Great Pershing Balloon Derby

Great Pershing Balloon Derby
The Great Pershing Balloon Derby is an annual hot air balloon festival held near the city of Brookfield, Missouri, United States. The three-day festival runs over Labor Day weekend, it draws balloonists from all over the country.

The event is named in honor of General John J. Pershing who served as the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front in World War I. Pershing was born near the city of Laclede, Missouri that is located not far from Brookfield. The Great Pershing Balloon Derby was originally conceived as a fundraiser for the Pershing Museum.

The inaugural festival was held from September 30 to October 2, 1977 at Pershing State Park. The event featured 40 balloons. From its second year onward, the Great Pershing Balloon Derby has been held over Labor Day weekend. The festival was nearly canceled after its 7th edition due to sponsorship and fundraising problems, but a group of concerned citizens and balloonists took over the event and kept it going.

The derby itself is the main event of the festival. It is held at the Myron Preacher Memorial Launched Site located between Laclede and Brookfield. The derby has 45 participants, mainly from the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. Naturally, the winner receives an award.

Another highlight of the Great Pershing Balloon Derby is the South Main Night Flame. It is similar to night glows held at other hot air balloon festivals. Inflated hot air balloons line up along South Main Street in Brookfield and the pilots ignite the burners to keep the balloons inflated and make them glow like giant Chinese lanterns or light bulbs, giving a spectacular display for the audience.

The program of the Great Pershing Balloon Derby also includes balloon flights, parades, shows, performances, beauty pageants, a night glow, and other events and activities. Launches are generally held at sunrise and just before the sunset, weather permitting.

Great Pershing Balloon Derby

Photo: damonmeadowcroft




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