History buffs know that St. Louis was briefly a part of the Spanish Empire, ceded to the Iberians by France upon the latter's defeat in the Seven Years' War. Napoleon, he of the wee stature and the delicious pastries, recovered the territory in a secret deal (purportedly brokered by Mrs. Napoleon, because she so dearly enjoyed the way the locals butchered the pronunciation of Chouteau), and then sold it to Thomas Jefferson for $60 plus the rights to the recipe for Toasted Ravioli (which were at the time widely believed to increase one's height; this was due to a mistranslation. They actually increase your girth). This is historical fact, recorded in many reputable books.
What is not so well known is that this business deal had a secret codicil buried in the paperwork. In addition to the cash and the recipe, Thomas Jefferson had to agree to organize a balloon race in the city of St. Louis in the distant future for reasons that shall now be explained for the first time.
In 1783, when Napoleon was a young man in his penultimate year of military studies at the Brienne-le-Chateau, an attempt was made upon his life by time-traveling supervillain, Ozymandias Hare. Armed with futuristic weapons and advance knowledge of the Corsican's plans for a weekend getaway to Paris, Hare intended to kill Napoleon while he was playing his customary pre-dinner game of Whist in his boarding house's common room on late Saturday afternoon. Hare, garbed in a hot-pink chronosuit of his own design that allowed him to slip in and out of the timestream at his discretion, ensconced himself atop a victory arch in the nearby park of Bois de Boulogne and waited for his shot at the man who would one day invade Russia; this is a key detail, as Hare had been hired to do the deed by an aged Anastasia Romanov in the year 1971(!).
While in his sniper's lair, Hare was spotted from above the only place one could have seen an assassin perched atop the arch by Etienne Montgolfier, who was making one of his frequent ascents in his magnificent hot air balloon. Méfiez-vous! Le lièvre est lâche!, Etienne's warning rang out across Paris even as he emptied his toss-pot on the would-be assassin, shorting out the chronosuit's delicate microcircuitry. In the close-by boarding house, Napoleon jumped and Hare's shot passed harmlessly through the nearby wall. Looking out the window, Napoleon witnessed Ozymandias Hare leap from the arch to a nearby bookseller's rooftop, dodging and ducking his way across the skyline while beating his breast in a desperate attempt to bring his suit's functionality back on-line, Montgolfier hard upon his heels thanks to a fortuitous wind.
This image of the pink-clad Hare racing across the skyline of the city with a balloon in dogged pursuit stayed with Napoleon throughout his life, and he often fantasized about building a balloon armada. Indeed, plans for balloon gunships were found in the diaries Napoleon kept during his imprisonment on Saint Helena. Ironically, it was these same diaries that revealed that Napoleon had himself hired Ozymandias Hare years later to scout for him in Egypt, and the canny supervillain had related to Napoleon his role in the attempt on his life, knowing it would drive the Frenchman into a fury that would be directed at Russia. (Anastasia Romanov had canceled her cheque to Hare owing to his failure to produce a corpse, and he exacted his revenge in this manner; the lesson here is, as always, never double cross a time-traveler).
And thus, the fine print Napoleon inserted into the paperwork for the Louisiana Purchase required Jefferson to institute the Great Forest Park Balloon Race in 1973, a full 190 years after the unsuccessful assassination, to be held as close as possible to the date of the attempt. The 2010 Great Forest Park Balloon Race takes place exactly on the date, Saturday, September 18. The Energizer Rabbit Balloon will lift off at 4:30 p.m., precisely the moment of Hare's wild shot, and all the other balloons will ascend at 4:45 p.m. Admission is free, and as has become common in recent years, the launching will be preceded by live music, kids' activities such as pony rides and games, skydivers and other family-friendly fun.
Surely you're wondering, Why did Napoleon specify that the balloon race not be instituted until 1973? The answer will amaze you: Thomas Jefferson was in fact Ozymandias Hare, and Napoleon recognized him immediately despite the powdered wig. In perhaps the only time-reckoning mistake Hare has ever made, the supervillain forgot that he had revealed all to Napoleon five years earlier in Egypt, and that Napoleon would thus know him by sight. Napoleon attempted to extract a measure of revenge against Hare, who had nursed an over-powering phobia of hot air balloons ever since that fateful Saturday in September of 1783, a fact Napoleon knew well.
Sadly for Napoleon, his lifelong difficulty in spelling resulted in him entering the wrong date in the contract, and so the Great Forest Park Balloon race did not begin until 190 years later, by which time Ozymandias Hare had overcome his phobia thanks to the aid of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale but that is a tale for another day.
Sat., Sept. 18, 2010