STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Seventy years ago this Sunday, people in New York City stopped what they were doing to look at the sky. And there they saw the Zeppelin Hindenburg - the largest aircraft that ever flew, as big as an ocean liner. It had crossed the Atlantic from Germany, and it was flying over New York on the way to an airfield in Lakehurst, New Jersey.
Joe Pacheco wrote a poem about that sight.
JOE PACHECO (Author, "Alligator in the Sky"): (Reading) In the late afternoon, pounding the pink spaldeen ball between the screened windows of the Telephone Building on 13th Street in our slum version of handball, my friend Danny and I looked up and saw the Hindenburg: immense shining silver, shaped like a cigar, floating directly above us so close Danny threw the spaldeen up as high as he could to try to hit it. Of course, he missed and we both laughed.
Later, I heard it crashed in Jersey, and the whole next day everyone listened to the announcer on the radio sobbing, and I remember thinking radio announcers are always cool, but not this time. So this must be real.
And later that week at the movies, they showed it in the newsreel, the Hindenburg collapsing like a huge balloon on fire and people burning and screaming as they tried to jump and my mother and the women in the audience crying. Right then, I wished that Danny had been able to hit it with the ball and change its course. Maybe that would have saved it.
INSKEEP: Joe Pacheco's poem is from his collection "Alligator in the Sky."
Now, one of the witnesses of the Hindenburg crash was a radio reporter named Herbert Morrison. He'd traveled from Chicago from the station WLS to cover the Hindenburg's arrival, and his remarks were recorded onto a wax disc for broadcast later. The next day, that recording became the first coast-to-coast radio broadcast in one of the most famous pieces of reporting in any medium.
Mr. HERBERT MORRISON (Radio Announcer): It's practically standing still now. They've dropped ropes out of the nose of the ship, and it's been taken a hold of down on the field by a number of men. It's starting to rain again. It's - the rain had slacked up a little bit. The back motors of the ship are just holding it just enough to keep it from - it burst into flames. Get out of the way. Get out of the way. Get this Charlie, get this Charlie. It's crashed - and it's crashing. It's crashing, terrible. Oh, my. Get out of the way, please. It's burning and bursting into flames, and it's falling on the mooring-mast. And all of the folks agree that this is terrible.
This is the one - one of the worst catastrophes in the world. Oh, it was (unintelligible) plenty. Oh, 400 or 500 feet into the sky. It's a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. There's smoke and it's flames now, and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring-mast. Oh, the humanity and all the passengers screaming (unintelligible) around here. I told you, it - I can't even talk to people whose friends are on there. It's crazy out there. I can't talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest: it's just laying there, a mass of smoking wreckage. And everybody can hardly…
INSKEEP: Herbert Morrison's account of the destruction of the Hindenburg, 70 years ago this Sunday. The Hindenburg fire's never been explained, by the way. Theories range from sabotage to lightning, to static electricity, to the flammable material that covered the ship, or the hydrogen that lifted it into the sky. Thirty-six people died in the fire, we just heard described; most had jumped to the ground to escape the flames. Every passenger who remained on board the Hindenburg survived.
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