Lawnchair Larry

Lawnchair Larry

Sophia Scheatzle, Voice's Historian

The ’80s were a wild time for America, the “brick” mobile phone was released to the public, The Challenger combusted just 73 seconds after takeoff, and an assassination attempt was made on then-President, Ronald Reagan. However, no moment was more defining than the afternoon of July 2, 1982, when San Pedro resident, Larry Walters, took to the sky for the first time, sparking a whole new generation of dreamers and lawn chair enthusiasts. 

Larry Walters was born in 1949 in Los Angelos, CA. Throughout his younger years, Larry dreamed of being a pilot in the Air Force. Unfortunately, his eyesight was too poor to enlist and he took the more ground-centric job of a truck driver. However, Larry’s dreams of flying did not die with his degrading corneas, and with the help of his then-girlfriend, he managed to attach 45 helium weather balloons to his aluminum lawn chair, giving it the name, “Inspiration I.” Because the lawnchair is naturally the safest form of travel. 

On July 2, 1982, Larry finally got his chance to take to the sky. He dawned a parachute for safety and packed up his lawn chair with all the necessities, like sandwiches, a bottle of soda, a CB radio, and a pellet gun to shoot the balloons when it was time for him to descend. 

Walters’ initial intention was to fly over the Mojave desert and touch down there safely. However, being the math genius he was, Walters misjudged the strength of his balloons and ended up soaring up over 16,000 feet into the sky, half the height of an airplane at cruising altitude! But his luck didn’t end there. After reaching altitudes no human should ever be able to in a lawn chair, Walters ended up drifting over the one area of controlled airspace in the city, Los Angeles International Airport. Fearing being hit by an aircraft, our hero used his CB radio to contact air traffic control and warn them of his presence. 

As prepared as he was, Walters failed to think of the fact that if he popped the balloons, his lawnchair might become unbalanced. This kept him in fear of descending for a whole 45 minutes. When he did eventually gather the courage to shoot at a few of the balloons, he began to come back down to the ground slowly and landed after 90 long minutes in the air. However, his flight wasn’t quite over yet. On the way down, his balloons got tangled in the power lines in Long Beach causing a 20-minute power outage in the entire surrounding area. Like all heroes stand up for what they believe in, Walters was arrested the minute he touched back down and was briefly held by Long Beach authorities. The man who had at this point become a flying phenomenon watched by thousands across news channels through his perilous journey was charged $4,000 for violating Federal Aviation regulations. However, after protests from his many fans across the globe, the fine was dropped to only $1,500.

With the new moniker “Lawnchair Larry,” the now celebrity was invited onto The Tonight Show and Late Night with David Letterman. In true Larry fashion, he also earned the first place award from The Bonehead Club of Dallas and an honorable mention from the Darwin Awards who “commemorate those who improve our gene pool–by removing themselves from it in the most spectacular way possible.”

As a businessman, Walter tried to use his fame to quit his job and become a motivational speaker. Unfortunately, he never was able to gain a following and became broke later in life. This and other factors caused the firebrand to, unfortunately, commit suicide in 1993. However, the man who once had nothing but a lawn chair, a couple of balloons, and a pocket full of dreams created a legacy that will last for centuries. The lawnchair was gifted to a neighborhood boy named Jerry, but as with all unsolicited gifts, Jerry later regifted it to the San Diego Air and Space Museum. Walters even went on to inspire an entire sport called cluster ballooning where participants will be strapped into a harness attached to multiple, rubber, helium-filled balloons. 

Throughout history, there have been many figures that have gone to do great things with little recognition. Lawnchair Larry might be the greatest. Although he didn’t win a war, lead a resistance, or start a movement, he followed his dreams. And in the end, that’s the best any man can do.