Monday, October 6, 2008

Let's begin...

Hi, everyone.

I suppose we should get the basics out of the way first. My name is Patrick Russell, and I have been a student of airship history for over 30 years now. In that time, I have had the pleasure of meeting and corresponding with numerous airship historians and enthusiasts, as well as a some former airshipmen. I've had the opportunity to provide historical advice to several documentaries on the Hindenburg, and also had the honor a few years ago of participating in a scientific presentation on the Hindenburg accident for the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society.

It's all a labor of love, of course, as this is not a topic that one can just run off to college and study, nor is there much of a living to be made as an airship historian. But it's something that has been of interest to me since I was about nine years old, and that I have spent a great deal of time researching.

I learned early on that while there were some excellent books on the history of Zeppelin-type airships, and while much vital research into this corner of aviation history had been committed to paper in these books, there were plenty of areas that simply hadn't been thoroughly covered. This is natural for any sort of historical study, of course, and it's what makes history of any kind so fascinating. There are always new things to be discovered by those who feel compelled to delve into specific areas of any given topic.

One thing that struck me many years ago was that while there were quite a number of books written about the German airship Hindenburg, nobody had ever bothered to do an in-depth look at the people who were aboard when the ship crashed. Various accounts of survivors and witnesses have been published, of course, with varying degrees of factual accuracy. Some of these stories are fairly spot-on, some of them much less so, and in one case an absolutely baseless sabotage theory blaming a crew member for the fire was invented back in the early 1960s - a theory that was essentially an act of libel to which the man in question was conveniently unable to respond since he died in the crash.

However, nobody ever seems to have made an attempt to tell the stories of each one of the people who were aboard the Hindenburg's last flight. The dramatic photos and newsreels of the Hindenburg fire are familiar to a great many people, but the 97 people most directly affected by what was happening in those images have, in all too many cases, slowly faded from history as the years have passed. Nowhere has there ever been, for instance, even a collection of photos of each of the people aboard the ship that night.

I find this to be unfortunate and, I hope, something that can be corrected. For a number of years now I have been collecting what info I can on each of the 36 passengers and 61 crew members of the Hindenburg's final voyage. The biggest problem, of course, is finding verifiable information and not simply relying solely on existing published accounts. There is factually solid material in many of those books, of course, but it is often incomplete or mixed with inaccurate information.

Of course, it's not the easiest thing in the world to do a project like this so many decades after the fact, and with a fairly limited budget. I can only hope that what I'm putting together for each of these people is as accurate as possible, and moreover as respectful as possible. While the armchair historian side of me wants to compile as complete a bio as possible for each person, I am also all too aware of the fact that the Hindenburg tragedy turned the world upside down for the friends and families of those who were aboard that night, and even over 70 years later it is a painful subject for the descendants of those who lost their lives in the disaster.

The research I've done for each of these people has come from a variety of sources, including (but not limited to) newspaper articles, National Archive documents, exchange of information with other historians, books, and personal contact with family members of passengers and crew (and in one case, with a Hindenburg survivor.)

It is my hope that what I present in this blog is not only informative for those who may be interested in the personal side of the Hindenburg fire, but that it is also acceptable to those who might have a direct familial connection to somebody whose story ends up being told here (at least to the extent that I am able to tell it.)

So, with that in mind, my intention here is to gradually post a biographical profile of each of the Hindenburg's passengers and crew from the last flight. It occurred to me that this blog would probably be the best way to get the information out there for those who might be interested, although eventually I will most likely put together a website (or possibly a book, if I can get a publisher interested in it) that will be a comprehensive reference source on the Hindenburg, and of which the passenger and crew biographies will be but a part, albeit an important part.

It's also my hope that some folks out there might also know a little more about some of these people than what I've been able to compile. If so, then by all means please feel free to contact me with any corrections or additional information. (And yes, I do speak some German, and can correspond auf Deutsch if you prefer.) I can be reached at

This is, after all, an ongoing project and I would never claim for anything I've written here to be "the final word", as it were. As you will see, many of the posted biographical profiles are shorter and less complete than others. I am also aware of the very real possibility that family members and others close to the subjects of these profiles may have significantly more accurate information about them than what I have had access to. I am always pleased to have the opportunity to correct and/or add to the articles I have written here.

I don't have any specific order planned as far as which profiles I'll post and when. But I will eventually get them all up here.

Let's see how this goes...


Scott Williamson said...

I am evidently one of the only Hindenburg enthusiasts left in the world. Patrick, I think you and I might have corresponded several years ago. I am so thankful that you are compiling this information on the passengers and crew. I have always been tremendously frustrated at how difficult it is to ascertain information such as this.

Patrick Russell said...

Hi Scott,

I do believe we did correspond a bit awhile back. Good to hear from you.

Yeah, it's frustrating how many opportunities were lost over the years as far as doing something like this. I mean, Hoehling had the chance to interview most of the crew survivors when a lot of them were still relatively young men, and instead of getting all their stories written down for posterity, he focused on that sabotage theory of his.

It's a shame, and I still can't believe that here it is over 70 years after the fact - an entire lifetime - and it's only just now getting done at all. And I certainly am only able to do a small fraction of what could have been done decades ago. So much has been lost by now.

But, we do what we can. Glad to see you found the site!

Scott Williamson said...

Patrick, I will "come back" frequently to check for updates and new info.

Allen said...

Wow what great information! I read one of the fictional accounts, by Mooney, wanted to know what was fact and what was fiction. Your research fills in many holes and answers so many questions I didn't even know to ask. Please keep on going. Great. Wow.

Patrick Russell said...

Hi there!

I'm so glad you're enjoying the site. And you hit the nail right on the head... I too read Mooney long, long ago and was always very puzzled as to what was genuine fact and what he just made up. That was really one of the things that eventually got me doing my own research on all these folks.

One thing that I don't think has come up yet in my posts, but that relates to the "Where's the solid ground in a book like Mooney's?" thing is this: Near as I can tell, the whole story about Erdmann, Witt, and Hinkelbein having been "security officers" on the last flight is something that Mooney simply invented for his book.

It was never corroborated anywhere else, and it's my understanding that (as far as any research he may have done in Germany) Mooney spoke no German and his wife (who traveled with him and did much of his translating) spoke only a little bit. How he would have dug up hidden information on a "secret mission" for these three Luftwaffe officers (and particularly on the alleged meeting between then and "Major Hufschmidt") whilst facing such a broad language barrier is beyond me. I don't tend to think that he actually did. Especially since Hufschmidt's first name is so conspicuously absent from the section of the book in which he appears.

There were military observers (German military or US Navy) onboard virtually every major flight the Hindenburg made, and there is every reason to believe that this is all that the three Luftwaffe officers on the last flight were there for.

Anyway, another little tidbit for you there. ;^)

More to come soon, now that my holiday travels are over. Thanks for the kind words, and for reading the site. Sharing this stuff with people who find it even a fraction as fascinating as I do is what makes all the research worthwhile.

Clear skies!

Stephen said...

I have never been a history buff and knew next to nothing about the Hindenburg prior to yesterday. I find it interesting that you have pursued this subject so singlemindedly over such a long period of time.

If you ever turn your attention to the Titanic, let me know. I had some relatives on that one.

I'll be back to read more. Thanks again for your help with my trivia question yesterday.

spaiku said...

I came across your page looking around for Hindenburg information since it's the anniversary today.

I'm impressed with the amount of research you've done on this. very nice.

Patrick Russell said...

Thanks! Glad you found some useful info here.

I should have a couple more bio profiles to put up later today to coincide with the anniversary. Give a check back here later on.