THE HINDENBURG by Michael MacDonald Mooney


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On May 6, 1937, the German dirigible Hindenburg exploded just prior to landing at Lakehurst, N.J., killing 36 and bringing the shortlived Zeppelin era to a flaming end. Mooney provides an authoritative review of dirigible development from the early 1900's when ""Crazy Count"" Graf Zeppelin began building an ""airborne cavalry horse"" to the Lakehurst disaster, but his primary concern is what or who destroyed the Hindenburg: was the big blimp knocked out of the sky by static electricity (as the official inquiry concluded) or blown out by sabotage? (The airship was, after all, one of Hitler's most visible propaganda floats, appearing at the 1936 Olypics prominently displaying the swastika, and there were clairvoyant rumblings -- a Gypsy's warnings, for example -- as well as S.S. searches before takeoff.) Mooney's reconstruct of the voyage utilizes existing documentary files, secondary sources, fresh interviews with survivors (quite a few are still around), and an enchantment with extraneous detail which might just as well have been left out, e.g., the pipe smoking Captain Lehmann ""paused to perfect the seating of his tobacco in its bowl."" Among all the puffery is Mooney's contention that a young crewman, rigger Eric Spehl who had apocalyptic visions of striking a ""blow at this symbol of the State,"" planted a bomb in one of the craft's gas cells, intending to detonate it after landing; the timing device must have failed, Mooney believes (but Spehl perished in the holocaust, so you'll never know for sure). This is very similar to A. A. Hoehling's Who Destroyed the Hindenburg? (1962) which also opted for sabotage and was excessively florid.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1971
Publisher: Dodd, Mead