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Photo courtesy C.V. "Bud" Norris
On the evening of May 6, 1937, the news of the massive explosion of the German airship Hindenburg rocked the world. 36 people died as the craft hovered at its arrival at Lakehurst Naval Air Station. This disaster foreshadowed the end of the commercial rigid airship, and the end of an era.
The town of Lakehurst, located 13 miles from Seaside Heights, is the location of the former Air Station and was the pioneering center of lighter-than-air (LTA) aeronautics. The Navy acquired the area of the Air Station in 1917 for "use as a dirigible field", and built a huge hanger known as Hanger No.1, which still stands today.
The first rigid aircraft, the USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) landed in Lakehurst in 1923. The base served as a training and operational center and well as a development center for what was believed would be a viable commercial transportation industry. Smaller, non-rigid airships known as blimps also operated from the base as anti-submarine aircraft.
The German aircraft industry pushed forward the LTA for commercial travel. Beginning in 1928, both the famous Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg made stops at Lakehurst, the first transatlantic air service. The Graf Zeppelin made a round-the-world flight which began and ended at Lakehurst.
By 1937, German success with commercial LTA flights had sparked American interest in rigid airships. The Hidenburg tragedy smashed this interest, as 36 people lost their lives on that evening, including the first fatalities in German commercial aircraft history.
Today a chain-outlined pad and bronze plaque mark the spot of the disaster. Visitors are permitted at the location, and there is also a small static display of aircraft near Hanger No.1. Visitors can obtain a pass at the main gate.
Additional information can be obtained from:
Navy Lakehurst Historical Society
PO Box 328
Lakehurst, NJ 08733
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