It cost him $2500, but he’s probably doubled his money in free publicity. Mike Fruitman, owner of Stadium Sportscards in Aurora, Colo., bought the balloon Richard Heene and his wife sent up a couple of years ago, claiming they thought it might contain their young son Falcon. It was all a ruse, of course, and the Hennes were jailed briefly for the grief they caused rescue crews, police and others who tracked the silver craft.
The “Balloon Boy” episode became a national joke but after the legal proceedings were over, the balloon went on the auction block. Fruitman figured he’s be outbid by someone with grandiose plans but he wound up a winner and his investment became a tongue-in-cheek public relations effort.
Next week, a live webcam will enable chronic balloon voyeurs worldwide to view Colorado history deflated at http://www.mikesss.com. On October 15, 2011, the second anniversary of the balloon’s infamous flight, Flimflam One will descend for the last time and be retired into authenticated slices of collectible Americana, with all sale proceeds benefitting the Smoky Hill High Thanksgiving SHARE Basket Project.
The homemade “experimental flying saucer,” set adrift by Heene, a former Fort Collins, Colorado reality TV aspiran on October 15, 2009, was reported to have been carrying Heene’s 5 year old son, Falcon, an alleged stowaway. The resulting made-for-TV news hoax set off an international media storm, as spellbound onlookers riveted themselves to live TV and real-time social media coverage. When the free-flying balloon descended, then deflated, so did Heene’s ill-conceived hoax.
Heene and his wife, Mayumi, were subsequently convicted in Colorado state court on related charges, then sentenced to brief jail terms and eight years probation. The Heenes have since relocated to Florida.
Renamed Flimflam One by Fruitman, 41, the UFO-like balloon was purchased at auction from a California attorney representing the Heenes. The auction sale fell only $997,498 short of Heene’s published $1 million expectation.
“I thought, let’s have some fun with this,” said Fruitman. “So, I bought Flimflam One for our customers to enjoy. Then, we’ll slice into authenticated chunks of collectible Americana to raise money for the Thanksgiving food project. It’s a win-win, no matter what, providing my 3 and 8 year olds don’t get any clever ideas.”
It will remain on display for free public viewing and photographs through mid-October, during regular store hours. On October 15, the second anniversary of the balloon’s infamous flight, Flimflam One will descend for the final time and be retired into slices of collectible American memorabilia. Balloon Boy devotees, curiosity collectors and former NASA astronauts may reserve their authenticated piece of history at http://www.mikesss.com.