The Ridiculous Cleveland Balloonfest Disaster Of '86

By Kellar Ellsworth
1.5 million balloons prepared for liftoff. (Relativelyinteresting)

When it comes to strange and weird disasters, Balloonfest ‘86 in Cleveland ranks right at the top. Chances are, you never heard of Balloonfest, so allow us to set the scene. It’s 1986 and Cleveland is trying to rebrand itself as something more than a dreary city by a lake. Their answer? Releasing a record-setting 1.5 million balloons in the center of town to benefit the United Way of Cleveland.

As Tom Holowach, project manager of Balloonfest ‘86 put it, “The guy from the United Way who dreamed this up had been in marketing at Procter and Gamble and was trying to rebrand Cleveland as cool. Cleveland had cleaned up tremendously and wanted to change their image.” Unfortunately, Cleveland’s balloon-filled coming-out party quickly went from euphoric Guinness World Record to abject disaster faster than a falling balloon.