A Strange SWARM Appeared In Cleveland. What It Was… WOAH.

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It was a Saturday afternoon, Sept. 27, 1986 to be exact, when a million and a half balloons were released from Cleveland's Public Square and into the sky in a spectacle that broke the world record for the largest simultaneous release of balloons.

The event was organized by the nonprofit United Way of Cleveland, who partnered with Balloonart by Treb, for a fundraising publicity stunt. The organizers spent months planning their execution, but never anticipated what would come.

At about 1:50pm, the balloons made their way up, creating a glorious vision many of us have never seen and one that we probably won't see ever again. According to several accounts, the weather didn't quite agree with the bright latex balloons, causing a series of events that cost the city and organizations millions of dollars, and a few people their lives.

All photos used with written permission from Thom Sheridan.


In 1986, the United Way of Cleveland dreamed up a way to get charity on the public's minds. They had people sponsor balloons in their loved ones' names for the ultimate stunt: a simultaneous release of 1.5 million balloons.

Thom Sheridan

One Cleveland resident remembered preparing for the event as a college student, "I recall my fingers being sore for days after, from tying so many balloons."

Thom Sheridan

While many spectators were in awe, not everyone was. Flloyd Riemenschneider of Washington wrote, "It seems to me the money spent for this stunt ($500,000) could have been used to much better advantage, seeing as how most of the funds were probably from donations from people who donate because they believe their money is going for a good cause, such as helping out the more unfortunate."

Thom Sheridan

Some of the balloons landed in Lake Erie, which reportedly interfered with a search for two missing boaters, and on an airport runway, causing it to shut down.

Thom Sheridan

Weeks later, Ontario residents discovered thousands of deflated balloons on their beaches.

Thom Sheridan

News trickled into the following year. A woman from Montville Township sued the United Way Services of Cleveland stating that her prize Arabian horses suffered permanent injuries after being spooked by the balloons.

Thom Sheridan

Behind these beautiful photos, captured by photographer Thom Sheridan, there is a haunting reminder that not all things are as they seem.

Thom Sheridan

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