The Odysseum: Larry 'Lawnchair' Walters (1949-1993)

Fresh from our third book The Odysseum – meet Larry Walters, the truck-driver who flew away on his own lawn chair.

 flickr/BrandonWalts

flickr/BrandonWalts

What do you do if your life’s ambition – to become a pilot with the US Air Force – gets shot down by poor eyesight? If you’re Larry Walters, you take matters into your own hands. In 1982 the California truck-driver, unperturbed by the stringent recruitment standards of the USAF, decided to take to the air in his own unique way: by attaching a large cluster of weather balloons to a lawn chair.

First, Larry and his girlfriend forged a requisition slip from his employer, Filmfair Studios, enabling them to purchase the 45 8-foot (2.4 m) weather balloons by saying they were to be used in a commercial. They then set about inflating the balloons and attaching them to Larry’s patio chair. He put on a parachute, strapped himself in and took off, carrying with him only the absolute essentials – a pellet gun (to shoot balloons if he went too high), a CB radio, a camera, sandwiches and, most essential
of all, a four-pack of beer.

The plan was to float 30 feet (9 m) above the Mojave Desert for a few hours, then effect a pleasant and gradual descent. To Larry’s horror, however, the chair rose from his yard in San Pedro much faster than expected – he was eventually to reach a maximum altitude of 15,000 feet (4,600 m) – and was soon drifting over Los Angeles and into the primary approach corridor for Long Beach Airport, where he was spotted by several commercial airliners.

By this point, Larry had achieved his primary aim – to fly – but now faced the problem of how not to fly. Floating in LA airspace was not, he knew, going to make him very popular. Initially, though, he was too scared to shoot any of the balloons in case he unbalanced and fell from his madcap contraption. He tried getting in touch with REACT – a citizen’s band radio monitoring organisation. As he put it to them:

‘… the difficulty is, ah, this was an unauthorised balloon launch and, uh, I’m sure my ground crew has alerted the proper authority. But, uh, just call them and tell them I’m okay.’

After 45 minutes of literally hanging around, he eventually plucked up the courage to shoot a few balloons – just before the gun went overboard. Fortunately, the cull, as far as it went, proved sufficient to get him moving in the right direction. The slow descent concluded among power cables, blacking out an entire Long Beach neighbourhood for 20 minutes.

Upon picking him up, the Long Beach Police Department made a decisive statement: ‘We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, some type of charge will be filed.’ Walters was eventually charged with ‘operating a civil aircraft within an airport traffic area without establishing and maintaining 2-way communications with the control tower’. He was fined $4,000 – but his pilot’s licence couldn’t be suspended, since he didn’t have one.

Having achieved his dream, Larry spent a short period as a motivational speaker and appeared on both The David Letterman Show and The Late Show. Eventually, however, he went back to a simple life – working for the United States Forest Service and as a security guard. He died in 1993, but will always be remembered as ‘Lawnchair Larry’, inspiring a song, various copycat flights and the 2003 Australian film Danny Deckchair, starring Rhys Ifans.

Larry was by no means the only weather balloon pilot – there have been many cases of people putting thin bits of rubber between themselves and an unpleasant meeting with terra firma. One such case was the Brazilian priest Father Adelir Antônia de Carli, whose 2008 foray into the atmosphere left him both wet and headless.

Seemingly well prepared – he was an experienced skydiver, and he’d trained extensively in survival skills prior to his launch – there was one huge gap in his safety plan, quickly exposed when he caught a breeze and got blown out across the Atlantic. While floating over the ocean, he rang the authorities from his mobile phone to ask someone to explain how his GPS equipment worked. Not long after that he lost contact entirely. A few months later, some of his balloons, along with the lower half
of his body, were found floating in the sea.

On a happier note, Tom Morgan – a member of the Bristol-based League of Adventurists, reached a height of 8,000 feet (2,438 m) in October 2017 by tying 100 helium balloons to a camping chair and flying over the Sahara. He returned to Earth safe, dry and with all parts of his body intact.

Words: Jen Rowe

The Odysseum is available to pre-order via Amazon.

Introducing our Third Book: The Odysseum

The Odysseum explores fascinating stories behind some of the world’s most extraordinary and unexpected journeys. Expect adventures with stowaways, astronauts, psychedelic pilgrims, prisoners of war and the artist who created the world’s biggest treasure hunt.

Brought to you by Ernest editor Jo Tinsley and co-author David Bramwell, The Odysseum is the final edition in our trilogy of wonder and eccentricity.

Discover why artist Grayson Perry took his teddy bear on a trip to Bavaria and what horrors befell film-maker Werner Herzog when he attempted to drag a 320-ton steamboat over a hill through impenetrable jungle. Learn about attempted voyages to the centre of the earth and accidental journeys into storm clouds, and follow Dadaist filmmaker Andrew Kötting as he takes a 12-foot inflatable ‘deadad’ on a trip around the globe.

Restlessly exploring the psychology of what it means to embark upon a journey, The Odysseum is a celebration of human imagination, motivation and resolve – from micro-journeys around a prison cell to the story of how Einstein’s brain and the corpses of Gram Parsons and Eva Peron embarked on remarkable trips beyond the grave.

The Odysseum is on available to order on Amazon.

Pie glossary

From throwaway crusts to royal banquet centrepieces, our beloved pie has a weird and wonderful history stowed away behind its pantry door. 

  Illustration by Sue Gent

Illustration by Sue Gent

Cow heel (Cumbria and Lancashire)
The fatty cartilage around a cow’s heel was used to make a sticky and sweet gravy in a pie.

Swan (Nottinghamshire) 
The finest pieces of swan meat, stewed with sugar and spices and served in a Budby pie.

Lambs tail (Cotswolds and Kent) 
After docking the tails from lambs, the wool would be removed, the tails joined and stewed with root veg. Two dozen tails would be required for a pie. 

Sparrow brains
In a courageous tart these were mixed with sweet potatoes and fruit.The name likely refers to the rumoured aphrodisiac qualities of the dish. 

Rook
When young rooks were ‘cleared’ in spring, the breast and legs would be simmered in milk before being baked in a pie.The rest of the bird was too bitter for eating.

Larks
Recommended by Mrs Beeton to be served as an entree, these birds would be baked whole in a pie, bones and all. 

Intestines (Cornwall) 
The appetising sounding muggety pie contained cow entrails, boiled, sliced and mixed with cream and parsley.

Testicles
You could be forgiven for not knowing that ‘stones’ referred to testicles in the 18h century. Blanched and sliced, they were the main ingredient of a lambstone pie, mixed with artichokes and sweetbreads.

Piglests (Cornwall)
Or to be more specific, prematurely born piglets, the main ingredient of a tiddago pie.

Udder
Boiled and sliced with tongue and mixed with raisins, an udder pie was apparently tasty hot or cold.

Words: Steph Wetherell; thelocavore.co.uk

This featured in issue 7 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

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Metheglin: the king's brew

Courtier, privateer, diplomat, swordsman, theologian, alchemist and incurable romantic, Sir Kenelm Digby was the sort of character you simply couldn’t make up. Oddly enough though, these days Digby is most revered among home brewers... 

  Image by Jesse Wild

Image by Jesse Wild

Sir Kenelm Digby  (1603-1665) was a noted foodie, and he kept extensive notebooks of recipes encountered both in London and on his travels. These were published after his death by an enterprising steward under the title The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened (1669).

Among dishes with fantastic names like “a good quaking bag pudding” or “pease of the seedy buds of tulips”, there are no less than 115 different booze recipes, mainly for metheglin – or flavoured mead.  Kenelm got this brew from “Master Webbe, who maketh the King’s Meathe”. I’ve scaled it down considerably (Webbe’s recipe makes 300 bottles, but eight is probably enough to start with), and switched most of the fresh ingredients for dry ones. It’s strong and sweet, with a rather medicinal flavour.

1. Bring 10 litres of water to the boil. Add 5g of dried hops (I used East Kent Goldings) and boil for half an hour. Putting your ingredients in muslin bags will save you straining them off later.

2. Remove the hops, and stir in 1.6kg of honey. Boil for an hour, skimming occasionally.

3. Add 5g dried rose petals; 2 teaspoons each of dried rosemary, thyme and marjoram; 1 teaspoon of mint; 5g fresh ginger ; a stick of cinnamon and 4 tablespoons of oloroso (sweet) sherry. Webbe liked it with cloves and mace too, but “the King did not care for them”.

4. Boil for half an hour, then strain off the liquid into a sterilised fermenter and let it cool. If you want to check the specific gravity with a hydrometer (or an egg), it should be around 1075.

5. Whisk vigorously, then pitch half a teaspoon of yeast nutrient and 2 teaspoons of wine yeast. By the next day it should be fizzing nicely.

6. Leave it to ferment out and clear (mine took a few weeks), then siphon it off into sterilised wine bottles (corks rather than screw tops). Kenelm reckoned it would be ready to drink in a month or two, but it will keep much longer. 

Joly-Braime-profile-pic.jpg

Joly Braime is a writer and home brewer. He spends his leisure time tramping the moors or filling his coal shed with homemade alcohol.
 

jolybraime.co.uk

 

 

 

 


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A skin read

It’s widely said that everyone has a book inside them, less common is the knowledge that some people have actually had books made from the outsides of them. Duncan Haskell enters the dark world of anthropodermic bibliopegy

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Anthropodermic bibliopegy, the process of binding books in human skin, reached its macabre peak in the 19th century and was of particular interest to medical professionals who had access to cadavers. Some examples include the infamous Edinburgh murderer William Burke (of Burke and Hare fame) who was turned into a small pocket book after his execution in 1829, and John Horwood, the first man to be hanged at Bristol Gaol in 1821, whose skin now envelopes an account of his crime. The Historical Medical Library in Philadelphia houses the largest collection, with five such grisly tomes.

A twist to this tale is provided by The Anthropodermic Book Project. Suspecting that some of these alleged skin-bound volumes were nothing more than a tall story, they’ve begun testing specimens using a process known as peptide mass fingerprinting (PMF). Of the 31 tested, only 18 have been confirmed as human.

It remains uncertain whether the practice was sheer vanity, a deterrent to criminals or an unusual reminder of our own morality. What is clear though is that it’s definitely okay to judge these books by their covers. 

Words: Duncan Haskell

Delve into the findings at anthropodermicbooks.org

Anthropodermic bibliopegy features in issue 7 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

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