May 5, 2018 - Arcadia WW1 History Symposium
Ross Field - Arcadia WW1 Balloon School – 100 Years
by Joni Joy Betten
If you haven’t ever visited Arcadia, you should add it to your bucket list. It is a beautiful community with an amazing amount of interesting history. It is the home of the Santa Anita Race Track, which in itself has its own bucket-load of history. Arcadia has lots of green parks which all seem to have their own flock of peacocks, (another Arcadia history story.)
But my husband and I were not in Arcadia just to enjoy the scenery that May 5th, 2018.
The Gilb Museum of Arcadia Heritage was presenting a history symposium celebrating the old military base named Ross Field, a WW1 Balloon School. My husband Bill Betten, a Co-Director of the California WW1 Centennial Task Force was one of the keynote speakers.
The Gilb Museum sits on a large piece of property which also houses several city buildings and the recreation department surrounded by a huge park. All this land was once part of the Balloon School.
You ask what is a balloon school? Well 100 years ago, back before remote controlled drones, when the United States entered the Great War, the US Army began teaching men how to operate large hot air balloons in order to scout out the enemy’s whereabouts.
I learned these interesting facts from Mark Rosenblum, another presenter at the symposium, who is a local Arcadia historian. He has tediously collected many fascinating details about the Balloon School that are even unknown to most citizens of Arcadia.
He informed us that the field was named later after the one U.S. Army balloon pilot who died in the war in France, Lt. Cleo J. Ross, an observer with the 8th Balloon Company.
The symposium began that morning with a welcome by Dr. Dana Hicks. the curator of the museum. She then introduced my husband Bill who started off the symposium with a talk entitled, “From This Land to No-Man’s-Land: War Like We Have Never Seen, Nor Will Ever See Again”. This was a very interesting overview of the war, spotlighting much of the changes in technology that put generals in a tailspin, not knowing quite how to fight and overcome all these new weapons of destruction. Attrition took the lives of millions of men, and those who didn’t die were forever affected by the many horrors they had to face. (You can find his presentation here.)
After this, Mr. Rosenblum presented his lecture, “Rediscovering Ross Field: The Balloon School a Century Later.” I could tell this topic is one he is very passionate about.
Winding up the symposium, Jack McCrea, another local historian, and Dr. Hicks presented an amazing assortment of original photographs from the museum’s permanent collection. Their presentation of these images brought to life the men of the Balloon School from 100 years ago. It was an eerie feeling knowing that where we sat was right in the middle of where these pictures were taken.
They also explained that before any of these men made it to France though, the war ended.
After the presentations, the Acadia Heritage Group offered a wonderful lunch out on the patio, where we could all socialize and ask further questions of the speakers. We also enjoyed a tour of the museum. It made for a wonderful day where I came home feeling like I had truly learned what some of those who went before us here in California had done to keep our state and country secure.
Joni Joy Betten is a guest author for the California WW1 Centennial Task Force and Granddaughter of a WW1 Veteran.