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Oh the humanity.
May 6, 2013 4:21 PM   Subscribe

On May 6th, 1937 the famous German Airship, The Hindenburg, was engulfed in flames as it docked in New York City. Newly available archival footage shows the great zeppelin at its end and on more successful voyages.
posted by humanfont (46 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
A couple of years ago I went off on a tangent and found pictures of the interiors of the Hindenburg and similar airships. They were huge, and much fancier than I expected.
posted by mrbill at 4:27 PM on May 6, 2013


I think it was docking in Jersey, not NYC. It would have been even worse had it happened above the Empire State building.
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:32 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


as it docked in New York City

Actually in Lakehurst, New Jersey, a couple hours away.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:33 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Zeppelin Museum may be of interest; it has a partial replica of the craft.
posted by mrbill at 4:36 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Despite the sometimes Evil Walternate, my favourite part of 'over there' was that Zeppelins had become mainstream.

- If you do not understand this comment, please do yourself a favour and watch FRINGE.
- Also, that video works better with this playing in the background.

posted by Fizz at 4:37 PM on May 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


When I worked at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, there was some attention paid to the famous recording of the disaster, because the announcer's voice was so high pitched and rapid; there was some speculation that the recording was being played back too fast. Eventually they found another recording of the guy (from a radio-based game show or something) and used it as a reference to speed-correct the recording. The end result was much slower, but also much, much more dramatic, because you could hear the emotion in his voice much more clearly.

If I weren't running out the door I'd try to dig it up, perhaps someone else will have by the time I get back to a computer.
posted by davejay at 4:38 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here's Herbert Morrison at the correct speed.
posted by Longtime Listener at 4:39 PM on May 6, 2013 [13 favorites]


I always find amazing in documentaries the part where they show the explosion and crash in slo-mo and highlight the little blobs emerging from the fiery wreck that were actually people.
posted by Fukiyama at 4:41 PM on May 6, 2013


a) The Onion

b) Everyone is always "Hindenburg, Hindenburg" but no one every remembers the USS Macon or USS Akron.

Because seriously people, the USA was going to let some other country beat them in ANYTHING? Unlikely.
posted by GuyZero at 4:42 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would much rather be in a burning Zeppelin than a crashing passenger jet. Two thirds of the passengers survived the Hindenberg.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:48 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Werner Franz was a 14 year old cabin boy on the day of the accident:
Werner Franz had a coffee cup in his hand and was just reaching into the cupboard to put it away when he heard a dull thudding sound and felt the entire ship shake. He froze as the dishes he had put away were all jolted out of their cabinet and crashed to the floor. The ship began to tilt steeply aft, and Franz ran to the door to the keel walkway and looked out into the hallway. He glanced aft and saw, to his horror, a mammoth ball of flame rushing toward him. He instinctively began to back-pedal away from the fire and toward the bow. Franz looked around to see if any of his crewmates were there, but he could see no one. As the ship tilted even more steeply, he began to slide aft toward the flames, and grabbed at the ropes that lined both sides of the keel walkway. Dazed, he hung on as the fire roared through the hydrogen cells above him and the ship's hull jarred and shook as it slowly crashed to earth.

Suddenly, and with eerie similarity to his "crossing the line" initiation from his first flight to South America, Franz was doused with water pouring down on him along the inclined keel. A water ballast tank set alongside the walkway about 40 feet forward of Franz's position had slipped off its mountings and ruptured, sending its contents aft. The water soaked Franz's clothes, not only effectively shielding him from the heat, but also snapping the stunned boy back to his senses. He began to look for a way out of the ship ...
As far as I can tell, Werner Franz is still alive and living in Germany (the most recent info I can find is from 2009)
posted by memebake at 4:50 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


that's gotta hurt
posted by avocet at 4:50 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


This accident is also why noted folkish singer songwriter Dory Previn never flew on planes, she saw the crash in person as her father had taken her there to see the big ship docking.
posted by The Whelk at 4:53 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Pictures of the interior along with other pages to various info. Somehow I made it this far along in my life without fully realizing that the passenger cabin was inside the ship. It really is rather astonishing that so many survived.
posted by imbri at 5:00 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


This was a plot point in the Waltons.

It's one of my earliest memories, and I recall that episode because it gave me nightmares - I was 5-6 when that aired.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:01 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


GuyZero - I remember the Akron and Macon. They're the very definition of cutting edge technology incarnate, and just astonishing ships. Built a model of the Macon and had it hanging over my bed for my childhood of dirigible-fixated daydreams.
posted by sonascope at 5:04 PM on May 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


imbri: Pictures of the interior along with other pages to various info. Somehow I made it this far along in my life without fully realizing that the passenger cabin was inside the ship. It really is rather astonishing that so many survived.

I'm astonished that this giant hydrogen balloon also had a smoking room. They kept it above normal air pressure so that hydrogen would not leak into it.
posted by memebake at 5:19 PM on May 6, 2013


I would much rather be in a burning Zeppelin than a crashing passenger jet. Two thirds of the passengers survived the Hindenberg.

The survival rate for plane crashes is far better than that.
posted by srboisvert at 5:22 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The smoking room always amazes people. You really think you could get people in the 1930's to fly across the Atlantic, without a cigarette? Please.
posted by thelonius at 5:25 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


thelonius: "The smoking room always amazes people."

Jesus! Wanna blow us all to shit, Sherlock?!
posted by The White Hat at 5:29 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "It's one of my earliest memories, and I recall that episode because it gave me nightmares - I was 5-6 when that aired."

I think this is my earliest memory of the Hindenburg as well...through the traumatized POV of John Boy.
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:45 PM on May 6, 2013


Jesus! Wanna blow us all to shit, Sherlock?!

M! As in Mancy!
posted by zombieflanders at 5:45 PM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.
posted by briank at 5:48 PM on May 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Last year I was on a Lufthansa flight to Berlin. Leafing through the in-flight magazine, I was slightly surprised to find that they got their start running passenger zeppelin services, only switching to aeroplanes later.
posted by acb at 5:52 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Obligatory.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:19 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Somehow I made it this far along in my life without fully realizing that the passenger cabin was inside the ship

The first successful passenger zeppelin, the Graf Zeppelin, had its passenger hull slung outside the ship's envelope and may be what made you think of it. It's not as well known, due to the Hindenburg's spectacular end, but is famous in its own right, not least for being the first air vehicle to circumnavigate the world in 1929.

The Hindenburg, on the other hand, place the passenger areas inside as you've noted, to improve aerodynamics. One of the pleasant side effects are the windows you see in some of the pictures could be opened during fight, and due to the shape of the ship, you'd get just a breeze despite trucking along at 60MPH or more.

The practical cruising altitude was something like 600 to a 1000 feet, so you could park youself by the window and watch the ships beneath you on the Atlantic as it (most regularly) crossed to Recife, or pods of whales, or just daydream. Addtionally, if I recall correctly, asking politely might get you a trip on the catwalks through the interior of the ship's envelope to the Angel's Nest at the bow of the ship, a small platform which let you stand at the very prow of it. I can only imagine what that must have been like to float through the sky with that immense mass behind you. The engines were supposedly so far behind you at that point you heard only silence.

I'd give anything to experience a zeppelin crossing. They were renowned for the smoothness of the ride, so large that even when caught in a storm there are accounts of full glasses of water sitting bedside all night without spilling a drop due to the stability of the ship.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 6:43 PM on May 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


I watched the video and was astonished to see Max Von Sydow show up at about 2:28.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:55 PM on May 6, 2013


The footage isn't newly discovered--it's been at archive.org for a while, as well as at the various vendors who license Universal newsreels.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:07 PM on May 6, 2013


I don't know much more about the Hindenburg than what you pick up along the way. This first-person journalistic account of a pre-tragedy Atlantic crossing is a very interesting read.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:13 PM on May 6, 2013


Those pictures of the interior are amazing, not just for being in color and all, but look at the design. It looks more mid-century modern than 30's. Bauhaus indeed.

I too wish I could experience a Zeppelin crossing. Just put the parachute under my table.
posted by pashdown at 7:30 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also obligatory.
posted by MrBadExample at 8:03 PM on May 6, 2013


Unedited footage in colour.
posted by unliteral at 9:51 PM on May 6, 2013


They were renowned for the smoothness of the ride, so large that even when caught in a storm there are accounts of full glasses of water sitting bedside all night without spilling a drop due to the stability of the ship.

Unfortunately US Naval zeppelins were renowned for going down in bad storms with Admirals aboard which probably had a lot to do with the eventual cancellation of the program.
posted by GuyZero at 9:59 PM on May 6, 2013


Are there any modern zeppelins that take on passengers? Is there even a possibility of these coming back in some sort of capacity?
posted by gucci mane at 2:28 AM on May 7, 2013


The Zeppelin company, or at least the trademark, survives in Germany (mostly making blimps); a modern design, the Zeppelin NT, was running pleasure cruises in the US under the name Airship Adventures until last year, having carried 20,000 passengers.
posted by dhartung at 2:47 AM on May 7, 2013


Since GuyZero has started with the competitive airship crashes, I feel beholden to mention the R101, whose failures seem very much like every current UK government project failure.

The difference between the Hindenberg and both the Akron and the R101 is of course that no-one caught their final minutes on film. So even though the latter two had more fatalities, there isn't the immediacy that the film gives.
posted by Coobeastie at 3:48 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not only the Akron, Macon, and R101, but the R38, Shenandoah, and Italia, among others have their stories told in John Toland's The Great Dirigibles; Their Triumphs and Disasters. A must read for anyone interested in the subject.
posted by TedW at 6:49 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


That book also has the story of the Los Angeles, which despite once doing a nose stand in an unfortunate gust of wind survived to be decommissioned.
posted by TedW at 6:55 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


At some point in the past few years, I attended a presentation by a historian of lighter-than-air aviation at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The gentleman, whose name escapes me, was the son of a supervising engineer for the Zeppelin corporation in Freidrichshafen before the war. He was quite elderly, and the substance of his talk was personal recollections of the ships, his experience in flight on (I beleive) the Hindenburg as a small child (a short shakeout cruise over the lake), and secondhand recollections from his father of the internal strife at the Zeppelin company during the Nazi rise to power. The company was nationalized (iirc) and party members were fast-tracked into managerial positions, according to this gent over the protestaions of Dr. Eckener.

On the day his father took him on the shakeout, he was led into the hangar at weigh-out, a step in the launch sequence when the LTA vehicle is trimmed to achieve neutral buoyancy at ground level. He was led to the nose gear under the control car and the ship was lowered to just a couple feet above the ground. His father took the small boy's hand and placed it on the underside of the tire, and told him "bounce it!"

As the elderly man told this story, he reinhabited his toddler's body and reached out to the air in front of him and there in front of us bobbled the Hindenburg in his three year old hand, up and down. The auditorium gasped in wonder.

---

I was fortunate enough to enjoy a flight on the currently-mothballed Airship Ventures Zeppelin NT Eureka in 2010.
posted by mwhybark at 7:30 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The speaker above was Dr. Horst Schirmer.
posted by mwhybark at 7:37 AM on May 7, 2013


The Toland book was one of my favorite books of all time.

I carried that thick paperback with me everywhere I went for ages, rereading stories that never got old from a time that just seemed so exceptional compared to the grim self-centered malaise era of the late seventies and early eighties. Even now, thirty-plus years later, I can almost recite some of those chapters by heart, from the grim details to the joyous ones, and even though adult me knows that the Dixmude just burned in the skies and fell into the sea, a small, optimistic voice inside still tells me that one day, it may just emerge from a cloud bank as if nothing had happened. It's a tribute to the stock that Dover uses that, while my copies of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, The Lathe of Heaven, The Martian Chronicles, Ringworld, the Tao Te Ching, and other treasured volumes from my youth are all now raggedy messes of yellowed tape and missing chunks, my copy of Toland's book retains its stately academic bearing with just a little roughness at the corners.

I have sat in a tent with Nobile, clung to the broken girders of the Shenandoah in the storm, watched the Roma burn, held on for dear life in the upended Los Angeles, and triumphantly circled the globe on the Graf Zeppelin, and it is a tribute to that era of complicated wonders that all these adventures often took place while I was perched on the roof of our little farmhouse in Scaggsville in my secret reading place, reclining in the comfortable crook where gables met and learning once and for all time that imagination makes all things possible.

Lifetimes after their passing, dirigibles carried me to where I am right now.
posted by sonascope at 8:02 AM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I had the pleasure of attending classes in Hanger 1, the hanger built for the Hindenburg. Nice to learn that recording wasn't correct. Airships were beautiful.
posted by Goofyy at 8:32 AM on May 7, 2013


their stories told in John Toland's The Great Dirigibles; Their Triumphs and Disasters.

I work right next to Hangar One, the Macon's home, and I love to regale co-workers withToland's description of how it crashed, off Big Sur. Unlike the Akron, which had just a few survivors due to crashing in a storm; most of the Macon's crew made it home alive. And since it had a structural failure in the stern, as it went down the crew converged in the bow, where helium from burst balloons was also collecting. The helium made the crew sound like Donald Duck so they were all laughing and giggling during their rescue -- a very different ending to the American airship era.
posted by Rash at 9:06 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


In 1978, on my first-ever trip across the whole country, catching sight of Hangar One, even from a distance, was the most exciting, amazing, wonderful thing that had yet happened in my young life. You can show me movie spectacles, fireworks, sports triumphs, and everything else, but a giant piece of my historical obsessions trumped them all.

If I ever get to travel again, the sheds at Cardington are near the top of my list.
posted by sonascope at 9:40 AM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anyone who comes to the Bay Area should swing by the very small Moffett Field Historic Society Museum which has some great displays of the heyday of zeppelins at Moffett Field.
posted by GuyZero at 9:42 AM on May 7, 2013


I've spent all day trying to find some support for this claim. All I have is my memory. Sorry.
I know my local PBS station aired a episode of History Detectives, American Experience, Nova, or just a special about the Hindenburg, and it claimed that when the fire broke out the passengers in the outside layer lounges had a few seconds warning, (some jumping out of windows while the ship was in the air) it had supporting evidence that there was one old lady, who was rich and uptight, and would not let go of her purse, set on a fancy couch, and when the ship hit the ground, she got up and walked right out. I shit you not. I was amazed, and like what? No! Really? Yes!
Damn Google, not giving me what I want again.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 8:21 PM on May 7, 2013


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