Was smoking allowed aboard hydrogen-filled zeppelins?

Was smoking allowed aboard hydrogen-filled zeppelins?

The question is self explanatory: Were passengers aboard rigid airships filled with hydrogen, like the Hindenburg, allowed to smoke?


Smoking was allowed on the hydrogen filled zeppelin, the Hindenburg, but only in a specially made pressurized smoking room.

the smoking room was separated from the rest of the passenger section by a double-door airlock.

The smoking room was closely monitored at all times by a member of the zeppelin's staff, and only one electric lighter was provided; no matches, lighters, or other open flames were allowed anywhere on the airship


LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin operational history

LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was a German passenger-carrying, hydrogen-filled rigid airship which flew from 1928 to 1937. It was designed and built to show that intercontinental airship travel was practicable. Its operational history included several long flights, such as a polar exploration mission, a round-the-world trip, trips to the Middle East and the Americas (operating five years of regular passenger and mail flights from Germany to Brazil), and latterly being used as a propaganda vehicle for the ruling Nazi Party. The airship was withdrawn from service following the Hindenburg disaster.


23–26 August 1929

The rigid airship Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, under the command of Dr. Hugo Eckener, departed Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, 8 August 1929, heading east across the Atlantic Ocean on the first aerial circumnavigation by air. The flight was sponsored by publisher William Randolph Hearst, who had placed several correspondents aboard.

Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of the Zeppelin Airship Company. The airship was constructed of a lightweight metal structure covered by a fabric envelope. It was 776 feet (236.6 meters) long. Contained inside were 12 hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks, fuel tanks, work spaces and crew quarters.

A gondola mounted underneath contained the flight deck, a sitting and dining room and ten passenger cabins. The LZ-127 was manned by a 36 person crew and could carry 24 passengers.

LZ-127was powered by five water-cooled, fuel injected 33.251 liter (2,029.1 cubic inches) Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 engines producing 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each. Fuel was either gasoline or blau gas, a gaseous fuel similar to propane. The zeppelin’s maximum speed was 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).

A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.

After refueling at the Kasumigaura Naval Air Station, Tokyo, Japan, Graf Zeppelin started east across the Pacific Ocean on 23 August, enroute to Los Angeles, California. This leg crossed 5,998 miles (9,653 kilometers) in 79 hours, 3 minutes. This was the first ever non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean.

LZ 127 arrived at Mines Field (now, LAX) at 1:50 a.m., 26 August 1929. There were an estimated 50,000 spectators.

Airship Graf Zeppelin, D-LZ127, at Los Angeles, 1929. A Goodyear blimp is alongside. (M.J. Ford)


Today, in “history is weird”…

…let’s consider the fact that the Hindenburg had a smoking lounge.

Yes, that Hindenburg. The hydrogen-filled airship most famous for catching on fire and killing three dozen people. The Hindenburg that you’ve probably never even seen a picture of where it wasn’t on fire.

The golden age of lighter-than-air travel was relatively brief. It ended in a way that ensures that just one human lifetime later pretty much all we remember about it is “OH THE HUMANITY”. As a result, there’s not a lot of cultural awareness of the day-to-day realities of airship travel, the way there is for other forms of long-distance transportation. Most of us have seen the inside of a luxury ocean liner or rail car, if only in the form of lavishly designed movie sets. I think the only time I’ve seen the inside of an airship portrayed on screen was the famous “no ticket” scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The impression that stuck with me from that scene years later was that the passenger seating area on a Zeppelin-class airship was quite a bit roomier than even the most luxurious airplane, but I didn’t know the half of it. I didn’t know the tenth of it. What I took for the entire passenger compartment was in fact simply one lounge. I was using the wrong frame of reference in comparing an airship to an airplane. The operative word in “airship” isn’t “air”, after all, it’s “ship”. Planes have seats ships have decks full of salons, corridors, and berths.

I think the movie probably did a better job of conveying the scope and scale of an airship than my adolescent memory retained. The big obstacle in realizing how much usable space there was aboard an airship was the fact that when I looked at one, I tended to envision the whole torpedo-like superstructure as essentially being a giant cigar shaped balloon, with any space occupied by the crew, passengers, and cargo necessarily being restricted to a small, gondola-like attachment on the bottom, much like the typical modern blimp.

Now, as it happens, I wasn’t far wrong, just wrong enough.

A Zeppelin-style airship wasn’t a balloon at all. The superstructure was rigid, and housed a set of cells arranged in rings that held the lifting gas. What was mostly inside the structure was empty space. The habitable portion of the ship was limited to a small area near the bottom, but it was mostly enclosed within the superstructure. You can find cut-away diagrams, deck plans, and photographs of the Hindenburg on airships.net.

That site is where I first learned about the smoking room. They say:

“Perhaps most surprising, aboard a hydrogen airship, there was also a smoking room on the Hindenburg. The smoking room was kept at higher than ambient pressure, so that no leaking hydrogen could enter the room, and the smoking room and its associated bar were separated from the rest of the ship by a double-door airlock. One electric lighter was provided, as no open flames were allowed aboard the ship. The smoking room was painted blue, with dark blue-grey leather furniture, and the walls were decorated with yellow pigskin and illustrations by Otto Arpke depicting the history of lighter-than-air flight from the Montgolfiers’s balloon to the Graf Zeppelin. Along one side of the room was a railing above sealed windows, through which passengers could look down on the ocean or landscape passing below.”

Think about that. A double-door airlock protecting a specially pressurized room, all so people can smoke aboard a flammable craft held aloft by explosively flammable gas. Passengers boarding a Zeppelin were further required to surrender their matches and lighters, along with their cameras, the latter of which would be returned once the flight had crossed over into international waters.

You see, in 1930s Europe, there were national security concerns relating to the relatively novel phenomenon of aerial photography.

And it’s that bit of sociological context that is so fascinating about this, and about the fact that there was a smoking room on the Hindenburg. It wasn’t enough that humanity learned to defy gravity, or even that we figured out how to make it decadently comfortable, creating the equivalent of a floating pleasure-palace for leisurely motoring across the Atlantic Ocean. No. Smoking was what the people of the time did, so adding to the marvelous feats of engineering that made the trip possible, we also engineered a solution for how to light tiny sticks of rolled paper or leaves stuffed with dried herbs on fire so we could suck on them in perfect comfort and security.

If there’s a problem with ancient myths like those of Icarus and Phaeton, it’s that they badly underestimated the casual arrogance that humanity can rise to. The word “hubris” usually implies someone who is something of a braggart. I mean, everybody remembers the claims that the Titanic was unsinkable, even if we’re not sure exactly who claimed that. We just repeat “They said the Titanic would never sink!” as if there’s some great lesson to be learned from it. Sure, any ship can sink. Not every ship will sink.

Nobody ever said that the Hindenburg was fireproof, though, and the fact that they had a smoking room on board did not in any way lead to the fiery doom that nevertheless awaited it. It would have burned the same with or without a smoker’s lounge.

The lesson here isn’t about hubris, exactly. It’s about the lengths we will go in order to preserve whatever we think of as normal. Smoking was allowed on the Hindenburg, albeit under heavy restrictions, because it would have been unthinkable to ban it completely.

The Canadian TV show Bomb Girls, set at a munitions factory just a few years after the Hindenburg disaster, shows the period-accurate precautions undertaken to prevent fire hazards at a bomb factory. Workers present themselves for inspection daily to ensure that they have no metal accessories and are wearing the right kind of shoes. And cigarette smoking is only permitted outside the factory, using electric lighters. Not “no smoking on premises”, but “please light your smoldering ember-stick only with a controlled electric spark, not an open flame”.

I don’t point this out to say, “Man, the past was full of some real schmucks!” The ability to contort our lives into abnormal shapes in order to preserve what we see as normal is a constant of the human experience.

Witness the extreme lengths we go to in most parts of the United States order to keep our houses surrounded by lush, green lawns comprised of a single species of grass and trimmed to what we see as an attractive length. It’s not the natural state of our environment. It’s not something that conveys any actual benefit. It’s not the easiest or cheapest arrangement. The zeal with which we pursue it is actively making rendering parts of the country uninhabitable in the long run. But rather than abandoning the practice, we more often seek to engineer complicated solutions to maintaining it.

And no, the point of this post was not to start by talking about the Hindenburg and then segue into an argument for sustainable lawns, any more than it was to point a finger at the past and laugh at it. The green, green grass of our homes is just an example, one out of many.

The subject of this post says that history is weird, but the other thing we can say that history is, is “not over”. We’re still living it. Imagine what weird dissonances about our lives might stand out to future generations.


Zeppelin World Cruise: Globe Trotting Leviathan

It was August 1929, but the tiny Russian hamlet of Verkne Imbatskoye moved to the rhythms of another century. A cluster of thatch-roofed log cabins, the town clung to the banks of the great Yenisei River in Siberia. Cocooned from the outside world by thousands of square miles of dense forest and marsh, Imbatskoye scratched a bare living from its surroundings. Horse-drawn carts rumbled along dirt paths, and smock-clad peasants greeted each other as they passed by. It was an ordinary day, timeless in its routine, but the 20th century was about to intrude in a big way.

An unfamiliar noise filled the air, a kind of rumbling moan that drowned out the normal barnyard chatter of domestic animals. Then, all at once, the villagers saw it — a great silver monster looming over the horizon, heading straight for the defenseless scattering of cabins. The aerial beast was as big as a mountain, its shadow so huge the village could be eclipsed into a momentary ‘night.’

For all is mammoth bulk, the creature floated easily in the sky and seemed to be moving under its own power. Was this a sign of Armageddon? A judgment on Stalin and the godless Communists ruling in Moscow? Or heaven’s punishment on the villagers for their own sins?

Panic gripped Imbatskoye like the icy hand of doom. Peasants rushed into their houses and barred the doors others, rooted in sheer terror, gazed transfixed in horrified awe. Even the animals were panic-stricken a horse galloped wildly though the dirt streets, harnessed to a cart that smashed into two cabins and demolished them.

The great silver object was neither an extraterrestrial visitation nor a supernatural sign, but the Luftschiff (airship) Graf Zeppelin, a passenger dirigible on an around-the-world journey. The 775-foot-long, cigar-shaped craft was looking for a landmark as a navigational ‘fix,’ and tiny Imbatskoye provided that information. Graf Zeppelin glided on eastward, leaving behind a hamlet that would never forget its rude visitation.

The airship Graf Zeppelin was named in honor of Graf (Count) Ferdinand von Zeppelin, father of commercial dirigible aviation. In a sense, Graf Zeppelin‘s world-circling tour began in 1900, when the count first experimented with airships. Zeppelin’s great idea was to produce rigid airships, not merely gas-filled balloons. According to this plan, the airship envelope was held firmly in shape not by internal gas pressure, but by a rigid metal skeleton. The lifting gas — hydrogen, in this case — would be housed in a series of self-contained cells within the metal skeleton’s ‘ribcage.’

By 1914, the count’s airships — nicknamed Zeppelins after the grand old man himself — were a moderate success, carrying fare-paying passengers throughout Germany. When World War I broke out, the Zeppelins were converted to military use, chiefly bombing England. The Zeppelin raids did some damage, but their main effect was psychological. After the first shocks, the British learned that these sausage-shaped monsters were slow and vulnerable. Incendiary bullets were developed that turned the hydrogen-filled German raiders into flaming coffins.

When Germany surrendered in 1918, its airship industry was in ruins. Count Zeppelin had died in 1917 at the age of 79, but he had a worthy successor in Dr. Hugo Eckener. Eckener had been with the Zeppelin company for years, working his way up from publicist and aide to operational chief in 1922. The torch had been passed to able hands, but Eckener had to keep the light alive in the dampening rain of Allied restrictions, lack of funds and public indifference.

The allies had imposed harsh terms on a vanquished Germany, and the airship industry suffered with the rest of the country. All remaining Zeppelins were confiscated by the Allies, and severe restrictions were imposed on building others. Military Zeppelins were completely forbidden, and commercial ones were to have a maximum gas capacity of 1 million cubic feet — far too small for the long-distance dirigibles Eckener had in mind.

To help the Zeppelin company survive the lean times, Eckener converted its metal-making facilities to produce household kitchen utensils. Gradually, the political climate changed for the better, and the harsh restrictions were lifted in 1926. Eckener gratefully switched from making pots and pans to building airships.

But financial troubles still loomed. The German economy was still recuperating from the terrible inflation of 1923, when it took more than 4 trillion marks to equal one U.S. dollar. Times were better, but in 1926 neither the German Weimar Republic nor the Zeppelin company had the funds for a major airship project.

Ever resourceful, Eckener turned to the German public and launched a direct subscription appeal. After touring throughout the fatherland, the Zeppelin chief raised 2.5 million marks — far short of the goal, but enough to start. Eventually the German government pitched in and made up the balance.

With the necessary funds in hand, work began immediately on the new airship. Months later, on July 8, 1928, Countess Helga von Brandenstein-Zeppelin smashed a bottle of champagne across the bow of the newly completed dirigible and christened it Graf Zeppelin in honor of her late father. Graf Zeppelin‘s official designation was LZ.127, but soon everyone affectionately called it simply Graf.

Everything about Graf was monumental in fact, it was the largest dirigible yet seen. Designed by longtime Zeppelin architect Ludwig Durr, its gigantic bulk measured 775 feet from nose to tail, with a girth of 3.7 million cubic feet. That translated into an airship that was 10 stories high and more than two city blocks long.

Critics maintained that Graf was too slender, too’skinny’ for peak aero-dynamic efficiency, saying a stouter shape would have permitted a smoother air flow. No matter a worshipping public loved the ship as it was. Looking something like a giant silver torpedo, Graf‘s outer skin was made of heavy-duty cotton, stretched so taut that the revealed outlines of its metal skeleton produced a fluted design effect on its body.

The airship’s skeleton was composed of a series of main and secondary rings, braced to the ship’s keel and linked together by longitudinal girders. The main rings were made up of diamond-shaped trusses. The rings and girders were made of a light aluminum and copper alloy called duralumin. Duralumin was as strong as steel yet only one-third as heavy even so, Graf contained 33 tons of this metal.

There were 17 gas cells within the mighty airship, held rigidly in place by a’spider’s web’ tracery of rings, girders and bracing. The gas cells were made of cotton fabric, each with an airtight lining of membranes from the intestines of oxen. It took some 50,000 membranes to line just one gas cell, and the cost was enormous. The upper cells held hydrogen for lift, the lower cells a gaseous fuel similar to propane, called blau gas.

The lighter-than-air hydrogen provided buoyancy, and forward propulsion was supplied by five Maybach VL-II engines, each mounted externally in its own gondola. Their twin-bladed — later four-bladed — propellers were mounted pusher-style, and the engine nacelles were big enough for a man to crawl inside and perform in-flight maintenance.

A tear-shaped gondola was mounted forward, a small ‘mole’ on the ship’s nose that did little to break its smooth, clean lines. Measuring 98 l/2 feet long by 20 feet wide, this passenger gondola housed the control car, galley, chart room, radio room, dining room and a double row of 10 sleeping cabins. Washrooms and toilets were behind the sleeping cabins. Unseen by passengers, Graf‘s keel inside the envelope was honeycombed with other rooms: crew ‘bunkhouse,’ generator room, cargo rooms and others.

Graf Zeppelin was not only an airship but also a work of art. Aesthetics and aerodynamics seemed to meet in its graceful form. Its cotton skin was protected by no fewer than six layers of paint and dope. The paint was silver, the better to reflect the sun’s rays and thus reduce the heat inflation of the hydrogen. As an added touch, the painted surface was sandpapered smooth, leaving a’sculptured’ sheen that offered little wind resistance.

After a few shakedown flights, Graf departed on its maiden voyage to America in October 1928. Ironically, the giant airship’s first major flight was almost her last. At first all was quite routine, except that certain items like bottled water were running out. Just south of the Azores, in mid-Atlantic, the passengers were just sitting down to a sumptuous breakfast when an ominous wall of clouds appeared on the horizon. These swirling, blue-black masses slammed into Graf Zeppelin, causing its nose to dip sharply down before rising upward at a 15-degree angle.

Nature had literally turned the tables on the passengers, as furniture was upset and people slid to the floor. Terrified passengers fell on each other in an avalanche of crashing plates, saucers and food. The battered voyagers were festooned with sausages and splattered with gobs of butter and marmalade, but it was Eckener who had egg on his face — he had to right the ship at once.

When Graf was literally on an even keel again and the immediate crisis had passed, the passengers could congratulate themselves on their survival. But such backslapping was premature — Graf had sustained serious structural damage. The violent turbulence had shredded the port stabilizing fin worse, ripped pieces of fabric floated outward like streamers, threatening to jam the rudders and elevators.

After ordering the ship to slow to half-speed, Eckener called for volunteers to repair the damage. It was a dangerous assignment the volunteers would have to crawl out onto the damaged stabilizer, clinging to its exposed girders while being buffeted by howling winds. Nevertheless, four crew members — including Eckener’s own son Knut — went out and repaired the damage. The fabric’streamers’ were cut away and the frayed edges of the break lashed down.

Graf Zeppelin completed its inaugural journey to America and conducted a triumphal tour of Washington, Baltimore and New York City. Its fame grew until the silver colossus became a legend in its own time and half the world seemed gripped by ‘Zeppelin fever.’ To keep the publicity mills turning, Eckener undertook a series of demonstration flights around Europe and the Mediterranean. Word spread that a voyage on Graf was a marvelous experience, with breathtaking scenery and first-class service.

But to Eckener, Graf Zeppelin was literally a trial balloon. Although he was not in favor of building more giant airships until public response showed there was a need for them, the good doctor was wise enough — and showman enough — to create that demand by keeping his airship in the public eye via spectacular stunts.

Although the public’s growing affection for Graf was a positive sign, the jury was still out on the future of airship travel. Eckener decided to pull out all the stops he would take Graf Zeppelin on an around-the-world cruise, something no commercial aircraft had ever attempted.

Although he was rich in dreams, Eckener was poor in cash and needed financial backing for his proposed globe-girdling jaunt. American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst stepped forward and offered to bankroll the project to the tune of $100,000. No serious strings were attached, but Hearst did insist on exclusive story rights, and that the journey begin and end on U.S. soil. Eckener accepted, so the start and finish point of the tour would be the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, N.J.

It was then a matter of selecting the route. To begin with, Graf Zeppelin was going to circle the earth from west to east, with the first leg from the United States back to the Zeppelin base at Friedrichshafen. Where next? The only suitable dirigible hangar in the entire Far East was located at the Japanese naval base at Kasumiga-ura, so Japan was an obvious port of call. Some consideration was given to flying east via the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the China Sea, but that route was rejected because it was too long.

Pouring over maps and charts, Eckener decided on a far northerly course, one that would take Graf over Russian Siberia to Yakutsk, thence to the Sea of Okhotsk and Japan. After Japan, the airship would strike east across the Pacific to California, then on to its starting point at Lakehurst.

When preparations were complete, Graf Zeppelin departed Friedrichshafen on August 1, 1929, bound for its official, Lakehurst world cruise starting point. Additional revenue was provided by the sale of thousands of commemorative postage stamps. Indeed, Graf carried mail on this Atlantic run, and collectors were later thrilled to receive letters with its distinctive cancellation mark, a blue ink stamp with a logo showing the Zeppelin floating over the New York skyline, and bearing the legend ‘Luftschiff Graf Zeppelin — Amerikafahrt 1929.’

Graf Zeppelin departed from Lakehurst on its epoch-making global journey on August 7, 1929, while a brass band serenaded the airship with the all-too-appropriate tune ‘There’s a Long, Long Trail.’ The Lakehurst-Friedrichshafen hop was uneventful and took some five hours. Once back in Germany, there was a five-day layover while the ship’s engines were thoroughly checked. They had to be the most perilous leg of the journey lay just ahead, a 6,800-mile nonstop flight to Tokyo.

There were 20 passengers aboard, an international mix that included Japanese, Americans, British, a Spaniard and, of course, Germans. One of the Americans was Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. Rosenthal, the U.S. Navy’s top airship man. Britain and its Commonwealth were represented by arctic explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins and Lady Drummond Hay. Besides being a Hearst journalist, Lady Hay was the only woman aboard.

There were also representatives from destination countries, including a Comrade Karklin of the Soviet Union. Karklin was on board as the official representative of the Soviet government, there to watchdog the operation when Graf flew over Russian territory. The rest of the passenger roster was made up of reporters and well-heeled private passengers, some of whom paid as much as $9,000 for a ticket on this historic flight. Competition was fierce, and apparently Graf was slightly overbooked. Some paying passengers were left behind because of weight considerations.

When Graf left Friedrichshafen in the early hours of August 15, the passengers knew that the next time they set foot on solid ground it would be Japanese soil. The silvery colossus nosed northeastward, past Ulm, Nuremberg and Leipzig while reporters filed stories and passengers amused themselves. An American put on a phonograph record in the dining room, causing an otherwise staid Japanese reporter to dance a wild Charleston.

A few hours later, at about 10:30 a.m., Graf reached Berlin. The German capital was magnificent from an altitude of 750 feet, with the Spree River winding ribbonlike through the city of stately buildings and broad avenues. The streets were already thick with people, all gazing heavenward, and more poured out of the buildings as Graf floated past. As the mighty airship soared over the Brandenburg Gate and swept up the Unter den Linden past the Alexanderplatz, the drone of its engines could not muffle the cheers of the assembled thousands below.

Leaving Berlin in its wake, Graf Zeppelin continued eastward, first to Danzig (now Gdansk), and on to Lithuania. As soon as the Russian border was crossed, Comrade Karklin appeared in the control car to ‘advise’ Eckener on where the airship could and could not go. As it was, Eckener had gone through protracted negotiations to obtain Russian permission for this flight now he had to put up with Karklin’s carping.

Hoping to score a propaganda coup, Karklin insisted that Graf Zeppelin visit Moscow, where he claimed ‘thousands’ were awaiting the arrival of the mammoth airship. (Western reporters in Moscow reported no unusual activity no crowds, no Zeppelin fever of any kind.) Eckener considered Karklin’s ‘request’ but rejected it on meteorological grounds. A low-pressure area over the Caspian Sea was creating contrary east winds over the Russian capital, and Eckener wanted to take advantage of a west wind farther to the north.

Karklin was not pleased by the doctor’s decision, but there was little the bolshevik could do except jump ship — and it was a long way down. Lacking a parachute, he stayed aboard, a sour Communist presence amid capitalist luxury.

Graf journeyed on, spinning propellers boring into the air, until Vologda came into view. As the dirigible grew nearer, this ancient Muscovite town seemed like an Arabian Nights dream, its golden, onion-shaped church domes sparkling like a chest of jewels.

The airship crossed the Ural Mountains just north of Perm and entered Asia. For the next few days, Graf would travel through Siberia, fabled land of exiles, a region so vast that parts of it were still uncharted. As human habitation grew scarce, navigation would be by dead reckoning, just as in an ocean voyage.

The land below was the Siberian taiga, a vast forested wilderness larger than the continental United States. There was an eternity of trees, a green mantle that stretched hundreds of miles, its immensity broken only by marshes and a few meandering rivers. Vast stands of fir and spruce poked up, giving the emerald carpet a spikey texture, and below their sheltering limbs lurked bear and elk and other wild creatures.

The contrast could not have been more striking: Passengers would gather at the lounge/dining room to feast on fine food and choice wines in an atmosphere of refined elegance. The menu featured such things as pate de foie gras, lamb chops and caviar, all served on fine Bavarian china bearing the Zeppelin logo. In these regions, the passenger gondola was literally an island in the sky, a tiny bit of civilization hung suspended between heaven and earth. If Graf suffered an accident and went down here, impaled on the fir tree’spikes,’ the voyagers had little hope of rescue. Their lives literally depended on Eckener and his airship.

Eventually the Siberian terrain grew monotonous, although there was a momentary spectacle when a huge forest fire was spotted. Black coils of smoke marked the fire’s progress, and many acres were consumed, but in truth such conflagrations were fairly commonplace in Siberia. This far north, the sun barely disappeared at night, but left a telltale pink smear on the horizon that seemed to anticipate dawn. It was cold, too, and passenger cabins were unheated. When the voyagers assembled for breakfast some mornings, they looked more like skiers than airship travelers, bundled up in camel-hair coats, sweaters and other wintery garments.

After reaching the Yenisei River basin and making that navigational fix on the startled village of Imbatskoye, Graf roared onward toward the Tunguska region. Eckener was hoping to find a crater left by the celebrated ‘Tunguska Event’ 21 years before.

On June 20, 1908, an enormous explosion had rocked this part of Siberia, so powerful that every tree within 20 miles was knocked flat. Shock waves from the blast knocked horses off their feet 100 miles away, and some house roofs were destroyed. It was similar to a high-altitude hydrogen bomb detonation, and has long been a mystery. In the 1920s, most scientists felt it had been a meteor, and so should have left a telltale crater.

Graf Zeppelin searched in vain for the crater and eventually had to move on. Today scientists speculate that the cause was a piece of comet, a ‘dirty snowball’ of water and gases that exploded and vaporized on entering the earth’s atmosphere, and so left no crater. In any case, Graf finally reached Yakutsk, a fur-trading town on the banks of the five-mile-wide Lena River. The next hurdle lay just ahead, the Stanovoy mountain range.

The Stanovoy mountain range was not well known even its height was a matter of conjecture. The snow-mantled crags were said to be 6,500 feet high, but there was also a 5,000-foot pass that led through the mountains. Eckener poked Graf‘s snout toward the precipitous granite wall, probing for an opening, and finally found what he though was the mountain pass.

The pass began as a high mountain valley, but it soon turned into a steep-sided canyon. At 5,000 feet, the valley-canyon kept rising, forcing Graf to do the same. The airship climbed higher and higher, its vulnerable fabric belly only a few hundred feet from the sharp crags. Sheer canyon wall encroached as well, rising funnel-like to within 250 feet of the struggling dirigible.

At 6,000 feet, with Graf Zeppelin a bare 150 feet above the ground, the mountain chain abruptly fell away. They were through the barrier, and the azure Sea of Okhotsk beckoned beyond. Though he was never one for displays of emotion, Eckener threw out his arms and exulted, ‘Now that’s airship flying!’ After that harrowing experience, smokers among the passengers must have had an urge to light up — except all smoking was verboten as a fire risk aboard ship.

The lighter-than-air leviathan arrived in Tokyo, Japan, on August 19, 1929. The voyagers were warmly received by the Japanese, although there was nearly a diplomatic incident when Graf sailed over the Imperial Palace, an action that was strictly taboo. The slight was forgiven, so Graf Zeppelin duly landed at Kasumiga-ura Naval Base with the aid of a 500-man Japanese ground crew.

The next few days were a whirl of teas, parades and celebrations as the Japanese vied with each other to do honor to the airship argonauts. Although outwardly gracious, Eckener was out of sorts Japanese food did not agree with him, he had a boil and he was nearly suffocating in the August heat. And when it was finally time to leave, the Japanese ground crew damaged one of the gondolas.

Repairs were effected at once, and Graf was soon on its way. However, 18 members of the Japanese ground crew were so ashamed that they pledged to commit suicide if the airship did not successfully complete its journey.

The Pacific crossing was largely uneventful. Gossamer cloud wisps floated past Graf as it raced along at around 70 mph, their cottony fingers caressing her sleek sides. At one point, the Zeppelin took advantage of the south-side fringe of a typhoon, which boosted its speed to a temporary 98 mph. But most of the time clouds obscured the view, and the trip was so smooth the passengers almost lapsed into boredom-induced comas.

On August 25, Graf Zeppelin neared the California coast. The great airship’s visit to San Francisco could not have been more dramatic. Emerging from a cloud bank, late afternoon sunlight glinting off her silvery flanks, the airship made quite an impression. No one could fail to recognize the huge dirigible, because the great red letters ‘Graf Zeppelin‘ were in clear view on the nose. Graf did not need to worry about colliding with the Golden Gate Bridge, because it was as yet unbuilt, but contrary winds forced the airship to enter San Francisco Bay at a crablike sideways angle.

After a few ‘parade’ passes over San Francisco, much to the delight of Bay Area crowds, Graf headed south to Los Angeles. When the dirigible moored at Mines Field, it had logged an official trans-Pacific flight time of 79 hours and 3 minutes.

But when the Zeppelin tried to take off in the early morning hours of August 26, a temperature inversion layer held the airship down. Years later such inversion layers would trap pollution and create smog, but now the Zeppelin was held fast by an invisible ‘roof’ of warmer and less dense air, hovering just over a ground-hugging cold layer. Crew members had to lighten ship, so surplus food, furniture and water ballast were unceremoniously dumped.

When takeoff was attempted, Graf rose, but unevenly, causing her tail and stabilizers to furrow the ground. The passenger gondola cleared some nearby power cables, but the dragging tail was on a collision course with them. ‘Down elevator!’ Eckener cried, and this maneuver lifted the tail enough to clear the cables.

The rest of the journey was more triumphal procession than routine trip. The route took Graf across Arizona and New Mexico, then northeast to Chicago before heading toward the Atlantic seaboard. When Graf reached New York, it floated over the concrete canyons of Manhattan to the applause and delight of millions. The American version of the world flight ended when Graf Zeppelin moored at Lakehurst on August 29, 1929, establishing a speed record of 21 days, 7 hours and 34 minutes. And if various layovers en route are subtracted and only flying time is counted, then the tally stood at 12 days and 11 minutes for circling the globe.

A gratified Eckener was given a ticker-tape parade in New York that rivaled Lindbergh’s two years earlier, and President Herbert Hoover lavishly praised the globe-trotting argonaut, comparing him to Columbus. Eckener stayed in New York on business, so Graf Zeppelin completed the German version of the world circumnavigation under the command of Captain Ernst Lehmann. When Graf reached home base at Friedrichshafen on September 4, the airship had officially logged 21,200 miles for the whole flight.

There was a comic footnote to the world cruise. When Graf landed at Lakehurst on August 29, Otto Hillig came forward with a writ of attachment. Hillig was one of those passenger hopefuls who had been ‘bumped’ before the flight began, even though he had paid his $9,000 up front. Furious at being left behind, Hillig was determined that the Zeppelin company was going to have to shell out.

An undersheriff arrived at Lakehurst to serve the writ, but Navy officials explained that to fulfill the letter of the law, the sheriff would have to remove Graf Zeppelin from its hangar. Undaunted, the lawman replied he was determined to seize the airship, even if it meant he would have to ‘tie it to a tree.’ Eventually, the Zeppelin company posted a $25,000 bond, and Graf was allowed to fly home to Germany. Hillig sued the Zeppelin company for $109,000 for his alleged ‘chagrin’ at being left behind. The matter was eventually settled out of court.

The epic around-the-world journey was only one facet of Graf Zeppelin‘s sparkling career. The most successful commercial airship ever built, it was the first aircraft to fly more than 1 million miles the official total was 1,060,000. A frequent visitor to North and South America, Graf crossed the Atlantic 144 times and carried some 13,000 passengers in a nine-year career.

Graf Zeppelin was honorably retired in 1937, the same year its sister ship, Hindenburg, caught fire while landing at Lakehurst, with a loss of 36 lives. By then the Nazis were in power with a Luftwaffe chief, Herman Goring, who had hated airships even before the Hindenburg disaster. In 1940, on Goring’s express orders, Graf Zeppelin was dismantled and its metal used to build a radar tower in the Netherlands.

Graf Zeppelin is no more, but its memory still stands as a symbol of the all-too-brief airship era.

This article was written by Eric Niderost and originally published in the July 1993 issue of Aviation History magazine. For more great articles subscribe to Aviation History magazine today!


A ZEPPELIN OVER AFRICA I

Though streng geheim, the secret purpose of the super Zeppelins being built in the cavernous sheds at Friedrichshafen, the Luftschiff mother base, in September 1917, had long been known to every urchin on the streets of the town. And to Central Power allies as far away as Constantinople. And of course to the Room 40 code breakers, and to the intelligence staff of the British War Office—perhaps alerted, as Woodhall claimed in his Spies of the Great War, by his mysterious Bulgarian/American agent.

An officer of the Kaiserlich Marine’s Airship Service on a train from Friedrichshafen to Berlin was approached by a random passenger with questions about the new Zeppelins: Were they really going to Africa? And would the officer have the honor of going with them? Having been sworn to silence, having even signed very serious papers to this effect, the officer feigned ignorance. But perhaps silence lacked pertinence to a morale-boosting mission everyone in Germany—and elsewhere—already seemed to know about.

By May 1917, von Lettow had become a national hero. Valiantly fighting to preserve German honor in a lost colony, completely isolated by the enemies of the Fatherland, he now lacked nearly everything, even the most basic supplies. His Schutztruppe lived off the land at the edges of the Makonde Plateau in the Mahenge country most of his askaris fought with rifles and ammunition captured from the British. To the Kaiser and to others in the High Command, von Lettow’s long struggle in an African backwater had become a matter of great strategic importance: Both the Allies and the Central Powers expected the war to end in a negotiated settlement at the peace talks it would help the German cause if Germany could claim her forces still held the field in Africa, fighting for possession of at least one of her overseas colonies. Unfortunately, von Lettow’s situation now seemed more desperate than ever. How long could he continue the struggle without material aid from the Fatherland?

Professor Dr. Max Zupitza, zoologist and medical doctor, came up with a singular answer to this question. Zupitza, an old Africa hand from the Karl Peters era, had survived both the Maji-Maji Rebellion and the Herero-Hottentot War, and at the outbreak of the Universal Conflict in 1914 was the chief medical officer of German South West Africa. Captured by the British after the fall of Windhoek, he spent a year cooling his heels in a POW camp in Togo, where he heard tales of von Lettow-Vorbeck’s impressive victories in GEA. Exchanged in 1916, he returned to Germany, determined to help the Oberstleutnant in his unequal struggle—but how? Then, in July 1917, Zupitza read in the Wilnaer Zeitung about the endurance flight of LZ 120, which had recently spent more than 100 hours circling the Baltic. Fired with enthusiasm that “an airship could remain aloft to accomplish a voyage to Africa,” he petitioned the Kolonialamt with a wild scheme to outfit a Zeppelin to resupply the beleaguered Schutztruppe.

In desperate times, government officials are often willing to listen to wild schemes the wilder the better. Zupitza’s proposal, forwarded by the Colonial Office to the navy, found favor with naval chief of staff Admiral von Holtzendorff, who passed it on to the Kaiser. The German emperor, nearly as obsessed with von Lettow as Smuts had been, readily gave his imperial blessings. Construction of the first of the super Zeppelins, the ill-fated L57, began in October 1917. Zupitza immediately proposed himself as medical officer for the expedition and was accepted. It seemed fitting that the originator of the Zeppelin-Schutztruppe resupply mission, now code-named “China Show,” should share its fate.

They chose Bockholt for his boldness and also because he was expendable. But following the disastrous incineration of L57 at the forward Luftschiff base in Jamboli, Bulgaria, on October 7, 1917, Korvettenkapitan Peter Strasser, the steel-souled mastermind of the Zeppelin blitz on London and commander of the Naval Airship Division, had wanted Bockholt removed from command of China Show. The floundering, storm-racked airship, Strasser believed, had been mishandled by her commander. An inquiry had revealed that, at the height of the gale, with the ground crew still clinging desperately to L57’s mooring ropes, Bockholt had ordered riflemen to shoot holes in the Zeppelin’s hydrogen cells, hoping to release enough gas to bring her down. Not only did this gesture show a poor understanding of basic Zeppelin mechanics (a few bullet-sized puncture wounds wouldn’t make much difference), the bullets probably ignited the volatile hydrogen/oxygen mixture, causing the blaze that destroyed her.

But forces higher up the command structure of the German Navy intervened. Some saw the Kaiser’s hand in it, as Bockholt was not popular with his immediate superiors or his fellow officers—many of whom thought him a selfish careerist who put personal advancement above the good of the service—though all agreed he did not lack courage. Had he not captured the schooner Royal by Zeppelin at sea, an event unique in the war? Still, “Every commander wanted to make the African flight,” so said Emil Hoff, elevator man aboard Zeppelin L42, “and matches were drawn,” selecting another. To no avail Bockholt kept his job.

“A fine airship commander and a skillful flyer,” Strasser allowed at last, bowing to the Imperial Will. Though he added, “He has not enough experience of the capabilities of airships.”

The same lack of experience characterized L59’s crew—not the best men available, but adequate—and also, like Bockholt, because of their inexperience, expendable. Most, fairly new to the airship service, had been chosen because the mission didn’t come with a return ticket. Once its payload of armaments, ammunition, and supplies had been delivered to von Lettow, L59 would be disassembled on the ground in East Africa and all her parts cannibalized to aid the war effort there, captain and crew included: Like the men of the Königsberg before them, they would join the Schutztruppe and fight alongside von Lettow’s askaris in the jungle until the end.

Strasser privately saw the African mission as little more than a morale-boosting stunt in a military backwater and, though popular with command staff, of secondary importance. All his fearsome energies were directed toward the destruction of England, all his best captains and crews reserved for this imperative. He still believed—as he had written in a memo to Vizeadmiral Reinhard Scheer, commander of Germany’s High Seas Fleet—that “England can be overcome by means of airships, inasmuch as the country will be deprived of the means of existence through the increasingly extensive destruction of cities, factory complexes, dockyards, harbor works with war and merchant ships lying therein, railroads, etc. . . . The airships offer certain means of victoriously ending the war.”

Ironically, in the end, Strasser came to agree with the Kaiser’s choice of Bockholt for China Show. It saved better men for the real Zeppelin war, which to him belonged to the darkened skies over London, to the bombs falling on the Theater District and perhaps on Buckingham Palace itself.

L59, pushed by a tailwind from the direction of the German Reich, rumbled south from Jamboli in the freezing dawn of November 21, 1917, at speeds in excess of fifty miles per hour. The great lumbering airship cast her shadow over Adrianople in Turkey at nine forty-five a.m., and over the Sea of Marmara’s chop a short time later. At Pandena, on the southern shore, she picked up the railroad tracks to Smyrna, a steel ribbon barely visible after sunset. At seven forty p.m., L59 pulled free of the Turkish coast at the Lipsas Straits. Now the Greek Dodecanese Islands—Kos, Patmos, Rhodes—passed below, nestled like dark jewels in the black Mediterranean waters, notoriously stormy this time of year. But tonight, the Zeppelin surged forward beneath a clear sky and brilliant stars. Bockholt, who had made his life in the navy, had long ago learned to steer by them when necessary.

L59’s crew of twenty—excluding Bockholt and Zupitza—included twelve mechanics to service the five Maybach 240-horsepower engines (one in the forward control car, two opposed on the belly one-third of the way back, and two aft, each driving a single, massive twenty-foot propeller) two “elevator operators” (the elevators, movable flaps at the tail, controlled the upward or downward incline of the nose cone) a radio operator and a sailmaker, whose job it was to sew up tears in the muslin envelopes affixed within the belly filled with the flammable hydrogen/oxygen mixture that kept the massive airship afloat.

As in the seaborne navy, watches divided the day into four-hour increments. As L59 approached the island of Crete at eight thirty p.m., a quarter of the crew just gone off watch opened their dinnertime cans of Kaloritkon, a bizarre sort of self-heating MRE. These undigestible, oversalted tubes of potted meat literally cooked themselves via a chemical reaction when exposed to air—heating food over open flame and smoking being strictly verboten aboard the flammable airship. The Kaloritkons, which everyone hated, took much water to wash down, and water was scarce, with barely 14 liters allotted per man for the duration of the voyage.

At ten fifteen p.m., L59 passed above Cape Sidero at Crete’s eastern extremity at 3,000 feet. Then the stars by which Bockholt had been guiding the Zeppelin to Africa suddenly disappeared, blotted out by a solid mass of black, churning clouds, shot through with bright veins of lightning. The Zeppelin headed into this cloud bank and, buffeted by thunderclaps and driving rain, was also suddenly consumed by a strange, vivid flame, cool to the touch, that seemed to dance across every surface of the doped canvas envelope.

“The ship’s burning!” called the top lookout—alarming, but no cause for alarm: This was St. Elmo’s fire, named after Erasmus of Formia, the patron saint of sailors. Technically a luminous plasma generated by coronal discharge in an atmospheric electrical field, it burned a vivid violet-blue and, in nontechnical terms, was entirely beautiful. For uncounted centuries the phenomenon had been interpreted as a sign—of what, exactly, no one could say—of God’s blessing, or God’s curse: It had been seen dancing above the obelisks of the Hippodrome just before the Fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 it would be seen later, curling along the cockpit and around the spinning props of the B-29 Bockscar as she dropped Fat Boy on Nagasaki in 1945.

Not a quiet phenomenon, St. Elmo’s fire now hissed and sizzled and popped as L59 passed through the storm, fading at last as the super Zeppelin broke into clear air and dazzling moonlight. Now Africa glowed faintly dead ahead, the pirate seaports of the northern coast. For the duration of the storm, L59’s radio antennae, three long delicate wires trailing below her vast belly, had been wound in. Muffled in radio silence, the Zeppelin had been unreachable by any communication from Germany.

As it happened, three and a half hours into the flight, officials at the Kolonialamt having been informed somehow—how, exactly, will become a critical question—of British advances into the Makonde Highlands, last known gathering place of the Schutztruppe, decided to recall the mission. The Kolonialamt relayed this decision to Admiral von Holtzendorff, who broke the news to a crestfallen Kaiser. The Zeppelin handlers at Jamboli, soon informed of the recall, attempted to contact L59 but could not she had passed beyond the limits of their frail transmitter. Jamboli called this failure back to Berlin: “L59 can no longer be reached from here, request recall through Nauen.” The radio transmitter at Nauen, near Berlin, the most powerful in Germany, then took up the recall message and continued to broadcast it all night long. But with her antenna wound in, deaf to these entreaties, L59 kept on her course for East Africa.

At five fifteen a.m., the sun cracked the rim of earth and the huge airship passed over the African continent at Ras Bulair on the Libyan coast. Miles of desert lay ahead no Zeppelin had flown across such a landscape before. Now the level wastes of sand and rock stretched monotonously below L59’s keel, from horizon to horizon. Soon, the sun, blazing down, began to dry her canvas skin, still drenched and heavy from the storm. The airship grew lighter as the watery sheen evaporated lighter still as fuel consumption continued apace. Then the gas in her envelopes, expanding with the heat, blew out the automatic valves into the atmosphere and soon, L59 became dangerously light and increasingly difficult to handle. To compensate, Bockholt flew her “nose down” throughout the day, shifting 1,650 pounds of ballast aft as a counterbalance.

In the late morning, hot desert air rose in bubbles of buoyancy, alternating with heavy downdrafts of cooler air. This caused a roller-coaster effect that made most of the crew violently airsick. Even the hardened navy veterans among them, used to storms at sea, were not immune to the stomach-churning sensation of weightlessness as L59 plunged into the downdrafts and precipitously rose again. Despite all this, L59 plowed ahead and made the Farafra Oasis around noon. This incandescent patch of green slid by below, its date palms rustling in the hot wind. The Bedouin tribesmen gathered there looked up in wild surmise, shading their eyes as the massive Zeppelin slid by overhead, still watching as she disappeared toward the west, the grumbling of her five Maybach engines audible long after she had vanished into the clouds.

Three hours later, the airship reached another oasis, at Dakhla. In this remote place, at the very heart of the desert, many of the tribesmen gathered with their camels around the murky spring had not heard of the war, or been aware that men could take to the air in flying machines. The sight of L59 looming above them like a visitation from a strange new god filled them with fear. (Years later, in 1933, a German aviator passing through the Dakhla Oasis saw crude images of a Zeppelin scrawled on the walls and doors of native huts. Questioning a Bedouin sheikh as to the meaning of these renderings, he was told the scrawl represented the shape of a “powerful sign from the heavens,” which had appeared twenty years before, and that it was worshipped as “a herald of Holy Grace.” Even now, he said, his people watched the skies for its return.)

From Dakhla, where apparently L59 had just inspired its own cargo cult, Bockholt aimed for the Nile. Flying across the endless desert, some of the men in this last era before the ubiquity of sunglasses had gone half-blind from the dazzling glare of sun on sand. Others had been visited with splitting headaches. A few, mesmerized by the persistent drone and the featureless monotony passing below, had become prey to hallucinations: Mirages rose out of the desert, ancient cities, half as old as time, full of jinn out of the Arabian Nights.

Meanwhile, the prosaic Bockholt in the forward gondola used the ship’s shadow crawling along the desert floor as a navigational tool. L59’s exact length, known to the millimeter and factored into a preset equation, measured both ground speed and drift. The Zeppelin sailed through the hot afternoon toward the Nile at sixty miles per hour, functioning perfectly until four twenty p.m. when a juddering sensation preceded the failure of her forward engine. Presently, the big propeller spun to a stop. Mechanics soon determined the reduction gear housing had cracked they repaired it as best they could but took the engine out of service for the remainder of the journey. Now L59’s radio could not send messages, as this engine drove the radio generator—though radio signals could still be received.

Just before dusk, a flock of flamingos, vividly pink in the setting sun, flapped below L59’s nose cone a moment later the marshes of the Nile came into view and the airship flew over mile after mile of verdant wetlands. Bockholt made for the great river, crossing over it at Wadi Halfa. Here he turned south, skirting the Nile’s broad flow and droning onward toward Khartoum and the Sudan beyond the last cataract.

Flying a Zeppelin is a difficult undertaking under the best conditions: Gas expands and contracts according to changing temperatures lift and buoyancy fluctuate all must be counterbalanced ceaselessly by the release of ballast water, the measured shifting of cargo, the canting of nose or tail via clumsy elevator flaps—and all this becomes doubly difficult over the desert. Bockholt had lightened his airship by 4,400 pounds of ballast in the last full heat of day and had even tossed some boxes of supplies overboard. He knew the rapidly cooling temperatures of the desert at night would contract the gas, causing the Zeppelin to sink. To counterbalance this sinking effect, he had planned to fly the ship at four degrees “nose up” on her four remaining engines.

But he had not counted on the humid, dense air of the Nile Valley. Even at 3,000 feet, ambient temperatures had reached sixty-eight degrees by ten p.m. they rose steadily after midnight and still L59’s lift capacity gradually diminished. Finally, at three a.m., L59 began to lose altitude precipitously. The engines stalled. Forward thrust gone, the Zeppelin sank through the atmosphere from 3,100 feet to just under 1,300, not high enough to clear a looming desert escarpment a minute later, her main radio antennae sheared off upon contact with an outcropping of red rock.

Now Bockholt ordered his crew to lighten the ship even further. With all engines stopped, 6,200 pounds of ballast and ammunition went overboard. The crew watched cases of ammunition, much needed by the Schutztruppe, shatter and explode on the ragged slopes below. But this sacrifice had its desired effect: Gradually, the sinking super Zeppelin stabilized slowly, she rose into safer atmospheres:

“To fly steadily at 4 degrees heavy at night can easily be catastrophic, especially with sudden temperature changes in the Sudan, as at Jebel Ain,” Bockholt later confided to L59’s war diary, “particularly if the engines fail from overheating with warm outside temperatures. . . . Ship should have 3000 kg of 4 percent of her lift for each night to take care of cooling effect.”


Inside the Hindenburg: Rare Vintage Photographs Reveal What Luxury Air Travel Was Like in the 1930s

This post was originally published on this site

Flying across the Atlantic on the airship Hindenburg was the fastest and most luxurious way to travel between Europe and America in the 1930s.

The interior furnishings of the Hindenburg were designed by Fritz August Breuhaus, whose design experience included Pullman coaches, ocean liners, and warships of the German Navy.

The reform ideas as to art and society of radical modernism, as “Bauhaus” for example represented them, were as far away from Breuhaus as they were far away from his wealthy clients.

The furnishing of the “world&rsquos first flying hotel”, the Zeppelin airship LZ 129 &ndash better known as the “Hindenburg” &ndash which had been in complete accordance with Breuhaus&rsquo overall plans, was regarded as a spectacular thing. Nevertheless, its realization took place as late as the middle of the 1930s.

The Hindenburg&rsquos Interior: Passenger Decks

The passenger accommodation aboard Hindenburg was contained within the hull of the airship (unlike Graf Zeppelin, whose passenger space was located in the ship&rsquos gondola). The passenger space was spread over two decks, known as &ldquoA Deck&rdquo and &ldquoB Deck.&rdquo

&ldquoA&rdquo Deck on Hindenburg

Hindenburg&rsquos &ldquoA Deck&rdquo contained the ship&rsquos Dining Room, Lounge, Writing Room, Port and Starboard Promenades, and 25 double-berth inside cabins.

The passenger accommodations were decorated in the clean, modern design of principal architect Professor Fritz August Breuhaus, and in a major improvement over the unheated Graf Zeppelin, passenger areas on Hindenburg were heated, using forced-air warmed by water from the cooling systems of the forward engines.

Dining Room

Hindenburg&rsquos Dining Room occupied the entire length of the port side of A Deck. It measured approximately 47 feet in length by 13 feet in width, and was decorated with paintings on silk wallpaper by Professor Otto Arpke, depicting scenes from Graf Zeppelin&rsquos flights to South America.

The tables and chairs were designed by Professor Fritz August Breuhaus using lightweight tubular aluminum, with the chairs upholstered in red.

Dining Room of Airship Hindenburg (Airships.net collection)

Dining Room of Airship Hindenburg (Airships.net collection)

Dining on the Hindenburg (Airships.net collection)

Dining Room of Hindenburg, with Port Promenade (Airships.net collection)

On the starboard side of A Deck were the Passenger Lounge and Writing Room.

The Lounge was approximately 34 feet in length, and was decorated with a mural by Professor Arpke depicting the routes and ships of the explorers Ferdinand Magellan, Captain Cook, Vasco de Gama, and Christopher Columbus, the transatlantic crossing of LZ-126 (USS Los Angeles), the Round-the-World flight and South American crossings of LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin, and the North Atlantic tracks of the great German ocean liners Bremen and Europa. The furniture, like that in the dining room, was designed in lightweight aluminum by Professor Breuhaus, but the chairs were upholstered in brown. During the 1936 season the Lounge contained a 356-pound Bluthner baby grand piano, made of Duralumin and covered with yellow pigskin.

Passenger Lounge (Airships.net collection)

Two views of the Lounge, showing portrait of Hitler and the ship&rsquos duralumin piano. (The stewardess is Emilie Imhoff, who was killed at Lakehurst in 1937.) (©Archiv der Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH, Friedrichshafen)

The piano was removed before the 1937 season and was not aboard Hindenburg during it&rsquos last flight.

Passenger Lounge (Airships.net collection)

Passenger Lounge (Airships.net collection)

Passenger Lounge on the Airship Hindenburg, showing promenade windows. (Airships.net collection)

Writing Room

Next to the lounge was a small Writing Room.

Writing Room (Airships.net collection)

The walls of the Writing Room were decorated with paintings by Otto Arpke depicting scenes from around the world:

Some of the Otto Arpke paintings aboard Hindenburg

Passenger Cabins on Hindenburg

Hindenburg was originally built with 25 double-berthed cabins at the center of A Deck, accommodating 50 passengers. After the ship&rsquos inaugural 1936 season, 9 more cabins were added to B Deck, accommodating an additional 20 passengers. The A Deck cabins were small, but were comparable to railroad sleeper compartments of the day. The cabins measured approximately 78&Prime x 66&Prime, and the walls and doors were made of a thin layer of lightweight foam covered by fabric. Cabins were decorated in one of three color schemes &mdash either light blue, grey, or beige &mdash and each A Deck cabin had one lower berth which was fixed in place, and one upper berth which could be folded against the wall during the day.

Passenger Cabin aboard Hindenburg (Airships.net collection)

Each cabin had call buttons to summon a steward or stewardess, a small fold-down desk, a wash basin made of lightweight white plastic with taps for hot and cold running water, and a small closet covered with a curtain in which a limited number of suits or dresses could be hung other clothes had to be kept in their suitcases, which could be stowed under the lower berth. None of the cabins had toilet facilities male and female toilets were available on B Deck below, as was a single shower, which provided a weak stream of water &ldquomore like that from a seltzer bottle&rdquo than a shower, according to Charles Rosendahl. Because the A Deck cabins were located in the center of the ship they had no windows, which was a feature missed by passengers who had traveled on Graf Zeppelin and had enjoyed the view of the passing scenery from their berths.

Passenger Cabin aboard Hindenburg (Airships.net collection)

Promenades On either side of A Deck were promenades, featuring seating areas and large windows which could be opened in flight.

Starboard Promenade aboard LZ-129 Hindenburg, next to the Lounge. (Airships.net collection)

&ldquoB&rdquo Deck on Hindenburg

B Deck on Hindenburg, located directly below A Deck, contained the ship&rsquos kitchen, passenger toilet and shower facilities, the crew and officers&rsquo mess, and a cabin occupied by Chief Steward Heinrich Kubis (containing a door to the keel corridor, which was the only connection between passenger and crew spaces).

During the winter of 1936-1937, while the ship was laid up in Frankfurt, additional passenger cabins were also added in Bay 11, just aft of ring 173. The new cabins had windows offering an outside view, and were slightly larger than the cabins on A Deck. The additional weight of these new cabins was made possible by the unexpected (and unwelcome) need to operate the ship with hydrogen, which has greater lifting power than the helium for which Hindenburg had been designed.

The Smoking Room

Perhaps most surprising, aboard a hydrogen airship, there was also a smoking room on the Hindenburg. The smoking room was kept at higher than ambient pressure, so that no leaking hydrogen could enter the room, and the smoking room and its associated bar were separated from the rest of the ship by a double-door airlock. One electric lighter was provided, as no open flames were allowed aboard the ship. The smoking room was painted blue, with dark blue-grey leather furniture, and the walls were decorated with yellow pigskin and illustrations by Otto Arpke depicting the history of lighter-than-air flight from the Montgolfiers&rsquos balloon to the Graf Zeppelin. Along one side of the room was a railing above sealed windows, through which passengers could look down on the ocean or landscape passing below.

Smoking Room aboard LZ-129 Hindenburg (Airships.net collection)

Smoking Room aboard LZ-129 Hindenburg (Airships.net collection)

The smoking room was perhaps the most popular public room on the ship, which is not surprising in an era in which so many people smoked.

Pressurized Smoking Room aboard LZ-129 Hindenburg, showing door to the bar, with the air lock doors beyond. (Airships.net collection)

The Hindenburg&rsquos bar was a small ante-room between the smoking room and the air-lock door leading to the corridor on B-Deck. This is where Hindenburg bartender Max Schulze served up LZ-129 Frosted Cocktails (gin and orange juice) and Maybach 12 cocktails (recipe lost to history), but more importantly, it is where Schulze monitored the air-lock to ensure that no-one left the smoking room with burning cigarattes, cigars, or pipes. Schulze had been a steward and bartender aboard the ocean liners of the Hamburg-Amerika Line and was well liked by Hindenburg passengers, even if he was surprisingly unfamiliar with basic American cocktails such as the Manhattan. The bar and smoking room were also the scene of a raucous party on the Hindenburg&rsquos maiden voyage to America, where passenger Pauline Charteris improvised a kirschwasser cocktail after the ship ran out of gin for martinis.

Hindenburg Bar (©Archiv der Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH, Friedrichshafen)

Cocktails aboard the Hindenburg (©Archiv der Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH, Friedrichshafen)

Control Car, Flight Instruments, and Flight Controls

An overview of the Hindenburg&rsquos flight instruments and flight controls.

Hindenburg Control Room (Ludwig Felber at helm, possibly Knut Eckener to his right). At far left is ballast board, then rudder station with gyro compass repeater, to right of tall figure is the eyepiece of a drift measuring telesope, and to the right is the engine telegraph, axial corridor speaking tube, altimeter, and engine instruments to the far right is a variometer.

Elevator Wheel, Elevator Panel, and Ballast Board

Hindenburg&rsquos Elevator Panel

Hindenburg&rsquos Navigation Room

Ernst Lehmann with Navigation Radios

Hindenburg main telephone station

Crew Areas and Keel

Other than the control car, the crew and work areas aboard Hindenburg were primarily located along the keel, including officer and crew sleeping quarters, the radio room, post office, electrical room, work rooms, and rope handling areas for the mooring lines.

Fuel, fresh water, and ballast tanks were also located along the keel, as were cargo storage areas. The keel also offered access to the engine cars, and the auxiliary control and docking station in the tail, and ladders at Rings 62, 123.5, and 188 offered access to the axial catwalk at the center of the ship. A section of B Deck included Hindenburg&rsquos kitchen and separate mess areas for the officers and crew.


Stairway to Excess

To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories.

To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories.

With all due respect to the movie Almost Famous, I never went on a Led Zeppelin tour where the band spontaneously burst into an Elton John song on a tour bus. Nor do I recall hootenannies with acoustic guitars in the Continental Hyatt House on the Sunset Strip. I remember the band’s needle-thin guitarist, Jimmy Page, sitting in the dark on a sofa in a corner suite at the Plaza hotel in New York City with a cadaverous David Bowie by his side, watching the same 15 minutes of Kenneth Anger’s film Lucifer Rising over and over again—with lines of cocaine on the table. I recall a flight to Detroit aboard the band’s private jet when Jimmy got into a fight with a Fleet Street reporter, and the tour manager, the menacing Richard Cole, pulled out a gun.

And, of course, I remember the rumors: Jimmy traveled with a suitcase full of whips. One time he was naked, covered with whipped cream, put on a room-service table, and wheeled into a room to be served up to a bunch of teenage girls. The band attacked a female reporter from Life magazine, ripping her clothes, until, in tears, she was rescued by the band’s manager. And, in 1969 at Seattle’s Edgewater Inn, in a notorious episode that has achieved mythic proportion, the band violated a teenage girl with a live shark. (“It wasn’t a shark,” Richard Cole told me years later. “It was a red snapper. And it wasn’t some big ritualistic thing it was in and out and a laugh and the girl wasn’t sobbing—she was a willing participant. It was so fast, and over and done with, and no one from the band was there. I don’t think anyone who was there remembers the same thing.”)

With more than 200 million albums sold, Led Zeppelin is the biggest-selling rock group in history. Tour promoters have offered untold millions for a Zeppelin reunion. A whole new generation has discovered the band with a TV ad for Cadillac that features their song “Rock and Roll.” This past spring, Zeppelin entered both the CD and DVD charts at No. 1 with eight and a half hours of live material recorded more than 20 years ago.

At the time of Led Zeppelin’s ascent, at the end of the 1960s, their reviews were at best dismissive and at worst, devastating. A Rolling Stone critique of the band’s first album stated, “Robert Plant sings notes that only dogs can hear.” Zeppelin was labeled derivative, a hype, and every vile name anyone could possibly think of, and their U.S. tours were scandalous, rapacious, excessive, arrogant sprees. There was nothing new about girls waiting in hotel lobbies, jumping into limousines, hanging out at clubs until the musicians passed out, then accompanying them back to their beds. What was new was the level of decadence (high or low, depending on your point of view) that accompanied Led Zeppelin, especially in the U.S.

At the beginning of the 1970s people were liberated and angry, frustrated and bored. There were no cell phones, no Game Boys, no DVDs, no Walkmans, no Internet, no reality TV. Music was it. And, just when big music and big money came together, Led Zeppelin gave new meaning to “sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll.” Everything was offered to them. They turned nothing down. But if a legend was about debauchery only, people would still be extolling the virtues of the 1980s hair band Poison, or David Lee Roth. And they’re not. According to producer Rick Rubin, “Jimmy Page revolutionized everything. There was no real blues rock in that bombastic way before Zeppelin. Plus, with the insane drumming of John Bonham, it was radical, playing at a very, very high level—improvisational on a big-rock scale. It was brand new.”

In 1970 the Beatles, no longer on tour, seemed tame. The Rolling Stones, while fashionably louche, played songs. Led Zeppelin was neither a hippie jam band nor an improvisational jazz outfit, but they took the blues, added Eastern influences, switched into acoustic folk in the middle of a number (they even did a cover version of Joan Baez’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”), and you never knew what they would do next. Twenty-six-year-old Jimmy Page, a sophisticated London studio musician, had toured the U.S. as a member of the Yardbirds—a superior blues-rock band that had also, at different times, featured Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. Bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones, 24, was also a seasoned London session musician. Combine that with two novices from the provinces—the randy 22-year-old singer Robert Plant, besotted with flower power, blues, and rockabilly, and drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham, 22, who knew all about Motown and James Brown—and you had a group that took rock music to a progressive new level: loud, fast, complex, heavy, virile.

And the band’s manager, Peter Grant, changed the rules of the music business. A baroque, bearded, 300-pound former bouncer, tour manager, and professional wrestler (who had gone by the name of Count Massimo), Peter was an intimidating presence. When he worked with Jimmy and the Yardbirds, concert promoters “split” the take 50-50 with bands, but the bands rarely made a dime. Peter signed Zeppelin to Atlantic Records for the then unheard-of sum of $200,000, before anyone at the label had even heard a note of the first album (recorded for $3,500, which Jimmy paid out of his own pocket). Peter refused to let the band release singles, so that fans had to buy the albums. After the band got big, he wouldn’t let them make television appearances, so if people wanted to see Led Zeppelin they had to pay to go to the concerts. And, in a move that forever changed the rock-concert business, he forced promoters to give the band 90 percent of the gate—take it or leave it. They took it. Instead of employing the usual local promoters, Peter hired Jerry Weintraub’s Concerts West to oversee the band’s tours. (Weintraub, now the movie producer, was then John Denver’s manager and the concert promoter for Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.)

Led Zeppelin enjoyed immediate and massive financial success with their first album, which included such rock classics as “Dazed and Confused” and “Communication Breakdown.” They pretended not to care about the bad reviews. Defensively, they did no interviews. Peter and Jimmy (at the start this was clearly Jimmy’s band and Peter worked for Jimmy) encouraged a mystique. But eventually they wanted to be famous. Robert Plant, in particular, was irritated that Zeppelin was breaking attendance records but the Rolling Stones were getting all the press. So they hired a press agent.

1973: Danny Goldberg, hired to do publicity for the band, asked me to go see them on the southern leg of the U.S. tour. I was terrified. I had heard all the stories and wanted no part of this band. But my editors at the British music weekly Disc—and later at the New Musical Express, Hit Parader, Creem, and the New York Post—all insisted that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk to what was quickly becoming the world’s biggest rock band. So, from 1973 to 1979, I traveled on and off with Zeppelin in the U.S. and taped more than 50 hours of interviews (published sections of which were “sampled” by others without permission in books written about the band). I endured the disdain of my so-called colleagues, all of whom considered Led Zeppelin déclassé: hyped-up barbarians who drew a working-class—or, worse, white-trash—and mostly male audience.

May 7, 1973, Jacksonville, Florida: Zeppelin had just broken the Beatles’ attendance record for the largest paying crowd ever at a single group’s concert—56,800 people at Tampa Stadium—but the first show I went to see was at an indoor arena. Backstage, I saw a phalanx of security guards. Peter Grant was screaming at some T-shirt bootleggers and at a policeman who had been rough with a female fan. Richard Cole, after politely shaking my hand, placed me on the side of the stage near the amplifiers. To my astonishment, I loved the three-and-a-half-hour show. The next day, at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami, I was told that the band asked if I was “hiding” in my room. I took the challenge and went downstairs to the pool. John Bonham and John Paul Jones were nowhere in sight. Jimmy Page was aloof. Robert Plant, wearing a tiny red bikini, was charming. I asked about the band’s bad reputation. “It’s all true,” he said. “When we do something, we just do it bigger and better than anybody else. When there are no holds barred, there are no holds barred.”

May 13, 1973, the Royal Orleans Hotel, New Orleans: The band and their entourage were assembled at the rooftop pool. Jimmy Page was fully dressed, looked very pale, and talked about the bad press the band received in England. “I wouldn’t mind constructive criticism,” he said—whatever that is, I said—“but they seem to be losing the essence of what’s important, which is music, purely. They wallow in rubbish. And while I may be a masochist in other regions, I’m not that much of a masochist that I’m going to pay money to tear myself to bits—reading.” Robert Plant, dressed in the same red bikini he wore in Miami, talked about the band’s image. “There are so many people who come around just because of that. We’ve been to California and that Continental Hyatt House and there are guys who book in there with whips and goodness knows what just because they hear we’re coming. It’s crazy. I like to think that people know we’re pretty raunchy and that we really do a lot of the things that people say we do. But what we’re getting across [onstage] is goodness. It ain’t ‘stand up and put your fist in the air—we want revolution.’ I’d like them to go away feeling the way you do at the end of a good chick, satisfied and exhausted. Some nights I look out and want to fuck the whole front row.”

Peter Grant instructed Danny Goldberg to make up a press release that stated, “The 49,000 people at the Atlanta Led Zeppelin show was the biggest thing in Atlanta since Gone with the Wind,” and to attribute the quote to the mayor of Atlanta. In both Atlanta and Tampa, the band got front-page billing with the Watergate hearings. In New Orleans, Ahmet Ertegun rented Cosimos Studios, a big, funky, warehouse recording studio, for a party for Zeppelin after their show, and invited the Meters, Ernie K-Doe, and Professor Longhair to perform. A large portable air conditioner was set up to cool the room. Ernie K-Doe was wearing white linen trousers and a pink sport coat and white tie. Art Neville sat at the organ, ready to perform with the Meters. Blind blues great Snooks Eaglin had his guitar, and Professor Longhair was at the piano. The members of Led Zeppelin, who grew up in England hearing these guys on pirate radio, were thrilled.

Led Zeppelin were aware that when the Rolling Stones walked into a room they created an ambience. So when Zeppelin went to a club, Richard Cole called ahead to say the band was on its way and to make sure that bottles of Dom Pérignon were waiting at the table. When Zeppelin was in town, especially in New York City and more especially in Los Angeles, the groupie grapevine went into overdrive. In Hollywood, at the Rainbow on the Sunset Strip—just down the street from the Hyatt House where the band stayed—bodyguards manned the booths reserved for “the boys.” (They were always “the boys,” and, in fact, musicians now well into their 50s and 60s are still, on tour, referred to as “the boys.”) Teenage girls lined up in front of them. “No head, no backstage pass” was the mantra among the roadies who were in a position to get the former and give the latter to the 14- to 18-year-olds who wanted to get to the band.

One 15-year-old, who modeled in the rock publication Star Magazine and caught Jimmy’s eye at an L.A. club, was Lori Mattix. (“We were madly in love,” says Lori today, now a 45-year-old fashion buyer and mother of a 17-year-old boy. “My mother knew all about us. She adored Jimmy. He sent her flowers.”) Lori was Jimmy’s steady girl whenever he was in L.A. She says he called her every day even when he was in England, where he lived in a reportedly contentious relationship with longtime girlfriend Charlotte Martin, the mother of his daughter Scarlet. Lori says she never saw a whip in his room, Jimmy was always delightful to her, he would never let her touch a drug, and he was so furious when he once saw her smoke a cigarette that he made her smoke an entire pack of Salems so she’d never do it again. During the 1973 tour, when Robert got the flu and a show was canceled, there was talk of sending the band’s empty jet to fetch Lori to bring her to be with Jimmy in the Midwest. Instead, the band went to Los Angeles—their favorite playground—for a few days off.

Robert’s tour amours were girls he managed to convince that he was, at any given moment, about to leave his wife, Maureen, the mother of his two young children. Once, when he went back home to his farm on the Welsh border after a tour, Maureen came running out of the house furiously waving a copy of the English music weekly Melody Maker. A photo of Zeppelin at Rodney Bingenheimer’s Sunset Strip club with a bunch of young girls was on the front page. “Maureen,” Robert cried, “you know we don’t take that paper!”

July 24, 1973, New York City: The limousines were lined up outside the Plaza, and our seven-car procession made its way out of Manhattan to Newark airport, where the band’s private 720B jet would take us to Pittsburgh. The Starship (which would later be used by the Rolling Stones and Elton John) was some plane: gold and bronze, with LED ZEPPELIN painted along the side. I persuaded the band to line up alongside the wing (no easy feat) for Bob Gruen to take the photo that would eventually become a postcard. The stewardesses were Wendy—who wore a blue feather boa and whose uncle was Bobby Sherman’s manager—and Susan, dressed in maroon and pink. The walls of the plane were orange and red there were circular velvet couches, white leather swivel chairs, a mirror-covered bar, a nonfunctioning fireplace, and a white fake-fur-covered bed in the back bedroom. Tour manager Richard Cole described the plane as “elegant.” John Paul Jones (nicknamed “Jonesy”) usually played a quiet game of backgammon. John Bonham (always called “Bonzo”) sat alone in the front. Bonzo was homesick. He’d been getting drunk and wild and would bang on Danny Goldberg’s door in the middle of the night, demanding to do interviews right there and then. Peter Grant told Danny to get two rooms: a secret one to actually sleep in, and an empty one to deflect Bonzo’s four A.M. rampages. Once, on a street in Dallas, Bonzo saw a Corvette Stingray he wanted, and instructed Richard Cole to wait until the owner showed up and insist that “Mr. Bonham from Led Zeppelin wanted to buy him a drink.” He paid $18,000 for the car, which was worth considerably less, shipped it to L.A., and put it in the basement of the Hyatt House while the band’s lawyer went through the necessary rigamarole to get the insurance transferred. Bonzo then dragged musicians from other bands over to admire the car, drove it for two days, and sold it.

July 29, 1973, New York City: Possibly because Jimmy was a known collector of memorabilia relating to the English satanist Aleister Crowley, and especially because he bought Crowley’s house in Scotland, he got bizarre mail and death threats. On the final night of a five-night run at Madison Square Garden, more security men than usual checked out the area underneath the stage. The band did a blistering three-and-a-half-hour set, and when it was over we were inexplicably shoved into cars and raced to the Upper East Side apartment of the band’s lawyer’s secretary. No one told us why we were there, but for some reason “the boys” needed to be kept away from the Drake Hotel. Later that night, at a party given for the band by Ahmet Ertegun at the Carlyle Hotel, we learned that $203,000 in cash had been stolen from the group’s safe-deposit box at the Drake. (“Peter did have a funny expression on his face,” Robert said, “but what were we going to do? Break down and cry? We had just done a great gig.”) The Drake was crawling with cops and F.B.I. agents the band’s roadies had to get into the rooms and get rid of the drugs. The next morning Peter Grant, Richard Cole, and Danny Goldberg faced press accusations that the robbery was faked by the band. The band’s position was that someone who worked at the hotel had taken the money. The “case,” such as it was, was never solved. And the 1973 tour was over.

May 7, 1974, New York City: By now, Atlantic Records gave Led Zeppelin anything they wanted, and what they wanted was their own record label, like the Rolling Stones had. Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records signed other acts—the 60s band the Pretty Things, Scottish singer Maggie Bell, and rock band Bad Company, led by ex—Free singer Paul Rodgers. Zeppelin came to New York for a Swan Song launch at the Four Seasons restaurant, where they instructed Danny Goldberg to get some swans for the pool. He couldn’t find any, so he got geese instead. The band was furious. “We all live on farms!,” Robert shouted. “Don’t you think we know the fucking difference?” Bonzo and Richard Cole picked up the geese and let them loose on Park Avenue. The band then traveled to L.A. for a Swan Song launch at the Bel-Air Hotel (with real swans) attended by Bryan Ferry, Bill Wyman, and Groucho Marx. They went back to England to record Physical Graffiti, the double album that included the Eastern-flavored “Kashmir,” which many consider the band’s real masterpiece, as opposed to what was undoubtedly the biggest song of their career—the song that has been played on radio more than any other, the song that ended every one of their shows, the song that was Jimmy’s pride but privately referred to by Robert as “that wedding song”—the pompous “Stairway to Heaven.” (“Every band should end their show with ‘Stairway to Heaven,’” Robert said. “In fact, the Who do a very nice version of it.”)

January 20, 1975, Chicago: There were box-office riots in New York City, Long Island, and Boston when tickets went on sale for Zeppelin’s 1975 U.S. tour. Right before the tour, Jimmy injured his finger getting off a train in England. Robert had the flu. Bonzo’s stomach hurt constantly and he was more homesick than ever. This was not a good start. “I’d like to have it publicized that I came in after Karen Carpenter in the Playboy drummer poll!,” Bonzo roared in the band’s dressing room at the Chicago Stadium. “She couldn’t last 10 minutes with a Zeppelin number,” he sneered. Danny Goldberg told me that Bonzo had just shown up wearing his Clockwork Orange boilersuit and said, wasn’t it a good idea, and who was going to argue with him? When Bonzo was sober, he was a sweetheart—articulate and a gentleman. Drunk, and particularly during a full moon—a nightmare. His drum solo, the 20-minute-long “Moby Dick,” was a concert crowd-pleaser and an opportunity for Jimmy to go back into the dressing room for some sexual activity. Once, Jimmy went back to the hotel during the drum solo. After the show, everyone went to Busters to see Buddy Guy play guitar with a small amp perched on top of a pinball machine. The next morning, Jimmy came to my room in the Ambassador East Hotel around noon for breakfast. He often wouldn’t eat for days on tour (he weighed 130 pounds and wanted to get down to 125), but this time he’d been making vitamin-enriched banana daiquiris in his room—for sustenance. In Peter Grant’s ornate suite (the only one Zsa Zsa Gabor stays in when she’s in Chicago), Peter reminisced about a Midwest hotel clerk from the last tour who admitted that the worst trashing of hotel rooms had occurred during a Methodist youth convention. “The guy was so frustrated about not being able to just go bonkers in a room himself,” Peter said, “that I told him to go and have one on us. He went upstairs, tossed a TV set against the wall, tore up the bed, and I paid the $490 bill.” Late that night at the Bistro, Bonzo—the man known as “the Beast” when he got wild—was sitting quietly in a booth, alone. “You know my wife is expecting again in July,” he told me. “She’s really terrific, the type of lady that when you walk into our house she comes right out with a cup of tea, or a drink, or a sandwich. We met when we were 16, got married at 17. I was a carpenter for a few years I’d get up at seven in the morning, then change my clothes in the van to go to gigs at night. How do you think I feel, not being taken seriously, coming in after Karen Carpenter in the Playboy poll. . . . Karen Carpenter . . . what a load of shit.”

January 31, 1975, New York City to Detroit: On the plane, Jimmy was having a heated discussion with a reporter from the London Daily Express. “You’re not supposed to make intelligent remarks,” said the reporter, smirking. Uh-oh. After we landed in Detroit, in the car on the way to Olympia Stadium, Jimmy was incredulous. “Can you believe that man referred to my guitar playing as a trade?” During Bonzo’s drum solo, the other band members went into the dressing room. The reporter tried to follow, but was stopped by Richard Cole, who said the band was having a “meeting.” The reporter was enraged: “I write for 10 million people and I won’t have you humiliate me in front of a member of my staff!” The member of his “staff”: a blonde woman swathed in rabbit fur. On the way back to the plane, the reporter demanded that the radio be turned off in the car. “After two hours of that Led Zeppelin racket, I can’t stand any more!” Back on the Starship, people whispered in groups of twos and threes. Jimmy, who had been huddled under a red blanket, suddenly came to life and got right back into the argument. “You don’t want to know about my music—all you care about is the grosses and the interior of the plane. You’re a Communist!,” Jimmy exclaimed. Meanwhile, Robert was muttering under his breath, “I don’t think he’s such a bad bloke. Ten million people read the paper. Me mum and dad read the paper. The singer was good . . . ” Jimmy started yelling about the way he had voted in the last election, someone threw a drink at the reporter, and a scuffle ensued. The reporter got more belligerent. All of a sudden, Richard Cole stood in the aisle holding a gun. I had never seen a gun before. We were 25,000 feet in the air. I cowered in my seat. Nervous glances all around. Silence. Two of the band’s security guards (off-duty policemen) walked over and stood next to Richard. “for christ’s sake,” Bonzo yelled from the front of the plane, “will you all shut up? I’m trying to get some sleep!”

February 3, 1975, New York City: The band was ensconced in the Plaza hotel, where every so often, in the middle of the night, tour photographer Neal Preston had to give them a slide show of every picture he shot, for their approval. Shouts of “Flab!” could be heard as they made fun of one another during the cumbersome process that often took hours. Jimmy hated his suite, which he said looked like “the fucking Versailles palace.” The TV set didn’t work because the black candles he had in his room dripped down into it. The volume of the Lucifer Rising screenings was so loud he was afraid he’d be thrown out of the hotel. John Paul Jones either had a secret life or just kept to himself most of the time, the only time anyone saw him was at the shows. Bonzo’s suite had a pool table. We all left the Plaza and walked down the street to the Nirvana restaurant for some Indian food. “Have you got any fresh dania?” Robert asked, showing off to the wait-ers. “I know about this food I’m married to an Indian,” he said. Jimmy laughed: “So you tell them every time you come here.” I told them that John Lennon heard “Stairway to Heaven” and loved it. “He’s only just heard it now?,” Robert said.

February 1975, backstage at Madison Square Garden: Perhaps as an answer to Truman Capote’s hanging around the Stones, William Burroughs was there, enlisted to interview Jimmy for the underground rock magazine Crawdaddy. (Burroughs came to a show, spent two sessions interviewing Jimmy, then wrote mostly about himself and arcane black-magic practices.) Mick Jagger stopped by to check out the sound system. In Los Angeles, David Geffen came to see Peter Grant, and George Harrison showed up at a party and threw some cake at Bonzo—who then threw the former Beatle in the pool. But Zeppelin did not draw a celebrity crowd no Andy Warhol or Liza Minnelli or the Studio 54 gang. Led Zeppelin was just not fashionable.

August 4, 1975: While vacationing in Greece, Robert Plant and his family were in a serious car crash. They were airlifted back to London. His wife, Maureen, was in intensive care with a broken pelvis and fractured skull, his seven-year-old daughter, Carmen, had a broken wrist, and his four-year-old son, Karac, a fractured leg. Robert suffered multiple fractures of the elbow, ankle, and other bones. All of the rest of the band’s concerts for 1975 were canceled.

In 1977, for the heavy-rock fan, there still was no greater group than Led Zeppelin. But the big news in England was the Sex Pistols and the Clash. In New York, it was the punk scene at CBGB. The members of Zeppelin were portrayed by some in the press as bloated, self-regarding dinosaurs. Self-doubt started to creep into the band’s conversations. And the heroin that became an unspoken fact of life around the band, management, and crew didn’t help. Doctors accompanied the band on tours to minister to their medical needs and write prescriptions. According to someone close to the band, the drugs were getting so out of hand that there were times onstage when Jimmy would be playing a completely different song than the rest of the band.

April 7, 1977, Chicago: Late at night after the show, Jimmy talked about the band’s reputation (“We haven’t really stopped”) and the rumors (“I must have had a good time”). Either very tired or very stoned, he slurred his words. Later, in another room, Robert, as always, joked: “All this stuff about us being barbarians is perpetuated by the road crew. They check into hotels under our names. They run up disgusting room-service bills and then they take the women of the town by storm by applying masks of the four members of the group. It gets us a bad name. And sells a lot of records.” He added, “I’ve met members of the opposite sex who were only eight or nine when we first went into a studio . . . and they’re great fucks.”

Around June 1977 everything started to go terribly wrong. Bill Graham, who escaped Nazi Germany, was the larger-than-life promoter in San Francisco, the founder of the Fillmores West and East, and a highly regarded man in the music business. He always thought that the band brought an unpleasant element of male aggression to their shows. When the band performed the first of two shows for Graham in Oakland on June 23, 1977, Peter Grant’s 11-year-old son, Warren, tried to remove a LED ZEPPELIN sign from a dressing-room trailer. According to Graham, one of his security guards told the child nicely that he couldn’t have it. According to Bonzo, who said he saw it from the stage, the guard hit the kid. A hideous, violent scene followed. Peter Grant, Bonzo, and John Bindon, a thug who’d been hired for extra security, beat up Graham’s man while Richard Cole stood guard outside the trailer. Graham’s staffer was rushed, bleeding, to the hospital. The band refused to do the next day’s show unless Graham signed a paper absolving the band of guilt. Graham, fearing a riot if Zeppelin didn’t play, signed the paper after being assured it was legally worthless. After the show, Peter Grant, Richard Cole, John Bonham, and John Bindon were arrested at their hotel. A civil case dragged on for more than a year, was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, and Bill Graham—no pussycat himself when it came to intimidation (verbal, not physical)—devoted an entire chapter to the episode in his posthumously published 1992 autobiography. (Reportedly, when a sobered-up Peter Grant read it, he cried.)

The rumors continued. Limo drivers, always ready to blab, gossiped that the band’s hopped-up road managers and bodyguards stormed into drugstores and, threatening physical force, demanded that prescriptions be filled. A restaurant had been trashed and waiters humiliated in Pennsylvania. It was understood that (with the exception of Bonzo in Oakland) the band members were never involved in these incidents it is likely that they didn’t even know about them at the time. Still, the crew was hired in the band’s name and represented them and it all took its toll.

Then, two weeks after the Oakland incident, as the band checked into the Maison Dupuy Hotel in New Orleans, Robert got a phone call at the front desk, took it upstairs in his room, and was told that after being rushed to the hospital with a mysterious respiratory infection his five-year-old son, Karac, had died.

Robert, accompanied by Richard, Bonzo, and assistant Dennis Sheehan, immediately flew back to England. The U.S. tour—a tour marked by increasing turmoil, tension, drug use, violence, and estrangement among band members—was over. Robert, devastated by his son’s death (and reportedly upset too that Jimmy and Peter had not attended the funeral), went into seclusion.

The press wrote about Jimmy’s “bad karma” and his interest in Aleister Crowley. They dredged up all sorts of crackpot theories about a “Zeppelin curse” and suggested that Page and the band (but especially Page)—like blues great Robert Johnson, supposedly, years before—had made a “deal with the devil.”

August 4, 1979, Knebworth, Hertfordshire: Peter Grant invited me to come see the band at Knebworth, site of one of the stately homes of England, where Zeppelin would do their first shows in two years—two concerts for 300,000 people. The band sent me a round-trip Concorde ticket, then put me up in a Holiday Inn. Typical Zeppelin: high-low. Before the show, Bonzo told me that he watched his 11-year-old son, Jason, sit in on drums during the sound check: “He can play ‘Trampled Underfoot’ perfectly,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Led Zeppelin.” Very few people were allowed in the closed-off backstage enclave that housed the dressing-room trailers. The band seemed nervous. “Now, don’t you go and say this is nostalgia,” Robert said to me. (In truth, with Blitz, the hottest club in London, drawing drag queens in science-fiction outfits, this massive denim-clad audience—10 years after Woodstock—did seem like a throwback to another age.) With Robert was his wife, Maureen, and daughter, Carmen. His six-month-old baby boy, Logan, was at home with his grandparents. Jimmy Page flew in by helicopter to the site a half-hour before the show with his girlfriend, Charlotte. No longer in his white satin pop-star outfit, he wore a blue silk shirt and baggy cream-colored trousers. The band played for three and a half hours, the audience sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” for 15 minutes after the third encore, and Robert appeared to be crying backstage. I hung out for hours after the show with Jimmy Page and Ron Wood’s wife, Chrissie—both of whom seemed totally out of it. Zeppelin certainly was not the same band that had stepped onstage 10 years ago. For those of us who’d seen the band at their peak, they were more than just rusty the wit and the wonder weren’t really there. But Knebworth was to be a new beginning, and everyone was excited about a 1980 tour.


On May 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg burst into flames while attempting to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey. In little more than 30 seconds, the largest object ever to soar through the air was incinerated and the era of commercial airship travel was dead. Explore nine surprising facts about the massive zeppelin and its fiery demise.

1. Survivors Of The Hindenburg Disaster Far Outnumbered The Victims.


Anyone who has seen the graphic newsreel video of the Hindenburg plunging to earth in flames may be amazed to know that of the 97 passengers and crew on board, 62 survived. The disaster’s 36 deaths included 13 passengers, 22 crewmembers and one worker on the ground. Many survivors jumped out of the zeppelin’s windows and ran away as fast as they could.


2. The Hindenburg Disaster Wasn’t History’s Deadliest Airship Accident.

Thanks to the iconic film footage and the emotional eyewitness account of radio reporter Herbert Morrison (who uttered the famous words “Oh, the humanity!”), the Hindenburg disaster is the most famous airship accident in history. However, the deadliest incident occurred when the helium-filled USS Akron, a U.S. Navy airship, crashed off the coast of New Jersey in a severe storm on April 4, 1933. Seventy-three men were killed, and only three survived. The 1930 crash of the British military airship R101, which claimed 48 lives, was also deadlier.


3. The Hindenburg Disaster Wasn’t Broadcast Live On Radio.

Morrison was on the scene to record the arrival of the Hindenburg for WLS in Chicago, but he wasn’t broadcasting live. His wrenching account would be heard in Chicago later that night, and it was broadcast nationwide the following day. His audio report was synched up with separate newsreel videos in subsequent coverage of the Hindenburg disaster.


4. U.S. Law Prevented The Hindenburg From Using Helium Instead Of Hydrogen, Which Is More Flammable.

After the crash of the hydrogen-filled R101, in which most of the crew died in the subsequent fire rather than the impact itself, Hindenburg designer Hugo Eckener sought to use helium, a less flammable lifting gas. However, the United States, which had a monopoly on the world supply of helium and feared that other countries might use the gas for military purposes, banned its export, and the Hindenburg was reengineered. After the Hindenburg disaster, American public opinion favored the export of helium to Germany for its next great zeppelin, the LZ 130, and the law was amended to allow helium export for nonmilitary use. After the German annexation of Austria in 1938, however, Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes refused to ink the final contract.


5. Despite Containing Highly Combustible Gas, Passengers Were Allowed To Smoke.

Despite being filled with 7 million cubic feet of highly combustible hydrogen gas, the Hindenburg featured a smoking room. Passengers were unable to bring matches and personal lighters aboard the zeppelin, but they could buy cigarettes and Cuban cigars on board and light up in a room pressurized to prevent any hydrogen from entering. A steward admitted passengers and crew through a double-door airlock into the smokers’ lounge, which had a single electric lighter, and made sure no one left with a lit cigarette or pipe.


6. A Specially Designed Lightweight Piano Was Made For The Hindenburg.

The Hindenburg’s owners, seeking to outfit their airborne luxury liner, tasked the renowned piano making firm of Julius Blüthner with building a special lightweight baby grand piano to meet the airship’s strict weight standards. The piano, which was made mostly of aluminum alloy and covered in yellow pigskin, weighed less than 400 pounds. It was only used during the Hindenburg’s first flying season, so it wasn’t aboard the ill-fated voyage.


7. The Hindenburg First Took Flight On A Nazi Propaganda Mission.

Although the Hindenburg was in development before the Third Reich came to power, members of the Nazi regime viewed it as a symbol of German might. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels ordered the Hindenburg to make its first public flight in March 1936 as part of a joint 4,100-mile aerial tour of Germany with the Graf Zeppelin to rally support for a referendum ratifying the reoccupation of the Rhineland. For four days, the airships blared patriotic tunes and pro-Hitler announcements from specially mounted loudspeakers, and small parachutes with propaganda leaflets and swastika flags were dropped on German cities. (The referendum, approved by 98.8 percent of Germans, was hardly a squeaker.) Later in 1936 the Hindenburg, sporting Olympic rings on its side and pulling a large Olympic flag behind it, played a starring role at the opening of the Summer Games in Berlin. The airship, which had swastikas emblazoned on its tail fins, was such a symbol of Nazi power that it was subjected to constant bomb threats—including some before its final flight, which led to suspicions of sabotage in the disaster.


8. Dozens Of Letters Carried Aboard The Hindenburg Were Ultimately Delivered.

Zeppelins pioneered airmail service across the Atlantic, and the Hindenburg carried approximately 17,000 pieces of correspondence on its final voyage. Amazingly, 176 pieces stored in a protective container survived the crash and were postmarked four days after the disaster. The pieces, charred but still readable, are among the world’s most valuable philatelic artifacts.


9. Goebbels Wanted To Name The Hindenburg For Adolf Hitler.

Eckener, no fan of the Third Reich, named the airship for the late German president Paul von Hindenburg and refused Goebbels’ request to name it after Hitler. The Führer, never enthralled by the great airships in the first place, was ultimately glad that the zeppelin that crashed in a fireball didn’t bear his name.


10. A One-Way Ticket Cost $400.

Not accounting for inflation, a passenger had to pay $400 for a one-way ticket between Europe and America in 1936. The price was increased to $450 in 1937. A steep cost compared to fares for a German ocean liner, for which a first-class passenger could cross the North Atlantic for between $157 and $240 and a third-class passenger paid $82.


10 Surprising Facts About the Hindenburg Disaster

This post was originally published on this site

On May 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg burst into flames while attempting to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey. In little more than 30 seconds, the largest object ever to soar through the air was incinerated and the era of commercial airship travel was dead. Explore nine surprising facts about the massive zeppelin and its fiery demise.

1. Survivors Of The Hindenburg Disaster Far Outnumbered The Victims.

Anyone who has seen the graphic newsreel video of the Hindenburg plunging to earth in flames may be amazed to know that of the 97 passengers and crew on board, 62 survived. The disaster&rsquos 36 deaths included 13 passengers, 22 crewmembers and one worker on the ground. Many survivors jumped out of the zeppelin&rsquos windows and ran away as fast as they could.

2. The Hindenburg Disaster Wasn&rsquot History&rsquos Deadliest Airship Accident.

Thanks to the iconic film footage and the emotional eyewitness account of radio reporter Herbert Morrison (who uttered the famous words &ldquoOh, the humanity!&rdquo), the Hindenburg disaster is the most famous airship accident in history. However, the deadliest incident occurred when the helium-filled USS Akron, a U.S. Navy airship, crashed off the coast of New Jersey in a severe storm on April 4, 1933. Seventy-three men were killed, and only three survived. The 1930 crash of the British military airship R101, which claimed 48 lives, was also deadlier.

3. The Hindenburg Disaster Wasn&rsquot Broadcast Live On Radio.

Morrison was on the scene to record the arrival of the Hindenburg for WLS in Chicago, but he wasn&rsquot broadcasting live. His wrenching account would be heard in Chicago later that night, and it was broadcast nationwide the following day. His audio report was synched up with separate newsreel videos in subsequent coverage of the Hindenburg disaster.

4. U.S. Law Prevented The Hindenburg From Using Helium Instead Of Hydrogen, Which Is More Flammable.

After the crash of the hydrogen-filled R101, in which most of the crew died in the subsequent fire rather than the impact itself, Hindenburg designer Hugo Eckener sought to use helium, a less flammable lifting gas. However, the United States, which had a monopoly on the world supply of helium and feared that other countries might use the gas for military purposes, banned its export, and the Hindenburg was reengineered. After the Hindenburg disaster, American public opinion favored the export of helium to Germany for its next great zeppelin, the LZ 130, and the law was amended to allow helium export for nonmilitary use. After the German annexation of Austria in 1938, however, Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes refused to ink the final contract.

5. Despite Containing Highly Combustible Gas, Passengers Were Allowed To Smoke.

Despite being filled with 7 million cubic feet of highly combustible hydrogen gas, the Hindenburg featured a smoking room. Passengers were unable to bring matches and personal lighters aboard the zeppelin, but they could buy cigarettes and Cuban cigars on board and light up in a room pressurized to prevent any hydrogen from entering. A steward admitted passengers and crew through a double-door airlock into the smokers&rsquo lounge, which had a single electric lighter, and made sure no one left with a lit cigarette or pipe.

6. A Specially Designed Lightweight Piano Was Made For The Hindenburg.

The Hindenburg&rsquos owners, seeking to outfit their airborne luxury liner, tasked the renowned piano making firm of Julius Blüthner with building a special lightweight baby grand piano to meet the airship&rsquos strict weight standards. The piano, which was made mostly of aluminum alloy and covered in yellow pigskin, weighed less than 400 pounds. It was only used during the Hindenburg&rsquos first flying season, so it wasn&rsquot aboard the ill-fated voyage.

7. The Hindenburg First Took Flight On A Nazi Propaganda Mission.

Although the Hindenburg was in development before the Third Reich came to power, members of the Nazi regime viewed it as a symbol of German might. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels ordered the Hindenburg to make its first public flight in March 1936 as part of a joint 4,100-mile aerial tour of Germany with the Graf Zeppelin to rally support for a referendum ratifying the reoccupation of the Rhineland. For four days, the airships blared patriotic tunes and pro-Hitler announcements from specially mounted loudspeakers, and small parachutes with propaganda leaflets and swastika flags were dropped on German cities. (The referendum, approved by 98.8 percent of Germans, was hardly a squeaker.) Later in 1936 the Hindenburg, sporting Olympic rings on its side and pulling a large Olympic flag behind it, played a starring role at the opening of the Summer Games in Berlin. The airship, which had swastikas emblazoned on its tail fins, was such a symbol of Nazi power that it was subjected to constant bomb threats&mdashincluding some before its final flight, which led to suspicions of sabotage in the disaster.

8. Dozens Of Letters Carried Aboard The Hindenburg Were Ultimately Delivered.

Zeppelins pioneered airmail service across the Atlantic, and the Hindenburg carried approximately 17,000 pieces of correspondence on its final voyage. Amazingly, 176 pieces stored in a protective container survived the crash and were postmarked four days after the disaster. The pieces, charred but still readable, are among the world&rsquos most valuable philatelic artifacts.

9. Goebbels Wanted To Name The Hindenburg For Adolf Hitler.

Eckener, no fan of the Third Reich, named the airship for the late German president Paul von Hindenburg and refused Goebbels&rsquo request to name it after Hitler. The Führer, never enthralled by the great airships in the first place, was ultimately glad that the zeppelin that crashed in a fireball didn&rsquot bear his name.

10. A One-Way Ticket Cost $400.

Not accounting for inflation, a passenger had to pay $400 for a one-way ticket between Europe and America in 1936. The price was increased to $450 in 1937. A steep cost compared to fares for a German ocean liner, for which a first-class passenger could cross the North Atlantic for between $157 and $240 and a third-class passenger paid $82.


Watch the video: What happened to the Hindenburg?