Edwin Allen and his family were known across the United States as the “Flying Allens” and became some of the foremost aerial balloon daredevils throughout the first half of the 20th century. The Allens made their home in Batavia and always came back to Genesee County no matter how far-flung their escapades took them.
Four generations of the Allen family rode in balloons dating all the way back to the Civil War.
While Edwin Allen was the patriarch of the most prolific branch of the “Flying Allens,” the first balloonist was his grandfather, James, who was a balloon observer for the Union Army. All three of his sons became aerial exhibitionists in and around Dansville. Comfort Allen, Edwin’s father, made jumps with his older son Warren, also known as “Speck,” or alone.
Ed and his twin brother Edgar, Red, continued the family tradition beginning when they were only 11 years old. They would ride up in a hot air balloon and then glide down on a parachute while holding onto a crossbar. Their first jump occurred in Lockport. Red’s career would last until 1924, when his balloon burst 200 feet up, and he was injured in the subsequent crash. Ed would continue a solo career until his children were old enough to join the family business.
Ed Allen moved to Batavia in 1926, living on Vernon Avenue, to begin working for the P.W. Minor Shoe Company, and he married Louise Cromwell in 1934.
In 1937 he was promoted to foreman, but he retired from the factory the next year to open a service station at 614 East Main St., which he ran until 1950.
All five of the Allen children would join their father in his ballooning spectacles. Eddie Jr. began jumping at 18, followed by Gloria and Florence. The two eldest daughters were billed as “the World’s Youngest Jumpers” once their careers took off. They marveled at crowds in their white and black outfits as they glided down on their white parachutes.
They took their act to another level by being shot from a cannon suspended under the basket of a balloon. The Allens traveled to fairs and carnivals all around the country, though always coming back home to make appearances. Their testing ground was located behind their service station on East Main Street. However, things changed in 1949 when New York State outlawed the performances, forcing “The Flying Allens” to work out of state.
Captain Eddie, as he became known, continued to jump from his balloon until 1965, when he broke his leg during a jump at the age of 70. In 1977, he told reporters that he had made 3,253 jumps in his lifetime.
Captain Eddie still attended balloon rallies regularly and was honored by several regional groups throughout the 1970s but was always proud of being from Batavia.
In 1979 and 1980, The Festival Genesee hosted balloonists from across the United States to honor Edwin Allen for his lifetime of achievements.
The death-defying stunts of the Allen family did not come without their price, as many of the family members suffered serious injuries or worse while performing their feats. Three of the Allen children, Gloria, Joseph, and Arlene, suffered severe injuries and died as a result of accidents involving the performances. Gloria died in 1939 after a very hard landing caused a severe brain injury. Arlene was killed after parachuting into power lines in 1946. Edwin’s nephew, Warren Jr., also was killed during a jump in 1946 when he fell 75 feet from his basket.
Edwin Allen survived his thrilling career and passed away at his home in 1984.