“Oh, the humanity!” exclaimed news correspondent Herbert Morrison as he watched the conflagration that consumed the airship Hindenburg on May 6, 1937, at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Morrison was recording a radio broadcast of the landing of the Hindenburg for WLS, a radio station in Chicago. Other news organizations were filming the landing for newsreels. While those who were in attendance anticipated viewing a very rare event, the landing of an airship, no one could have in the least expected that they would be witness to one of the most shocking and dramatic news stories of the 20th century.
The whole airship burned in less than a minute. Surprisingly, out of a total of 97 people on board, 62 survived. A number of theories have been proffered for the cause of the fire, including sabotage, static electricity, lightning, even an engine backfire. No one can say for certain.
As regular readers of this column already know, I took a trip to Baltimore last fall to visit family. I took one day of that vacation to go on a day trip to see some sights in New Jersey, a state that I had been in on just three previous occasions.
In the 1970’s my family twice visited the Wildwood resort along the southern coast. In 1990 I passed through the northern part of the state on my way to visit New York and New England. However, I had never visited any historic sites in the state.
On my most recent trip, after leaving Atlantic City, which was my first stop of the day, I connected with the Garden State Parkway to head to my next intended destination, the site of the Hindenburg disaster.
After driving a little while along the parkway I stopped in at a rest area. In additions to the restrooms, the facility included several fast food outlets all in one building. I wasn’t quite ready yet for lunch, but out of sheer curiosity I looked at the price board of one of the restaurants. A lunch combo that would normally cost around five or six dollars was going for eight or nine dollars at this location. No thanks. Not today.
I got back onto the expressway and, several miles farther north, I exited at the Lakehurst exit. This particular road is a heavy commercial thoroughfare. I saw a sign for Wally World and pulled in so that I could get some more film. I already had film with me, but sometimes I get camera-happy when I am visiting historic sites and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t run out of film before the day was through. I have been told by more than one person that I really should buy a digital camera. They are right, I guess. Oh well, perhaps this year.
As I was traveling along Rte. 37 I noticed something curious. No left turns were allowed. However, there were ramps at each major intersection. Motorists wishing to turn left had to first turn right onto the ramp and circle around to the crossroad that they just passed, and then proceed on their desired road. It was explained to me later by my niece that these ramps are referred to as jug handles. They are found mainly in the northeast, particularly New Jersey, as well as in a few Midwest states.
A couple of miles after the Wal-Mart stop I reached the air station. I drove onto the base and stopped at the entrance gate, where I told the guard that I wanted to see the site of the Hindenburg disaster. He directed me to a nearby building, where I repeated my request to the guard at that building. He directed me to another small building that was for visitor check-in.
The ladies at the desk of the visitor center told me that civilians are allowed to visit the site only on Wednesday. Since I was there on a Monday I was out of luck. They invited me to look around the small center, which featured a model of the Hindenburg, perhaps six or seven feet in length, hanging from the ceiling. I had to content myself with taking a picture of the model. I then got back in the car and continued on to my next destination, the Gateway National Recreation Area.
Next Installment – New York, New York, But From A Distance