I was midway through my last year in college and I had just started an internship with the local sheriff's office when I read a story in the newspaper about this guy. Having exited the chaos of the 70's, I considered Larry Walters to be just another lunatic from California. I was wrong.
The story of Lawn Chair Larry is one of the most outrageously funny stories of all time. Larry you see, had a dream. He wanted to fly. He had no pilots license, his eyesight was bad, and he didn't have the means or the money to accomplish his dream. So Lawn Chair Larry did the next best thing. He built his own flying machine and dubbed it the "Inspiration 1."
It was a lawn chair with 42-45 (depending on varying accounts) helium balloons attached to it.
Now just in case you think Larry Walters was a lone nutter, please remember this. Behind every good nutter is a woman who is equally as nuts. In this case it was Carol Van Deusen, Larry's girlfriend. Rather than trying to dissuade Larry with (I don't know, maybe) some safety concerns, Carol actually bought the balloons and helped Larry by forging a document which allowed Larry to obtain enough helium to fill all 45 balloons.
Having fully thought this through, Larry strapped on a parachute. He had some sandwiches and soda, a CB radio for communications, a camera, and a pellet gun to shoot the balloons with once he had decided to descend. He also tied a number of milk jugs filled with water to the chair for ballast. The entire contraption was tethered to Larry's jeep and launched from San Pedro, Ca.
Upon severing the tether that restrained the Inspiration 1, he lost his eyeglasses and rapidly ascended to a height of 15,000 feet. Larry then drifted into LAX airspace where he was seen by several pilots. Larry was in contact with people during his flight via CB radio.
Larry got cold up in the atmosphere and after about 45 minutes he started shooting weather balloons until such point that he dropped the gun overboard. He was then at the mercy of the trade winds and subsequently- a slow and uncontrolled descent into some power lines. Rather than be electrocuted, Larry was able to exit the Inspiration 1 and was immediately arrested by Long Beach Police for something. They didn't know what exactly. He was subsequently fined for the episode.
Larry lived his dream. Later, the Smithsonian asked Larry for his chair but alas, he had given it away. It is now displayed at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.
In a cruel, but not entirely unforeseeable event, Larry took his own life (1993)- 11 years later at the age of 44.
Some 33 years later, I still find Larry's story just as fascinating and funny as the day I first read about it. I guess Larry was put on this earth to live that one dream.
Click here to see the epic launch of the Inspiration 1.