Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Hindenburg Thrilled Pelham Before Its Fiery Crash in 1937

It is May 6, 1937. The hydrogen-filled rigid airship "Hindenburg" -- known as the pride of the Third Reich -- is late. A crowd of hundreds has gathered at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, NJ for the docking of the airship arriving from Europe. At about 7:20 p.m., the ship drifts into view. Within minutes there is a flash and the ship bursts into flames and crashes to the ground as it is consumed by fire. Thirty-six passengers and crew die in a tragedy that some say ended the era of luxury zeppelin travel.

German Passenger Airship LZ 129 Hindenburg Begins
to Fall Seconds After Catching Fire While Docking at 
Naval Air Station Lakehurst in New Jersey on May 6, 1937.
Source:  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Hindenburg Disaster.

Virtually everyone knows the story of the Hindenburg. Images of its demise are burned into our collective brain. But few today know that the Hindenburg had visited the U.S. before its tragic voyage. Indeed, some who live in Pelham may still recall that on October 9, 1936 -- only months before its fiery demise -- the Hindenburg thrilled residents of Pelham, Westchester County and much of the northeast United States by cruising overhead for nearly ten hours as a "gesture of farewell" before traveling back to Germany at the end of the cruising season. See Dirigible To Visit Six States Today, N.Y. Times, Oct. 9, 1936, p. 13. See also Hindenburg Soars Over Six States, N.Y. Times, Oct. 10, 1936, p. 4.

The October 9, 1936 issue of The Pelham Sun contained a brief story entitled "Principals on Special Zep Flight" with photographs of "Four of the principals who are on board the airship Hindenburg in its flight over Pelham and vicinity today." Immediately below are the photographs that appeared with the feature.

In the lower left of the image above is Captain Ernst A. Lehrman of the Hindenburg. Beside him is R.T. Haslam of the Colonial Beacon Oil Co., a guest on the special flight. In the upper left is Commander Charles E. Rosendahl of the Lakehurst Naval Air Station (another guest) and, in the upper right, is Dr. Hugo Eckener, the developer of the Hindenburg and "Commodore of Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei", which operated the Hindenburg.

The airship, filled with leaders of the U.S. financial, industrial and aviation industries, left Lakehurst, NJ at 6:57 a.m. on October 9, 1936. By 8:53 a.m., the zeppelin floated over Yonkers at an altitude of 800 feet. Below, school children ran about "in the school yards and streets, and their shouts of acclaim came clearly through the open windows of the promenade deck."  See Hindenburg Soars Over Six States, supra.

The Hindenburg floated gently over Westchester County to Ossining where, according to one report, "the ship had a different and silent greeting from convicts in the yard of Sing Sing prison." Id. From Ossining, the airship swung northeastward and headed for Connecticut and on up the east coast to Boston.

The captain of the Hindenberg that day was Ernst A. Lehman. He died in the tragedy that consumed the zeppelin a few months later with some reports saying his last words were "I can't understand."


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