In my previous blog I cited Jens Johan Vangensten’s amusing anecdote about a disastrous attempt at ballooning by a certain Kjerstrup. Today I could not contain my curiosity and tried to find out whether I could dig up some more information about this intriguing character from the comfort of my office chair. No fooling around in archives this time, but some good new-fashioned googling.
An Unsuspected Return to Tordenskjold
First things first: the bare biographical facts. The man was born in 1773, his first names are Carl and Friderich, and he was a copper-smith by profession. When he died exactly is unclear. Dansk Biografisk Leksikon is inconclusive on the matter and gives 1816 – ‘at the earliest’ – as the year of his death, yet a newspaper announcement published as late as May 1820 kindly summons “copper-smith C.F. Kjerstrup” to the local pawnbroker’s office. Of course, it is well possible that the pawnbroker’s administration was not exactly up to date, but it is strange nonetheless.
Kjerstrup was married to Louisa Frederikke Simonsen and the couple had at least one son: Theodor Vilhelm, who would later adopt the last name of his adoptive father, the historian Ditlev Christian Rumohr. And here my archival digressions make a surprising return to the main road: Theodor Vilhelm would make a modest career as a writer and his most popular work was about… you guessed it, Peter Wessel Tordenskjold! In fact, Rumohr is represented with no less than 7 historicist works in my database on literature. All the above information is by the way taken from the encyclopedia entry on Rumohr; his biological father, despite his best efforts, never received that honour.
Besides being a copper-smith, like his father before him, Kjerstrup was also a notable aeronaut. Not a very successful one, however, to say the least.
The attempt of 6 January 1805, as we have seen, ended in disaster and utter chaos. In an open letter to the public published on 18 January in the wonderfully titled newspaper Kiøbenhavns Kongelig alene priviligerede Adresse-Contoirs Efterretninger Kjerstrup offered his humble apologies – of sorts:
With the deepest feeling of regret I present myself to the public in order to justify, or at the very least apologize for, my unfortunate aeronautic attempt of Sunday 6 January.
Fellow citizens! Considering the circumstances it is my duty to repay you the money that I collected, but I am not able to do so, because I spent all I received from you for the balloon, as well as everything I owned myself – and more; but even under this circumstances I see a possibility to restore my honour and show that I am worthy of the appreciation and sympathy so many good and noble people have shown me; just like I 5 years ago started working on this unfortunate machine, so will I now begin working on a new balloon, which will be filled with hydrogen gas; I beg you therefore to forget what happened and gift me your patience.
The Second Attempt
Kjerstrup kept his word. Another 5 years later he tried again. The location was the same: the Citadel in Copenhagen. And again a crowd of thousands gathered to witness the ambitious aeronaut to reach for the sky.
A newspaper with the even more beautiful name Fyens Stifts Kongelig allene privilegerede Adresse-Avis og Avertissements-Tidende reported on the event in quite some detail. And, well, sadly enough for the poor Kjerstrup, everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
The flight had been scheduled for 1 o’clock, but was for unknown reasons – the weather was favourable – postponed until further notice. This already annoyed the public that had assembled outside the Citadel terrain. Only as late as 3 o’clock were people allowed to enter. Yet at this point the crowd had become so impatient that this occurred in quite an unorderly fashion, involving a lot of screaming, pushing and shoving. At 4 o’clock Kjerstrup launched a test balloon to test the direction of the wind. But then the crowd had to wait several more ours before Kjerstrup started to fill the balloon with the hydrogen gas. And this in turn took so long that it was not before half past 8 before the aeronaut manned the basket attached under the balloon. Kjerstrup said farewell to the people and the balloon + gondola + Kjerstrup started to come off the ground…
I let the Fyens Stifts Kongelig allene privilegerede Adresse-Avis og Avertissements-Tidende take it from here:
But since the fire pot was arranged in such a way that it easily could have set the balloon on fire, and fire could have fallen inside the gondola, some of Mr Kerstrup’s good friends drew him back and pulled him from the gondola. Immediately the balloon with gondola went sideways up in the sky, it ascended slowly up over the eastern part of the city and then descended again – ending in the shallow waters of Middelgrunden. Mr Commander Thun had it dredged up, but the air-sailor’s coat, which had remained inside the basket, had been completely scorched. Mr Kjerstrup begged everyone to understand that this was not his fault, as everyone had seen that he would have left off. Now His Excellence Governour General Count de Vaudissin and Major Staffeldt arrested Mr Kjerstrup and escorted him to the barracks, while the crowd repeatedly cheered (!!).
The addition of those two exclamation marks is revealing. The report in Fyens Stifts Kongelig allene privilegerede Adresse-Avis og Avertissements-Tidende was altogether furious. The author blamed Kjerstrup for showing little consideration for his audience, whom he let wait for hours and had brought into potential danger. Regarding his balloon construction, the report noted that the machine was obviously way to heavy to come off the ground with Kjerstrup in it. But most astounding of all was his fire apparatus, which leaked spirit that “would have surely incinerated him for he could hardly avoid the liquid pouring down on his head.” In other words, his friends had done well to stop him at the last moment, as “it wouldn’t have been in anyone’s interest to see him going up in flames.” On top if it all, Kjerstrup had occupied no less than 700 military personnel for an entire day (and that in a time during which Denmark was effectively at war with both England and Sweden). Conclusion: “It is therefore not premature to express the wish that an aeronautic attempt of this kind will not occur again in our city!”
(By the way, it remains somewhat of a mystery to me how Kjerstrup, after all a humble copper-smith, managed to arrange an event like this, twice, while getting both the military and the Royal family on board and attracting thousands of people to come and see him. He must have had great connections or must have been very persuasive or, alternatively, aeronautics must have been so popular at the time that a lot of wealthy people were willing to invest their money in this exciting enterprise.)
Fyens Stifts Kongelig allene privilegerede Adresse-Avis og Avertissements-Tidende returned to Kjerstrup a month after his second debacle. In the short article, Kjerstrup – “from his side of the ocean”(!) – finally comes with an excuse for his failed attempt and he regrets that some of the newspapers accused him of having been indifferent to the audience and that possibly he would have had malicious motivations – that was most certainly not the case, Kjerstrup assured, and the fact that he had gone into “voluntary deportation” proved this according to him. And, yes, his machine had been defective, but it was most certainly not true that his coat had caught fire – this only happened after he had abandoned the gondola!
Strangely enough, a reviewer in Kjøbenhavns Skilderiet was still on Kjerstrup’s side:
It’s a pity that America, or Africa, or Asia, or maybe even Australia now gets to see what we in Copenhagen have so fruitlessly waited for twice!
Yet, for as far as I could find out, Kjerstrup would not fulfill his dream of flying – on whichever continent.
The drawing above this article was made on the occasion of Kjerstrup’s first attempt at ballooning on 6 January 1805, or possibly during the test flight the week before. The creator is unknown but the drawing is titled Kjerstrup, Carl Frederik foretager et af sine forsøg med luftballoner på Kastellet, denne gang ubemandet (Kjerstrup, Carl Frederik undertakes one of his attempts with air balloons at the Citadel, this time unmanned). The drawing is part of the Historisk Kronologisk Samling of the Royal Library in Copenhagen.