A Story of the Lakehurst Naval Air Station and Its Relation to the Russell Family

Marcus Holmes Russell (8/22/1896 - 12/21/1939) and Ethelyn Wager were married in 1924. He was the son of a sea captain that was lost at sea in 1898 (Howard H. Hanscom, a three-masted schooner of 740 tons) His mother, Etta Adams from Mayetta, NJ, remarried Sheriff Ellis of Toms River. They lived in a house across the street from the Presbyterian Church on Washington Street in Toms River. He attended the Toms River School. He enlisted in the US Army in WWI and achieved the rank of Sergeant. He lost the little finger on his right hand from a training accident. Following the war he found employment at NAS Lakehurst in the engineering Department that supervised the erection of the dirigible Shenandoah, ZR-1.

Ethelyn was the daughter of Eli and Kate Wager. Eli was the chef at the Pine Tree Inn in Lakehurst. The Lakehurst grade school now occupies the site. The house that Eli and Kate lived in still exists on Pine Street. Ethelyn graduated from Lakewood High school and obtained employment in the supply department at NAS Lakehurst.(DOB: 6 Nov 1903; DOD:18 Aug 1988)

I, the author of this recollection, was born 1 August 1927. We lived in Toms River on Main Street. In an apartment over Schwartz and Jeffry dry goods store. Next to Iron’s Bakery. (Now the Sweet Shop) The office of the New Jersey Courier was across the hall. (Fortunately the paper was only published once a week, for the building shook when the press ran.) We had an ice box in the summer that required emptying the “drip pan” regularly. Hung a sign in the window that informed Joe Holmes of the amount of ice he should bring up. Winter we had a “box” that was secured to a window sill and stuck outdoors. We moved to a new Sears Roebuck house at 7 Spruce Street when I was 5. (No longer could I go, with coins clutched in my hand, to Wood’s meat market for a pound of ground round) I have many other memories of “down town” Toms River but they will be for another time.

My father, on occasion, would be required to work at NAS Lakehurst on a Saturday. He would take me with him and, to keep me out of trouble, would lift me up into the control car of the Los Angeles (ZR-2) and I would play dirigible driver. He would then take me to my grandparents home for the rest of the weekend. Their house had an out house, three-hole as I recall, and a pitcher pump in the kitchen. Coal stove in kitchen. I had a “thunder mug” in my bed room for night time use. Great grandmother had a room over the back parlor where the Ben Franklin stove that kept the parlor warm also kept her room warm. Many other stories here like our walking the “Y” of the Central RR, walking around Lake Horicon and to the old proving grounds.

Now back to NAS Lakehurst. The dirigible Akron was housed at Lakehurst. The morning it crashed in a storm and came ashore on a beach on Long Beach Island, my father, with me along, traveled to the site. Bob Liles, a school mate, lost his father on that crash. The Hindenburg was making regular trips to the USA and NAS Lakehurst was her destination. We had a pass, I still have, to board her. I remember the windows and other details from our 1936 boarding. We were scheduled to board again on 6 May of 1937. Parents were at an American Legion food stand near Hangar #1. Norbert McLean and I were sitting a top cedar post fence posts that held the fence that kept on lookers from the landing site. A light mist was falling. (I had knotted the corners of my handkerchief and had it covering my red head) Suddenly there was a loud sound not unlike that heard when a gas stove oven is lit with a match. The ship was ablaze. I never saw it hit the ground. I thought it was going to land on top of us and ran back to my parents at Hanger #1. Ran by a woman on the tarmac of the HTA hanger, next to a parked DC-3, that was pulling her hair out.