Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Balloonist and aeronautics engineer Joseph-Eustache Croce-Spinelli was born on this day in 1843 in Dordogne, France. Croce-Spinelli was deeply interested in manned flight and had not only made several balloon expeditions but had published articles on propeller design when on April 15, 1875, with Gaston Tissandier and an assistant named Henri-Theodore Sivel, he flew to 29,000 feet over India in the helium-balloon Zenith -- short of the altitude record set by James Glaisher and Henry Coxwell. Although the men had been advised by Paris physiologist Paul Bert about the supplemental oxygen required at such altitude, in the excitement they failed to heed the advice, and Croce-Spinelli and Sivel asphyxiated in the inhospitably thin air. Tissandier miraculously survived to tell the tale.

Croce-Spinelli's claim to fame, however, stems not so much from his contributions to aeronautics but from the design of his much-visited tomb at Pere Lachaise in Paris: the monument displays lifesized effigies of Croce-Spinelli and Sivel lying side-by-side, holding hands, bare-chested and otherwise covered in a shroud. The sculpture is obviously a tribute to their comradeship, but some have asserted, without further evidence, that Croce-Spinelli and Sivel were gay lovers. Heroic death in the company of one's peers was a heady theme for the post-Romantic French. Who's to say?

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Anonymous Hans Akerstedt, Sweden said...

The web is a great source of information but regretfully also a source of a lot of false info. The flight by Tissandier, Sivel and Crocé-Spinelli starter in La Villette, a suburb of Paris and far from India. Helium was first produced, in very small quantities, in 1895. The gas they used was probably coal gas from the nearest gas works. Henri-Théodore Sivel was a great aeronaut himself and made many flights here in Scandinavia, both from Copenhagen and Gothenburg 1872-1874. Once he flew with his mother-in-law and his daughter so maybe the rumours about his gayness was just a rumour. I have a friend who is the great grandson of Sivel's uncle. He accidentally met a direct descendant of Crocé-Spinelli at the French Aero Club a few months ago!

8:26 PM  

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