The Hindenburg

Mort Kunstler  Oil 1975

The details surrounding the Hindenburg disaster on May 6, 1937 remains one of the biggest mysteries of all time.  For nearly 80 years there have been so many conflicting theories it seems impossible we will ever know the truth.  Everything from sabotage or bomb to static electricity to lightning have been postulated.

Although the idea of flying in a rigid airship that used highly flammable hydrogen as a lifting gas seems incredibly impractical and extremely dangerous, it actually makes sense.  After all, on the surface does it seem safe to use nuclear energy to heat homes?  That’s science.

The German made Zeppelin flew for only 14 months before it caught fire and was destroyed while attempting to land at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey.  It had just completed its first North American Transatlantic journey.  Actually, it had essentially been killing time for several hours waiting for a storm to pass so it could land safely.

Several other dirigibles had successful landings in much worse conditions, including being struck by lightning.  Although there was some wind and a light rain started while they were mooring, they had succeeded in waiting out the storm.  However, missing the storm did not save them from disaster.

The eye witness reports vary, as many people from different vantage points reported the fire starting at different locations.  The fire quickly spread due to the hydrogen engulfing the airship in under 40 seconds.

Thirteen passengers, 22 crewman, and one ground crewman died.  For a series of reasons, the death toll was much lower than it could have been.  The ship was only carrying half the capacity of passengers and crew it could have been.  (The return trip was fully booked.)

They were using an alternate landing method so there were very few people on the ground.  Due to the fact they were nearly 12 hours late in arrival, they wouldn’t have much time to prepare for the departure back to Europe.  Because of this reason, the public was not allowed to be at the mooring site.

The media, however, was allowed.  One of those at the landing site was reporter Herbert Morrison for WLS radio in Chicago.  His emotional response to the tragedy remains one of the most iconic reports in American history, including the famous, “oh, the humanity” line.  You can hear it here:  Herbert Morrison

Mort Kunstler is an American illustrator and artist that is well-known for his Civil War works.  His prints are widely available and gained a lot of popularity in the 1980s.  This painting was made for a movie poster of the 1975 movie Hindenburg.

The historical accuracy of this work is remarkable.  He obviously studied the photos and newsreels.  The details of the fabric burning, exposing the duralumin frame is nearly hypnotizing.

I think the color palette of this painting also lends itself well to the subject matter.  Although the photos are in black in white, one can imagine this must be what it looked like.  A sea of red and black.

You can read an incredibly in-depth analysis and review of this painting here:  Hindenburg



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