25 Years Ago, Cleveland Released 1.5 Million Balloons Into the Air And Caused Some Problems

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The Plain Dealer's Michael O'Malley — who, should he ever lose his job at the paper, is clearly ready for a second career as an extra in recreations of the Continental Congress if his author photo is any indicationhas a piece on a quirky bit of Cleveland history today.

25 years ago, on September 27, 1986, as a kickoff to the "Give us money" phase of the calendar year, the United Way helped organize what it hoped would be a new Guinness world record: 1.5 million helium balloons released from Public Square. As O'Malley tells us, approximately 1.5 million balloons did float into the air that day, but 1) No one knows if they actually set a record, and 2) The celebration was tempered by a host of problems the balloons caused afterward. As a United Way spokesman told O'Malley, "We would not do a balloon launch ever again. We've learned a lot in the last 25 years."

Among the balloon-related mishaps after the release:

— The Coast Guard complained balloons over Lake Erie complicated their search for a missing boater.

— Balloons dotted Canadian beaches.

— Multiple accidents caused by distracted drivers.

— A 30-minute delay at Burke.

— And, finally, the most serious reported repercussion: "a Geauga County woman complained that balloons landing on her property spooked her prize Arabian horses."

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