In 1867, French M. E. Gogard, one of the most famous balloonist of the moment arrived in Havana, who had taken more than two-hundred aerostatic flights, most of them in Cuba in front of the delighted people of Havana. The intrepid French encouraged the Cuban youth, as well as a young Portuguese merchant sailor that was settled in Cuba, who at the time used to make canopies in his own workshop on Neptuno street, and for this reason was known as ‘‘The King of canopies”.
Matias Perez got closely related to Gogard on the subject of aeronautics. Thus, we read on the newspaper on May 21st, 1856: ‘‘the courageous balloonist Gogard, about to take a forced swim along with his enterprising wife and Matias Perez, said: ‘‘Matias’ interest for balloon flights is drawing my attention’’. Afterwards, the press published the following news: ‘‘Matias Perez resolved to buy the air-hot balloon called ‘‘La Villa de París’’ (The Villa of Paris) from Gogard, in which he is planning to make a flight by his own very soon”.
The audacious Matias addressed a letter to Captain General Jose Gutierrez de la Concha, in order to request for a written permission to accomplish the balloon rise: ‘‘his Excellency: After the instructions I’ve received from skilled balloonist E.Gogard, whose certificate I have the honor of including, I am planning to make my first aerostatic flight, which I’ve dedicated to trade in Havana with which I am related to and settled eleven years ago, and willing to provide proof of evident gratitude that encourages me to feel this people’s country as my adoptive homeland in which I’ve found a host.
The press announced Matias’ first air-travel, taking place in ‘‘La Plaza de Toros’’ (Plaza of Bulls), where “El Parque de la Fraternidad” (Fraternity park) is located nowadays. In the midst of the crowd’s applauses the aircraft rose up until it reached a great height; in that very moment it began to descend very fast, due to some mechanical damage. The courageous and audacious Matias climbed up the ropes and managed to stop the gas leak and to land two kilometers away from “El Cerro”, announcing his next try.
It was on July 28th: There were present both The Captain General, as all the civil, religious and military hierarchy, as well as an enthusiastic crowd. It went off without a hitch from the festive and decorative point of view, but the rise of the air-hot balloon seemed to be delayed. After 7 at night Matias Perez decided to take off. However, as the weather was getting worse, Matías and the people around him hesitated. In spite of the S.E powerful winds and being aware of the dangers, he insisted on the departure since he was unwilling to disappoint the expectation of thousands of people that patiently waited for some hours to see him braving the elements.
As darkness was replacing the glow of the day, the air-hot balloon quickly rose up and headed North-west. According to the men of the garrison, the latest news informed that Matias went over a place which at present is called “El Castillo de la Chorrera” (The Castle of Frill). The aircraft passed over the fortress toward the sea, and disappeared. His short journey over Havana city sent in printed sheets, greetings to Cuban women:
I dedicate, young sisters,
My second flight to you,
For I remember your fond gazes
As noble and vivid prodigies, so
You are, in life, like scented roses,
Harmonizing the sonorous wind,
As I intrepidly go up to the heights
Saying: “Long live, the Cuban Virgins”
As to Matias Perez, the Cuban balloonist protomartyr, just a popular phrase remained, which means that someone or something was missing, lost or gone: Flew away like Matias Perez! (By Juan Blas Rodríguez)
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