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June 18, 2010

Gentle giants light up night sky at glow

MEADVILLE — Flashing and glowing like light bulbs, they drew oohs and aahs from Michelle Verona.

“It’s beautiful — it’s just great,” she said as she pointed her camera at the eight balloons lighting up against the sky Thursday night.

They were part of the night glow at the 22nd annual Thurston Classic hot-air balloon event at Allegheny College’s Robertson Athletic Complex off Park Avenue.

The eight balloons, tethered to the ground, glowed in various patterns and in unison to the delight of a crowd of more than 1,500. The balloons are equipped with special propane burners to make them glow like a light bulb.

Verona, 23, moved to Erie recently from College Park, Md., and hadn’t been to the Thurston Classic before.

“They don’t have anything like this back in Maryland,” she said with a smile.

Verona came to the Thurston Classic with friends Barb and Sam Mitchell of McKean, who had been to the night glow several times previously.

“All the beautiful colors on the balloons,” said Barb Mitchell on what attracts her to the event. “I also think it’s great all these people turn out, and (Thurston organizers) don’t charge admission.”

Mitchell’s husband, Sam, likes another aspect of it.

“You’re able to get close to the balloons. It’s nice here because you’re so close and see them inflate,” he said.

Misty Kinnear and her husband, Tim Gray, of Centerville said they love the night glow because it’s a good family event. They were at the Thurston with their three children.

“It’s really something you don’t see every day,” Gray said.

Something else not seen every day is a towering six-armed, bug-eyed, grinning monster of a balloon — the Purple People Eater.

The specialty character balloon piloted by John Cavin of Indiatlantic, Fla., wowed the crowd as it’s more than 80-foot height began to take shape. It was a featured novelty balloon inflated prior to the glow.

“That’s the craziest balloon I’ve ever seen,” Verona said with a laugh when she saw it.

The Purple People Eater didn’t fly Thursday, but is scheduled to take off today along with 29 other balloons as the Thurston Classic continues this evening at the Robertson Field.

The event is free, but donations are accepted.

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