birdsedge (birdsedge) wrote in little_details,

Mrs Letitia Sage - actress.

On 29th June 1785 British actress Mrs Letitia Ann Sage  became the first female aerialist, carried aloft in  Lunardi's hydrogen balloon from St George's Fields, London along with Mr George Biggin. The gondola was draped in swags, but the gate had a neat arrangement of lacing so that the watchers on the ground could see the people up in the air.

Mrs Sage was described as Junoesque, and  apparently weighed in at over 200 pounds. On the day she wore a very low cut silk dress, apparently to aid 'wind resistance'. (You can just picture it can't you?). Her fellow passenger was the dashing George Biggin, a young and wealthy Old Etonian.

Unfortunately the balloon was overloaded. (Afterwards Mrs Sage blamed herself because she hadn't told Lunardi her weight and he'd been too polite to ask). Lunardi seemed to have no qualms about stepping out and letting the apparently inexperienced Mr Biggin take to the air with Mrs Sage. Unfortunately in his haste to depart, Lunardi failed to do up the lacings of the gondola door. As the balloon sailed away over Picadilly The beautiful Mrs Sage was on all fours re-threading the lacings to close the door. Apparently the crowd assumed she had fainted pr possibly something far more exciting was going on between her and Mr Biggin.

The flight followed the line of the Thames westwards finally landing heavily in Harrow on the Hill where the balloon damaged a hedge and gouged a strip through the middle of an uncut hayfield, leaving the farmer ranting abuse and threats. The honour of the first female aeronaut was saved by the young gentlemen/boys of Harrow school who had a whip-round to pay off the farmer and then carried Mrs Sage bodily, in triumph, to the local pub.

I got the gist of all this from an item on a BBC Radio4 programme last year and made hurried notes, thinking to use it for a short story sometime. I've done some googling since and found out plenty about Lunardi and his balloon flights, including the fateful voyage of Mrs Sage and Mr Biggin, but I can find very little about Mrs Sage, herself, even though the radio item mentioned that she'd left a vivid account.

I've even looked her up on the 1871, 1881 and 1891 census return but the only Letitia Sages were too young or in the wrong place entirely and married to a blacksmith. Letitia could have been her stage name, of course.

Googling 'Mrs Sage actress' gets me a later (American) one who apparently had her servant slam the door in Andrew Carnegie's face. Googling 'Letitia Ann Sage' just gets me a lot of varied accounts of the balloon incident and a very brief entry that indicates she might at one time have been a humble theatre dresser. Wikipedia's British Stage Actors doesn't list her at all.

I would, however, like to find some information about the lady herself, what theatres she might have played at and what roles she might have taken. I've got some general theatre background for that period and can fudge it if necessary, but I'd like to know how old she was at the time of the balloon ride and what recent productions she might have had some success in (at which theatres).

Any help appreciated.

Tags: 1700s (no decades given), 1800s (no decades given), ~aviation

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