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Muzeo // Public Domain

Why Is This Little-Known American Parachutist Famous in Estonia?

Muzeo // Public Domain
Muzeo // Public Domain

What’s a modern, abstract sculpture in honor of an obscure American balloonist doing in the capital of Estonia? Good question. The man in question was named Charles Leroux, and though you probably have no idea who he was, he once found fame in the U.S. and abroad demonstrating something that seems commonplace today: parachutes.

Leroux was rumored to be the grandson or great-nephew of Abraham Lincoln (he wasn’t). He wasn’t even named Leroux—his birth name was reportedly the rather more prosaic Joseph Johnson. He appears to have been born in Connecticut in the 1850s. At some point, Leroux must have realized that it would be more profitable and exotic to take on a French-sounding name—especially because he adopted a French-seeming sport that had been making waves worldwide since the late 1700s.

By the time Leroux started tinkering with parachutes and balloons around the 1880s, the French were the undisputed kings of aviation. From the Montgolfier brothers, who invented the first hot air balloon anyone could actually use, to Jean-Pierre Blanchard, who managed to cross the English channel by balloon in 1785, the French had pioneered early flight.

Parachutes, though, were another story. Leonardo da Vinci designed an early prototype, but it took until the early 20th century for the modern version to get a patent. Meanwhile, parachuting was anyone’s game—and, like balloons before it, it was a game for daring showmen.

With a spiffy new name and an apparent daredevil streak, Leroux began to test a parachute of his own design. He was already an accomplished East Coast trapeze artist and gymnast, and he designed a breathtaking parachute to top off his performances. In 1886, for example, he shut down traffic in Philadelphia (performing as “Prof. Charles Leroux”) by climbing 100 feet up the Dime Museum, clad in “light blue silk tights and satin trunks.” Before a packed and terrified audience, he jumped off of the building holding a 16-foot-wide parachute and nearly running into a lamp post (a nearby man wasn’t so lucky—Leroux ran right into him instead). The New York Times report of his feat notes that it was Leroux’s 38th ascent, and that his other accomplishments included jumping off of New York’s High Bridge.

The monument to Charles Leroux in Tallinn, Estonia. Image credit: John Menard via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

 
That was just one of Leroux’s leaps. His feats took him all over the world. In 1889, for example, he demonstrated the parachute he had designed—complete with backpack-style straps—to a group of impressed German officers. (Given that he jumped 1000 meters from a balloon, the equivalent of about 3280 feet, they had reason to be dazzled.) And in 1887, Leroux lent his design to Charles Broadwick, who would become one of the most famous parachutists of all time.

But eventually, Leroux’s derring-do got the best of him. On September 24, 1889, he braved a difficult jump from an airborne hot air balloon in front of an audience of onlookers in Tallinn, Estonia, which was then called Reval. An errant wind swept him away toward the Baltic. A woman supposedly died of heart failure just watching the tragedy. Leroux died, too—his body was recovered by fishermen two days later. Today, a modernist monument in his honor stands in Tallinn, a strange and little-known testament to a man who managed to withstand 238 jumps before his untimely death—and whose daredevil acts with a parachute helped inspire interest in more modern versions of the lifesaving invention.

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Why Amelia Earhart Is Remembered as One of History's Most Famous Female Pilots
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Amelia Earhart was a legend even before she mysteriously disappeared in 1937 while flying around the world. But the aviator's fame wasn't entirely based on skill alone. As Vox explains, Earhart's reputation eclipsed that of several contemporaries who were equally—if not more—talented than “Lady Lindy." So why did Earhart's name go down in history books instead of theirs?

In addition to her talent and courage, Earhart’s international fame could be chalked up to ceaseless self-promotion and a strategic marriage. It all started in 1928, when socialite Amy Phipps Guest and publishing juggernaut George Putnam handpicked the then-amateur pilot to become the first woman to be flown in a plane across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart wasn't involved with the actual flight process, but the trip still established her as the new female face of aviation (and introduced her to Putnam, her future husband).

After completing the transatlantic journey, Earhart’s profile rose sky-high as she gave public lectures, wrote an aviation column for Cosmopolitan magazine, performed stunts like flying solo across the Atlantic (a feat that was first achieved by Charles Lindbergh in 1927), and endorsed everything from cigarettes to designer luggage. Her celebrity was ultimately cemented with her marriage to Putnam, who orchestrated savvy promotional opportunities to keep his wife’s name in the paper.

Learn more about Earhart’s rise to fame by watching Vox’s video below.

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6 Tips From Travel Experts for Packing Winter Clothes
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Winter is a great time to snag travel deals, but if you’re going to spend all those extra savings on baggage fees, you’re better off staying home. To get the most out of your winter vacation, pack your clothes efficiently. Not only will you save money at the airport, but you’ll also save time and stress during the packing and unpacking process. We asked some travel experts about the methods they use to maximize their luggage space when heavy winter clothing is involved.

1. WEAR YOUR BULKIEST ITEMS.

A woman in a winter coat and gloves stands in an airport with her suitcase.
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No matter what folding method or fancy equipment you use, your winter coat will always take up more room in your suitcase than a t-shirt. One simple way to save space is to forgo packing it in your bag at all and wear it on the trip. The layering method is an essential strategy for Chris Elliott, travel writer and author of How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle). “This method lets you avoid having to pack your heavy winter jacket, which as you know can easily fill up the entire carry-on,” he tells Mental Floss.

The same trick applies to your boots, gloves, scarves, sweaters, and any other piece of winter gear you can slip on without overheating. And don’t worry, you won’t be dressed for the tundra for the entirety of your journey: As soon as you get into the car or plane, slip off your jacket and use it to get comfy. Kristin Addis, writer of the travel blog Be My Travel Muse, does this when when she’s not storing her jacket in the overhead bin. “Sometimes flights are so cold that it’s really nice to use it as a blanket or extra pillow,” she tells Mental Floss.

2. FIND THE RIGHT BAG.

A closeup of a suitcase in front of a blue sky with a plane flying by.
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Winter puts your luggage to the test. A well-made bag should be able to fit a last-minute pair of socks when it’s already full to the brim, while an old, cheap model will be stretching at the seams long before that. Elliott recommends that travelers prioritize quality over bells and whistles. “You might have a really awesome bag that’s self-weighing and it’s got a charger in it,” he says, “but if it doesn’t hold up to the rigors of travel, you should leave it at home.” For a bag that delivers both fancy features and durability, Elliott recommends Blue Smart.

3. REMEMBER: LESS IS MORE.

A woman sitting on an overstuffed suitcase.
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Stuffing in that one extra sweater can be the undoing of many winter travelers. Instead of focusing on bulky outerwear, Addis prefers to pack light base layers that will keep her toasty without pushing her luggage past the weight limit. “I try to bring things that are inherently warm and lightweight like merino wool ski underwear and a very warm down jacket,” she tells Mental Floss. “Even with just those two layers I am good in -20°C as long as it is a dry cold.” If you have base layers packed for every day of your trip, there’s no reason to bring more than one or two sweaters. No one will fault you for wearing the same outfit twice. Elliott also prefers to pack base layers from quality brands like North Face over the flashier items he has in his closet. “If you’re going somewhere really cold, unless you're going to Aspen, you don’t really need to make a fashion statement,” he says. “You don’t need to pack your entire wardrobe.”

4. USE THE NAVY FOLDING METHOD.

A closeup of a person's hands packing rolled clothes into a suitcase.
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To roll or to fold? That is the question that plagues many travelers when they first set out to fill a suitcase. You may suspect that it doesn’t make much of a difference either way, but to both Elliott and Addis the answer is clear: Rolling is the way to go. For lighter undershirts, employ the fold-and-roll method used by the Navy. Lay the shirt flat on your bed or some other surface and fold the bottom third of the shirt to its back side. Next fold it vertically, laying the right half of the shirt over the left half. Finally, fold the left third of the shirt into the middle and then fold the remaining right third over that. Compress it even tighter by rolling the whole thing up starting from the collar. For sweaters, you can get away with a few less folds. Lay the garment flat and fold the arms behind the back to make an “X”. Fold it in two vertically—now you’re ready to start rolling it tight from top to bottom. If you’re worried about your perfectly bundled packages unraveling, secure them with a rubber band to give yourself peace of mind. Having a hard time visualizing how it's done? Check out this video.

5. INVEST IN LUGGAGE CUBES.

A set of three Eagle Creek packing cubes.
Amazon

To pack like a pro, get your hands on a set of luggage cubes. After testing them out, Elliott says he’ll never go back. “I always thought luggage cubes were gimmicky and then I tried them,” he says, “They are not gimmicky at all. Two luggage cubes can save you a ton of space.” Elliot's favorite cubes are from Eagle Creek. The mesh, zippered containers are basically mini suitcases: Fold and roll your clothes like you normally would then squeeze them into the cubes until they're full. The packed cubes fit like puzzle pieces into your bag, helping to maximize space. Addis is also a fan. “My big secret is packing cubes!” she says. “I roll and stuff each item into them, zip it up, and then it is organized and more compact.”

6. WEIGH YOUR BAG.

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One extra pound can make the difference between paying an extra $50 at the airport and walking on the flight with that money in your pocket. Traveling with heavy winter gear means your bag is more likely to tip past the 50-pound limit. Avoid getting blind-sided at security by weighing your bag before you leave the house (a digital luggage scale is perfect for this). Pack the bare minimum amount of supplies you need before your first weight check. If you have a few pounds to spare and some room left in the bag, reward yourself by chucking in your favorite scarf or sweater you planned to leave behind.

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