86 Years Since The Hindenburg Disaster In Ocean County

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  LAKEHURST – Carl Jablonski, the long-time president of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society who is often referred to as “Mr. Lakehurst” knows the detailed history of the Hindenburg disaster including some obscure facts about the famous airship itself.

  He and his senior vice president, Jennifer Suwak along with other members of the organization have been busy preparing for this year’s ceremony to be held at its regular gathering point, outside of Hangar One at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst on May 6.

  Each speaker of that annual ceremony brings to life the history of the base, the tragedy of that fateful flight on May 6, 1937 and the courage of those who moved forward to bring mankind into the sky and beyond.

Navy Lakehurst Historical Society President Carl “Mr. Lakehurst” Jablonski speaks inside The Ready Room which is part of the Society’s Museum inside Hanger One. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  “The Hindenburg was the Concord of its day. It flew here from Frankfurt 10 times successfully in 1936. The first trip of 1937 was part of 17 scheduled trips that year and that is the one when the accident took place. During the winter months, because of worrying about icing conditions, they flew the Hindenburg to Rio (De Genaro),” Jablonski added.

  “German residents loved to go to Rio for vacation so they went there,” Jablonski said. He noted the Hindenburg made “about seven or eight trips” to Rio. It took two and a half days to fly here from Frankfurt and a little over two days to go back because of the tail winds.”

  Jablonski said, “the Hindenburg was 804 feet in length. It was 812 when it was built, they lopped off eight feet so they could fit in the hangar here and she was 15 stories high and weighed over 52 tons. She flew at a speed of approximately 85 miles per hour.”

  “It only did an altitude of 1,000 and 1,500 feet because they wanted the passengers to enjoy the view of the ocean and so forth. They had large picture windows in the lounge area that they could look out and see the marine traffic,” he added.

  He noted, “the Hindenburg was in vogue of the day because a steam ship took six days to cross the Atlantic. They did it in two and a half. The price was very high back then. It was $740. That was considered a lot of money back then.”

Clips from the New York Daily News detailing the Hindenburg disaster are on display at the Ocean County Historical Society. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  “They had a lounge area which featured a baby grand piano which was made out of aluminum so it did not affect the weight. They also carried a nurse, a doctor and a nanny for the children. The accommodations were a small room of bunk beds, a basin for washing and a cabinet to but your materials and clothing in plus a chair and desk,” Jablonski added.

  He added a passenger could, “put your shoes out at night and have them shined for you in the morning. You had community bathrooms. You didn’t have your own bathroom. The Hindenburg was very good to the area because it provided money for the local businesses.”

  Last year, May 6 fell on a dreary, gray rainy Friday that caused, for the second time, the ceremony to be brought indoors inside the hangar. The hangar serves as the location of the NLHS museum, a gift shop and a part of a set from the 1975 film “The Hindenburg” which was directed by Robert Wise and starred George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft.

  The museum has numerous displays from each branch of the service and filled with models of the Hindenburg and other aircraft along with various historic artifacts.

A set from the 1975 Universal Studios film “The Hindenburg” starring George C. Scott as Colonel Franz Ritter is in Hangar One at the Lakehurst Naval Base. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  Jablonski has served as president of the organization for 27 years. “I came aboard here in 1991 as a member and became president in 1995 or 96 and here I am. We are a non-profit. We have roughly 200 plus members throughout the United States and even in Europe.”

  He noted that the ceremony, that serves as a memorial to those lives lost that day is the organization’s most important event. This year’s event marks 86 years. “In the events that we have done previously, all at the actual crash site except for two occasions. The Hindenburg was in this hangar on two occasions.”

A large model of the Airship Hindenburg hangs above displays and merchandise in the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society gift shop. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  “The Navy was very skeptical of having the Hindenburg in the hangar because it had 7 million cubic feet of hydrogen which is very volatile. On two occasions, they bent the rules. One time they left it on the mooring mast and there was a storm that had been predicted would have blown it apart and so they let it be docked in here,” he added.

  Jablonski said, “the other time was during a crossing from the Atlantic from Frankfurt (Germany) to here and they suffered a tear in the fabric on one of the wing areas and they had to have it sewed and repaired and they couldn’t do it outdoors so they let them put it in here.”