Today in Media History: Hindenburg explodes and a reporter cries out, ‘Oh, the humanity’

May 6, 2015
Category: Uncategorized

On May 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg exploded over Lakehurst, New Jersey after a flight from Germany.

A reporter for Chicago radio station WLS described the accident, “It burst into flame and it’s falling….this is terrible, this is one of the worst catastrophes in the world….oh, the humanity.”

The front page of the Mount Carmel (Pennsylvania) Item:

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Herb Morrison was working for Chicago radio station WLS when he traveled to the Lakehurst Naval Station in New Jersey to record what should have been another routine landing of the German airship Hindenburg. WLS engineer Charles Nehlsen and Morrison brought a disc machine to record the story. Morrison’s detailed description of the ship’s landing was running quite smoothly when the hydrogen-filled dirigible burst into flames.

His description of the Hindenburg explosion was not broadcast live, but the recording soon aired over the NBC Red and Blue radio networks. Here is an excerpt from Morrison’s report:

Well here it comes, ladies and gentlemen, we’re out now, outside of the hangar, and what a great sight it is, it’s a marvelous sight. It’s coming down out of the sky pointed directly towards us and toward the mooring mast. The mighty diesel motors just roared, the propellers biting into the air and throwing it back into a gale-like whirlpool….It’s practically standing still now, they’ve dropped ropes out of the nose of the ship, and its been taken ahold of down on the field by a number of men. It’s starting to rain again, the rain had slacked up a little bit, the back motors of the ship are just holding it just enough to keep it from….

It burst into flame! It burst into flame and it’s falling, it’s fire, watch it, watch it, get out of the way, get out of the way, get this Charley, get this Charley, it’s fire and it’s rising, it’s rising terrible, oh my God what do I see? It’s burning, bursting into flame, and it’s falling on the mooring mast and all of the folks agree that this is terrible, this is one of the worst catastrophes in the world, oh the flames are rising, oh, four or five hundred feet into the sky. It’s a terrific crash ladies and gentlemen, the smoke and its flames now and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast, oh, the humanity, and all the passengers. Screaming around me, I’m so, I can’t even talk, the people, it’s not fair, it’s, it’s, oh! I can’t talk, ladies and gentleman, honest, it’s a flaming mass of smoking wreckage, and everybody can hardly breathe, I’m concentrating. Lady, I’m sorry, honestly, I can hardly breathe, I’m going to step inside where I cannot see it. Charley that’s terrible. I, I can’t. Listen folks, I’m going to have to stop for a minute, just because I’ve lost my voice, this is the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed.

Ladies and gentlemen I’m back again, I’ve sort of recovered from the terrific explosion, and the terrific crash that occurred just as it was being pulled down to the mooring mast. It’s still smoking and flaming and crashing and banging down there….

The following video includes newsreel film of the explosion and part of Herb Morrison’s original radio report:

See Also:

— “The Hindenburg makes her last landing at Lakehurst.”
Life Magazine, May 1937.

— “Radio Gives Fast Zeppelin Coverage.”
Broadcasting Magazine, May 1937.

— “Hindenburg airship disaster leaves 33 dead.”
The Guardian, May 1937.

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