Astounding News
Reading Comprehension Activity

Author: Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous works are full of darkness and mystery, but there was a mischievous side to Poe as well. This passage is from his “Balloon Hoax” where, as a journalist, he writes a false news report about a balloon crossing the Atlantic in 1844. This was totally impossible at the time; indeed, this type of crossing was not made until 1919. Students will read the opening lines of the article and answer questions on the content and the language.

Click for the passage & questions on one printable PDF.


Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was a poet and author, but he was also a journalist and a trickster. In 1844, he wrote a newspaper story about a hot air balloon crossing the Atlantic Ocean in three days. This was totally impossible at that time. Certainly today airplanes can cross the ocean in just hours. Balloons can cross in a few days, but it is still impossible to cross the Atlantic in three days without engines to speed the balloon. This type of technology was not available when Poe wrote his “news” article.

The New York newspaper The Sun printed Poe’s story on April 13, 1844 as a true news account. There was much excitement about the story at the time. Two days later, however, the newspaper issued a retraction, explaining that it was in error.  Below is the headline and first lines of the story.


                                                                 ASTOUNDING NEWS

                                                               by Express, via Norfolk!

                                                   The Atlantic Crossed in Three Days! 

                                    Signal Triumph of Mr. Monck Mason’s Flying  Machine!

Arrival at Sullivan’s Island, near Charlestown, S.C., of  Mr. Mason, Mr. Robert Holland, Mr. Henson, Mr. Harrison Ainsworth,  and four others, in the Steering Balloon, “Victoria,” after a passage of Seventy-five Hours from Land to Land! 

                                                             Full Particulars of the Voyage!!!

The great problem is at length solved! The air, as well as the earth and the ocean, has been subdued by science, and will become a common and convenient highway for mankind. The Atlantic has been actually crossed in a Balloon! and this too without difficulty-without any great apparent danger-with thorough control of the machine-and in the inconceivably brief period of seventy-five hours from shore to shore! By the energy of an agent at Charleston, S.C., we are enabled to be the first to furnish the public with a detailed account of this most extraordinary voyage, which was performed between Saturday, the 6th instant, at 11, A.M., and 2, P.M., on Tuesday, the 9th instant, by Sir Everard Bringhurst; Mr. Osborne, a nephew of Lord Bentinck’s; Mr. Monck Mason and Mr. Robert Holland, the well-known Ãeronauts; Mr. Harrison Ainsworth, author of “Jack Sheppard,” &c.; and Mr. Henson, the projector of the late unsuccessful flying machine-with two seamen from Woolwich-in all, eight persons. The particulars furnished below may be relied on as authentic and accurate in every respect, as, with a slight exception, they are copied verbatim from the joint diaries of Mr. Monck Mason and Mr. Harrison Ainsworth, to whose politeness our agent is also indebted for much verbal information respecting the balloon itself, its construction, and other matters of interest. The only alteration in the MS. received, has been made for the purpose of throwing the hurried account of our agent, Mr. Forsyth, into a connected and intelligible form.

Comprehension Questions

Get the passage & questions on one printable PDF.

Interactive Banner 2

Enter description text here.