Monday, August 29, 2011

Amanuensis Monday - Hindenburg Disaster


The Indianapolis Sunday Star, Indianapolis, Indiana; May 9, 1937
Dark Clouds Omened Ill for Airship, Former Resident Writes of Disaster

(Mrs. Betty Barrett Dillon is the former Betty Jane Barrett of Indianapolis, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Fred E. Barrett.  She is a graduate of Tudor Hall and Butler University and for some time prior to her marriage May 15, 1935, to Allen Dillon of New York, was an assistant in the Indianapolis public library.  Since her marriage she has made her home in Mount Holly, N.J. - Editor's Note.)

BY BETTY BARRETT DILLON.
     Brown's Mills, N.J., May 8. - The day was bright and summerlike as we arrived at Lakehurst to see the Hindenburg land.  While we parked the car she passed over our heads, calm and remote as a grey gull carried by the breeze and scarce seeming to move.  Then she drifted out over the horizon and hovered somewhere behind a circle of pines until the wind should die and the air became calm enough to make her landing a safe one.
     And as we waited there came two smaller birds, glorious silver swifts with crimson-tipped wings and tail.  They circled the field and landed gently.
     We gathered close to the ropes for we felt nearer to the glory of the Hindenburg when we could see those who had a right to approach her, those who had flown from New York to return with her at midnight or who had come to greet dear ones upon their return to America.  We wondered if that young couple were starting a honeymoon or waiting to welcome mother back for Mother's day, and if at least one of those men was off to London for the coronation.
                                      Navy Men Arrive at Mast.
     But now there was bustle everywhere.  The wind had calmed.  A truck load of navy men drove to the nearest mooring mast.  Customs officers followed them and then the ground crew, walking quickly and orderly to their places, the baggage truck and last of all the sleek black "station wagons" to take the passengers to New York as soon as they disembarked.
     Once more the great ship came into view and drifted slowly toward the field.  The supply trucks came up with provisions for the return trip.  The newsreel men perched on top of their autos moved as close to the mast as was permissible.
     Then it was that the storm which had been gathering unnoticed in the excitement broke.  Call it intuition, premonition, or hunch or discount it as after-the-fact fancy, but as I watched the dark clouds creep across the sky until they covered all but the far horizon and saw there in the brilliant sunshine the silver streak, I knew that ship was a creature of fair skies, I knew she must not come into those darkened ones.
     It was such a foolish feeling I dared not express it although I asked my husband:
     "If the rain keeps up will she try to come in?"
     "I think," he answered, "she will not be able to come in until after dark."
                                       Missed Terrible Scene.
     It was then almost 7 o'clock and a year-old baby cannot go forever without her supper, so we went home, fed her and drove back to Lakehurst.  I am glad we did not get there sooner.
     We missed the explosion; we did not see the ship break in two and burst into flames or frantic men and women jump in terror from thirty to fifty feet in the air.  We heard about it from those who did, from those who were forced back in panic by the sudden heat of the flames, and then quickly brought to order and safety by the cool-headed officials.  We did not see her drop suddenly to the ground almost on top of the ground crew, but what we did see was enough.
     Gone was the Hindenburg's serenity, her cool beauty.  She was not even bruised and battered thing which might yet learn to soar again.  She was a white hot furnace, a holocaust of broken cables and twisted and bent frame-work.  Black smoke rolled up from her.  Firemen poured water into her, not to save her from further destruction - there was no hope of that - but that they might beat back the flames long enough that the injured, the dying, the dead might be carried out - those who so recently had looked down through the funny little windows upon the crowd that awaited them.
                                        Still Working in Ruins.
     They still were working to get the bodies out when we left.  Soon they will be able to check the identified victims with the passenger list.  Soon the radio will tell of great heroism, for heroes were made whenever a man went into that flaming mass.  Soon the news reels will show films of the disaster and the newspapers will tell of a young couple awaiting their mother or starting on a glorious adventure and if one at least of the men was going to London for the coronation.  Soon we will have an investigation into the cause of the disaster, and we will be bombarded by possibilities and facts.  But whatever the facts I know this:
     That silver bird in the narrow strip of sunlight was not a creature ______tables.  It belonged in the clear skies.  It was forbidden to enter the stormy grey ones.

- In an August 1980 letter to her grandson, Betty Dillon wrote on page 6: "I wanted news reporting and feature writing but they wouldn't hire women for anything but the womans page at that time (I did get a feature on the crash of the Hindenburg accepted but that wasmore as a stringer, because I was there just before and just after - your Mother was restless so we went home and as I was fixing her bottle we got the news on the radio - we went right back and Grandpa helped while your Mother and I sat in the car - the flames and wreckage were horrible - had we still been there she might have been burned or crushed for we were right in front of the spectators) -

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