EVERY BALLOONIST KNOWS the name of Thaddeus Lowe. After reading Stephen Poleskie's The Balloonist, you'll know him more intimately than ever. Part Thomas Edison, part P. T. Barnum, T. S. C. Lowe's life unfolds in these pages like never before in a unique book that is both biography and historical novel.

Ballooning Magazine


Stephen Poleskie signing books at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC


Stephen Poleskie, T.S.C. Lowe, U.S. Balloon Corps.

Anna talks to Stephen Poleskie about his book The Balloonist

April 13, 2011

Tags: Stephen Poleskie, T.S.C. Lowe, U.S. Balloon Corps


Anna: Steve, I read your book THE BALLOONIST and found it quite fascinating. As you know Louisa May Alcott was a nurse during the Civil War. You don’t normally write historical novels, so my first question would be what got you interested in the Civil War, and especially the Balloon Corps?

Steve: Well, I suppose you could say that I got interested in the Civil War almost fifty years ago when I was living in Gettysburg, PA. One of my first real jobs was teaching in a public school there. I rented an old stone house out on the Baltimore Pike, which had stood during the battle and been used as a temporary hospital. The house was at the base of Culp’s Hill, which was the scene of much bloody fighting. I got the house for a very reasonable rent. People told me that the house was rarely occupied because it was supposed to be haunted. There were spots on the cellar floor that I was told was blood from the bodies that had been put down there.

Anna: So how did you discover you main character T.S.C. Lowe. He seems to be a person little known to history.

Steve: For many years I was a pilot. I even did things in the sky flying an airplane trailing smoke. Then one day I came across the name of this man I had never heard of who was supposed to be “the father of the U.S. Air Force,” so I looked him up. The more I read about him the more fascinated I became. He was not just a balloonist but a visionary and inventor, who invented many of the practical things we still use today.

Anna: Can you give us a brief summary of THE BALLOONIST?

Steve: The book begins with Thaddeus S. C. Lowe attempting to build a balloon that would carry passengers from New York to London. Through flash backs it tells the life story a boy who had less than a high school education and ran away from home, joined a magic show, gave himself the title of “professor,” and eventually convinced President Lincoln to establish a balloon observation corps, with him as the head. He married a famous French actress, and made and lost, several fortunes with his inventions. After the war he moved to California, where he founded a railroad, and built a resort and America’s first observatory on a mountain which would be named for him. Unfortunately these, like his other enterprises, did not work out financially. He died in poverty.

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SELECTED REVIEWS

Great fun.... Maclean has done a wonderful job of capturing Alcott's voice and style.... I suspect the real Alcott would have liked it and wished she had written it herself.
"A historically accurate and entertaining mystery series."
"It was perhaps inevitable that Louisa May Alcott, the pseudonymous author of so many blood-and-thunder tales, would, herself, take up sleuthing. This tale of dark secrets, mysterious men, and heiresses in distress will please any reader who has longed to pursue Jo March's 'sensation stories,' those lucrative tales that allowed Beth to go to the seashore, but of which the good Professor Bhaer so stoutly disapproved. As Jo herself might say, a thumping good read."