ferment. They would witness the daredevil act of a young American lady, Jeanette Van Tassel flying by balloon. Flying by balloon was till then an unknown sport in this part of the world. Jeanette Van Tassel, in her late twenties, had flown by balloon many times before in different countries of the world. But in Dacca her flight proved inauspicious. Tragedy struck and she died in the course of her landing after her balloon was enmeshed in a tree at Ramna. The direction of the wind upset her plan to land on the roof of Ahsan Manzil.
She had been married only days ago and her husband, along with many members of Dacca elite, was present at the spot when a bamboo that was given to her for descending from the tree-top, snapped and she crash-landed with grievous injury. Her grave exists in the Christian cemetery at Narinda in the city.
As the first instance of flight by balloon in East Bengal and the following tragedy, the incident created a great commotion at the time and some contemporary newspapers (e.g. the Bengal Gazetteer) gave coverage to it. But in latter years the event was completely forgotten.
I, therefore, greatly appreciate your commemoration of Van Tassel in a small box - item in the Weekend magazine of your esteemed newspaper of 7 December. The people of this city should remember her as a young daring woman who had come from far-away USA to give a demonstration of the sport she loved so much. I would request the DCC authorities to take steps to preserve the memory of this nearly forgotten American flyer. Further research into her life would be worthwhile. The US Embassy in Dhaka may also do its bit for perpetuating Van Tassel's memory.
1882, July 4th - Albuquerque, New Mexico - Park VT, a bartender by profession makes the first balloon launch in the history of the State of New Mexico.