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Skydiving event to mark 100th anniversary of first jump

ST. LOUIS COUNTY – What goes up on Thursday must come down — and hopefully the descent will be made with a fully functioning parachute.

Jefferson Barracks, located in south St. Louis County, will hold a special public event Thursday to mark the 100th anniversary of the first parachute descent from an airplane.

Thursday’s festivities will include a 1 p.m. ceremony at the new Joint Armed Forces Reserve Center followed by a parachute jump at 1:30 on the west parade field. The event is the brainchild of the Jefferson Barracks Heritage Foundation, in conjunction with the Missouri National Guard, the Gateway Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division Association and the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum.  

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan are expected to attend the ceremony and photos of the first jump, as well as various parachuting displays, will be featured inside the Reserve Center.

The first parachute descent from an airplane took place March 1, 1912, at Jefferson Barracks when Capt. Albert Berry successfully jumped from a 1912 Benoist Type 12 “pusher” biplane designed by Irondale native Thomas Benoist (Ben-wah) and piloted by Anthony Jannus.

According to Art Schuermann of the Jefferson Barracks Historic Preservation Office, Berry’s feat was considered impossible at the time.

“Nobody thought you could parachute from a plane without having the plane crash,” Schuermann said. “People thought the plane would go out of whack when the jump was made. So this proved the concept that you can parachute from an airplane and that the plane and the jumper will be fine.”

News of the successful jump spread quickly, which lead to further innovations in parachute design and performance and changed U.S. military tactics.

“It led to the development of military airborne units which allows you to drop soldiers by parachute behind enemy lines,” Schuermann pointed out. “It also gave the military a way to escape an aircraft that can no longer fly. All of that stems from Berry’s first jump.”

Thursday’s parachute jump will be made by 82-year-old Lewis Sanborn of Imperial, a master parachutist with more than 7,300 jumps to his credit. Sanborn served in the Army’s famed 82nd Airborne Division from 1948 to 1952 and has been instrumental in forming several sports parachuting clubs.

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