Hometown: New York, NY
Occupation: Clothing designer
Location at time of fire: Passenger decks
Philip M. Mangone was born in southern Italy on November 29th,1884. He came from seven generations of tailors, and his father, Francesco Mangano, had a successful business designing dresses for the wealthy, often taking his whole staff around the country and staying at the homes of the people for whom they were doing work.
The Mangano family moved to New York in the early 1890s while Philip was a young child, changing their name to the more anglicized "Mangone" in the process. Due to his experience and reputation, Francesco immediately found work as head tailor in various prominent establishments. Philip became a US citizen by virtue of his parents' naturalization and he eventually went into the family trade, working after school with his father, learning to sew seams and quickly progressing to more complicated duties. When Philip was 18 he took a job as a fitter at B. Altman and Co., a 5th Avenue department store, and the following year he made his first trip abroad since his family's arrival, sent on a buying trip by his employer. Philip Mangone soon moved up to a position as a designer at a wholesale dress company owned by Charles M. Cohen, and eventually went into business for himself, opening Mangone Models in New York in 1916, and began to focus on women's suits and coats, having developed a knack for adapting the latest fashion trends from Paris to his own conservative American style. By the 1920s, his designs were being sold in over 200 stores across the country. In addition to his own company at 500 7th Avenue in New York, Mangone was also president of Sarto, Inc., in Cosenza, Italy.
Running companies in both the United States and Europe as he did, Mangone obviously became a seasoned traveler before long. He had, in fact, booked passage on the last voyage of the Lusitania in May of 1915, but cancelled at the last minute. On a trip home from Europe in October of 1919, Mangone was detained by United States Customs agents. He had purchased a jeweled mesh bag from a peddler in Paris for 700 francs (approximately $100) although the bag was actually worth over $1300. Mangone failed to declare it to US Customs on his return to the States, and was charged with smuggling. In late December, he was sentenced by a federal judge to a $500 fine plus a day in the custody of a United States Marshal.
During the late 1920s through the late 1930s Philip Mangone visited Paris four times a year. In May of 1937, he was returning from one of these European business trip. According to some sources, while in Europe he had spent time in Italy visiting a specialist for treatment of a stomach ailment. This may have been why, unlike most of his sea voyages, he was not this time accompanied by one or more business associates, such as Enrico Ruffolo or Mary Liotta. Perhaps this is why he chose the more expensive option of flying home on the Hindenburg.
Mangone, along with 35 other passengers, boarded the Hindenburg at the Flughafen in Frankfurt on the evening of May 3rd, 1937. He reportedly spent much of the flight in his cabin, sick with a particularly nasty cold. He did make it out for dinner and to socialize, however, and in later years recalled that even in the ship's pressurized smoking room "no one was allowed to strike a match on the trip."
Philip Mangone and his fellow passengers watch icebergs near Newfoundland, May 5th, 1937. Image taken from film shot by fellow passenger Joseph Spah (and later recovered from the wreckage.)
As the Hindenburg approached her landing field at Lakehurst, NJ on the evening of May 6th, Mangone was watching the landing operations from one of the long banks of observation windows which lined either side of the passenger decks. Accounts vary, however, as to whether he was in the portside dining room or the starboard lounge, although he was most likely on the starboard side.
Either way, shortly after watching the ship's landing ropes drop and the ground crew hauling them off to be connected up to winches near the air station's mooring mast, Mangone saw "a flash like lightning and heard a loud report" as the ship's stern suddenly erupted in flames.
As he later recalled:
Somehow, in the flashing second of the explosion, I retained my presence of mind. I grabbed a chair and smashed it through the window. I gripped the window sill and looked out. We seemed a little less than 200 feet high. I said to myself, 'I can't jump. We're too high. I'll break my legs.' But I couldn't wait. A moment or two later, as the wrecked ship sank downward, I jumped.
The framework of the dirigible pinned me down. I lay flat in the tangle of wreckage, but my body wasn't crushed. I worked frantically to get myself out of the wreckage. Desperately, I scraped a hole into the dirt. Somehow I burrowed myself out like a mole. I was conscious all the time. It seemed like an age before I squirmed through.
I stood up, dazed. I wheeled around dizzily. The shock had been so great I didn't know what I was doing. I was navigating without thinking.
All around me was the smell of burning flesh. Men were rushing about excitedly. Some were badly burned passengers, others members of the ground crew. The scene was indescribable. Everything was in a panic. Passengers were crying and screaming. I reeled under my own steam toward a building in the distance.
Meanwhile, on the ground, Mangone's 31 year-old daughter Catherine and his 30 year-old daughter Florence, her five year-old daughter Joan in tow, had been watching the landing from the visitors' area along with Mangone's business partner, Nathan Cohen. Young Joan had been given the rare treat of skipping kindergarten that day so that she could accompany her mother to the airfield, and as she watched the big silver airship hovering in the air, she suddenly saw what she thought were bright, beautiful fireworks. It was, of course, the Hindenburg going up in flames before their eyes. Though Joan was too young to understand what was happening, the rest of the family was horrified at what they were seeing, and none of them thought it possible that anyone could make it out of the inferno alive. Catherine frantically repeated to herself, "Daddy died right away… Daddy died right away!" as Cohen fainted and fell to the ground at her feet. Then, seeing people moving about near the wreckage, she climbed over the fence onto the field to find her father.
She hadn't gotten far before Herb Morrison, a radio announcer from WLS Chicago who had been recording a description of the landing and was now on the field looking for people to interview, grabbed her by the arm and asked her name and who she was looking for. Irritated, she tried to pull away from him. "Go away! I have to find my father!"
"Tell me his name!" begged Morrison. "If he's saved, I'll broadcast his name so that your mother will know he's safe." Catherine gave him her father's name and began to run again toward the wreckage. In fact, Mangone's name was among the first to be reported among the survivors by the press. Initially, the list of surviving passengers included only Mangone (misspelled "Mongon"), Joseph Spah, and Clifford Osbun.
Mangone himself, meanwhile, was staggering away from the wreckage. Sailors and other rescuers were trying to lead him to an ambulance, but he flatly refused. "I won't go. My daughters are here. They'll find me."
At that moment, Herb Morrison was approaching the wreckage when he saw Mangone, his hands raised high over his head, arguing with the sailors. When he realized that this was the same man whose daughter he had just talked to, Morrison offered to help Mangone find his family. He noticed, however, how badly burned and blistered Mangone was and as he escorted him away from the wreckage he made sure to hold Mangone only under his arms, remembering from his old Boy Scout training from his youth that under the arms would be the least likely place for him to be burned.
Not far away, Catherine Mangone was talking to another survivor named Joseph Späh and a couple of sailors when the headlights of a passing car illuminated her father and Morrison walking towards them. Overjoyed, she ran to her father and Morrison realized with alarm that she was about to throw her arms around him and hug him. Not knowing what else to do, Morrison slapped her before she could burst the blisters that covered her father's skin, possibly injuring him far more severely than he already was. Morrison immediately apologized profusely, explaining her father's condition and how careful they needed to be with him until they could get him medical attention.
The radio announcer then assisted the two of them into an ambulance bound for the air station's infirmary, and then headed back to his recording setup in the airplane hangar next to the huge Zeppelin hangar, where he made good on his promise to broadcast Mangone's name.
"Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m back again. I raced down to the burning ship, and just as I walked up to the ship, overclimbed those picket lines, I met a man coming out… dazed… dazed, he couldn’t find his way. I grabbed ahold of him: it’s Philip Mangone. Philip Mangone, M-A-N-G-O-N-E, of New York. Philip Mangone… he’s burned terribly in the hands, and he’s burned terribly in the face, his eyebrows and… all his hair is burned off, but he’s walking and talking, plainly and distinctly, and he told me he jumped! He jumped with other passengers! Now, there’s a Mr. Spay, it sounds like Spay, we’re not sure of it, and, uh, he also got out, and we noticed the, uh, lines… the different lines, the, uh, airship lines, and the American Airways, their ambulances are down there, and they’re taking people out of the wreckage! It seems that a number of them jumped clear when the explosion occurred in the tail. Now, I – I’ve just been running up with Mr. Mangone, and put him in a car, his wife and daughter met him, and I put them in the car with him, and sent him to the field hospital with the other passengers who have been saved."
In fact, Morrison was in error on one point. Philip Mangone's wife was not among those at the airfield waiting to meet them. The couple had been divorced for many years at that point, and though they were still on quite friendly terms with one another, she had not come out to Lakehurst with the others that day. (The "Mr. Spay" to whom Morrison referred was passenger Joseph Spah.)
As the ambulance dropped Mangone and his daughter off at the infirmary, Mangone told his Catherine, "Go telephone the family." Knowing that he wouldn't take no for an answer, she headed off to find a phone. She tried to use a phone in one of the Navy buildings nearby, but was told that it was for Navy use only. A sailor in a truck drove her over to the giant airship hangar where there was a Western Union telegraph booth. Unfortunately, since the air station's public relation's office had arranged for only one telephone for the press (thinking that it would more than suffice for a lightly-reported routine airship landing) the telegraph office was jammed with reporters, who were all trying to use it to get their stories filed. When they realized that Catherine was trying to send news about a survivor, they immediately put her at the front of the line where she sent two telegrams, one of which was to her uncle, Dr. George Mangone of Union City, NJ. She later learned that both telegrams were delivered within half an hour.
Dr. George Mangone immediately contacted his and Philip's other three brothers, Joseph, Nicholas, and Basil, and the four of them piled into George's car and drove down to Lakehurst. Philip, meanwhile, was given first aid at the air station infirmary, then his daughters and Nate Cohen took him to Paul Kimball Hospital in nearby Lakewood.
Mangone was still not truly aware of how badly he was burned, as the shock had still not worn off just yet. His face, head and ears were badly burned and his hair was almost all gone except for one small lock on his forehead. The back of his coat was burned straight through to his skin where he'd crawled under white-hot girders, and his hands were also badly scorched.
He later recalled:
"I was "alive" for several hours. That is, I knew what I was doing. The burns hadn't got to me yet; I didn't feel them too much. But that night, in the hospital, I was knocked out. I lapsed into unconsciousness. I was in great pain just before my sense deserted me. I was unconscious for a week and after that I was sick for weeks."
It may or may not have literally been a week, but when Mangone was conscious again his family was there with him. He kept asking Catherine how he looked. Though his burned face was badly swelled, to the point where his eyes were little more than slits, Catherine kept assuring him that he looked fine. Eventually he asked to see his granddaughter, Joan, who was with her mother Florence in one of the hospital waiting rooms. Catherine went out to get her niece, but first she made sure to tell her, "Granddaddy looks a little funny, but if he asks how he looks, tell him he looks fine."
She then took Joan into Philip's room, and as expected he asked the little girl, "How do I look, dear?"
Without missing a beat, the five year-old replied, "You look awful, Grandpa!"
Mangone erupted with laughter. "Thank God somebody'll tell me the truth!"
Philip Mangone remained hospitalized for six months. After a stay at Paul Kimball, he was transferred to Medical Center at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York, where he was unable to leave his chair for four months. In all, he spent six months in the hospital, undergoing skin grafts in spots where his burns had been particularly bad, particularly on his hands. When he was finally discharged, however, Mangone promptly took a trip to Chicago via airplane, mainly to prove to himself that he wasn't afraid to fly after his ordeal. Mangone later said that none of the Hindenburg survivors were burned worse than he was although several of them, notably Captain Max Pruss, would have very likely tended to disagree with him. Unlike survivors like Pruss, Mangone was not terribly disfigured by his burns. He lost small bits of both ears and most of his black hair grew back in white, with one small patch of hair above one of his eyes never growing back at all. He also had some heavy scars on his hands where he had been given skin grafts, but was fortunate in that he retained full use of his hands. But other than that the only indication that he'd been in a fire was the fact that, according to a nephew, Philips's face looked perpetually sunburnt for the rest of his life. He also kept, as a grim souvenir, the suit of clothes he'd been wearing when he escaped from the Hindenburg.
His medical treatment, however, ended up being costly. All told, his hospital bills totaled $37,000. He did eventually receive compensation of $5,000 from the German government, but that was hardly ample enough to cover Mangone's medical costs. Luckily, however, Mangone's business continued to thrive and it's unlikely that he wanted for money. Mangone continued his regular business trips to Europe, and especially Paris. The last time he was there before WWII, in 1940, he stayed until mid-May – thirty days before Paris fell to the Nazis. During WWII, Mangone designed the uniform and coat worn by the Women's Army Corps. He continued producing clothing designs after the war, many of which incorporated elements of his wartime military designs. In 1946, Mangone won Fashion Trades magazine's Gold Thimble award as one of the country's top ten designers, based on national polling of retailers. He continued to exhibit at trade shows and charity fashion shows throughout the rest of his life.
Philip Mangone passed away on December 6th, 1957, at the age of 73.
(Special thanks to Philip Mangone's granddaughter Joan Ruffalo, as well as to Nick Mangone, Philip Mangone, and Philip Zies, grand-nephews of Philip Mangone, for their help in piecing together Philip's story.)