Slide Show: Hindenburg Remembered or Whatever Happened to the Great Airships?

   Hindenburg and Lakehurst Remembered - Marcus Russell (my step-brother)

Show and Tell: Bill Skillman shows Hindenburg memorabilia at Charlestown - 2017

Hindenburg Memorial - 68th Anniversary

On May 6, 2005, several of my family attended the 68th Anniversary Memorial Service conducted by the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society ( Due to inclement weather, the service was held in Hanger #1, at the left in the background. The next day we toured the site of the crash. Grandson Eli Brash, daughter Karen Brash, grandaughter Sarah, Anne, Bill and son-in-law Richard Brash are standing on the spot where the control car hit the ground. I am holding the Maryland Gazette, key to having this picture appear in that newspaper. We are only a mile or so from the garage apartment where I was born. My parents met while working in the offices in the side of Hangar #1. Later Dad moved to the offices on the 2nd floor of the Administration Building.

Remembering the Hindenburg - Bill Skillman

May 6, 2002

Years ago there was a TV special commemorating the Hindenburg disaster at 5 year intervals. Now, once in a while something shows up on the TV or newspaper. But this year, the 65th anniversary, the Baltimore Sun, at least, doesn't mention it, and I couldn't find anything in the TV Guide. So, tonight I pick up the torch (bad analogy!) and remind you of this event so long ago.

Sixty-five years ago at this time (6:00 p.m.) My parents and I were listening to communications between the Hindenburg, delayed in landing by bad weather at Lakehurst, and the radio operator in the Administration Bldg., where my father worked. This is just across the street from the western doors of Hangar No. 1, which had housed the H-burg for repairs during one visit in 1936. After a while, the drizzle let up and we went outside to watch the ship circle the field and come in for a landing. At 7:23, as it hovered over the field about 1/4 mile from us, landing lines already down, fire started near the rear and spread very rapidly to the front. We stood and watched in horror until the flames and debris appeared to be descending on us and my mother and I turned and ran down the street. Dad stood and watched. Feeling safer, we turned around watched as it burned on the field. Survivors? No way! Dad hustled us out of there and we left not knowing that there were many survivors. The next day we were able to get back on the base and look at the smoldering remains.

Looking back, we had known the Hindenburg for over a year. I was collecting stamps then and still have my "first-day covers" that came on the first flight to Lakehurst in May, 1936. I also have a postcard written on that flight to my Dad which read:

Irste Nord-Amerikareise, Mai 1936
Dear Sir,
We are sending you this postal card from aboard our Airship on the first of our regular North-Atlantic crossings, as a token of our appreciation of your personal efforts and cooperation at the Naval Air Station Lakehurst.
Sincerely yours,
(signature illegible)

We were there when it arrived early on May 9, 1936. What a sight! I still have a souvenir booklet I purchased for 25 cents. After a while, we went on board and toured the passenger quarters, gazed out the slanted windows. Very impressive. Then, when she left for the last time in the fall of 1936, we stood under the ship to get out of the rain.

Even farther back, my parents met when they both lived and worked at NAS Lakehurst, married and had me on 1/22/28. So I was a little over 9 when she blew. For years we took the kids past the garage apartment where I was born, but never took a picture. Finally, I returned with a camera a few years ago and found that a development had taken its place. Interestingly, I have my grandmother's diary covering the night I was born and several days after when she was helping out. No time to get to a hospital, I was in a rush! I think the local doctor showed up before I popped out.

The cause of the disaster (not me, the Hindenburg) was never determined. Was it sabotage? Static electricity? Engine backfire? Dumping of gasoline used to prime the engines? Extremely flammable coating on skin?

Compared to the WTC and Pentagon disasters on 9/11/2000 the loss of life (23) was low, but the dramatic explosion and fire certainly seared itself into my young brain.

While on the subject, my neighbor's Urologist was Dr. Horst Schirmer, whose father was an aeronautical designer who worked on the propellor design for the H-burg. He was scheduled to fly on the ill-fated flight to evaluate the performance on a new, variable pitch propellor on one engine. However, just before the flight the regular propellor was reinstalled and he stayed home. Horst said he "was often aboard the Hindenburg with my father, and flying with the ship was something that I'll never forget," he said from his office in Union Memorial Hospital the other day. (Fred Rasmussen "A mighty ship filled city's sky" The Sun, Sunday, May 18, 1997, page 6J.)

Ernest Imhoff wrote an article "Gasoline and hydrogen" in the Sun, Sunday, March 5, 2000. He focused on Robert Rutan, Columbia, MD, who was in front of Hangar 1, about 200 feet from the impact spot, selling souvenirs and answering tourists' questions that fateful night.

Another living witness to the disaster was my step-brother-to-be, Mark Russell, (deceased 2012), who was sitting on a fence on the field. His parents also worked at the station. (On May, 2007 trip to Lakehurst, I discovered two high school friends who were on the fence at the edge of the airport.)

Bill Skillman, remembering the Hindenburg in Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville, MD

Page last edited June 23, 2018