Monday, December 15, 2008

John and Emma Pannes



Passengers

Ages: John Pannes - 60
Emma Pannes - 56

Residence: Plandome, Long Island, New York

Mr. Pannes' occupation: New York manager of Hamburg-America Line

Location at time of fire: B-deck passenger cabins

Died in wreck


John Pannes was the New York manager for the Hamburg-America Steamship Line, which also handled arrangements for the Hindenburg's flights to Lakehurst. He and his wife Emma were born on the same day, four years apart – John in New York on September 14th, 1876, and Emma (born Emma Romeiser) in Belleville, IL on September 14th, 1880 – and had been married since sometime around approximately 1910. They had two children: Natalie, 22, and Hilgard, 19, and lived in Plandome on Long Island, New York where they had maintained a home for many years.


John Pannes (arrow) at a meeting between officials of the Hamburg-America Line and the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei in summer of 1936. The tall gentleman to the left of Mr. Pannes is Willy von Meister, the United States representative for the DZR. In the front row, fourth from left, is Dr. Hugo Eckener, chairman of the DZR's Supervisory Board and former commander of the LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin.


John and Emma Pannes had sailed to Germany in April onboard the Hamburg-America Line steamer Bremen, intending to fly back on the Hindenburg's first North American trip of the 1937 season. In his capacity as a manager with the Hamburg-America Line, Mr. Pannes had flown to Europe on the Hindenburg the previous May.

During the Hindenburg's flight across the ocean, John and Emma Pannes befriended a number of their fellow passengers including Margaret Mather, who subsequently included the couple in an article she wrote about the Hindenburg's last flight for the November 1937 issue of Harper's Magazine (though she omitted their names for publication.) Miss Mather spoke of having after-dinner coffee with them and passing the time with Mrs. Pannes in the ship's reading lounge.

The afternoon of May 6th, the Pannes' son Hilgard drove from Plandome down to Lakehurst to meet his parents, although he was somewhat concerned about the fact that he had to leave his grandmother Hilda Pannes, 87 years old and ailing, alone at their Long Island home.


John Pannes and his son Hilgard


Meanwhile, as the Hindenburg cruised over New York that same afternoon, Emma Pannes tried to see their house in order to point it out to Margaret Mather. Unable to spot it, Mrs. Pannes was at least able to show Miss Mather the bay where their hometown of Plandome was located. As the afternoon progressed and the Hindenburg passed over the airbase at Lakehurst and flew out to the Jersey coast to wait for the stormy weather to clear, Emma Pannes and Miss Mather kept an eye on Lakehurst's massive Zeppelin hangar, visible for miles around from the air. Occasionally the storm clouds would obscure the hangar, and Miss Mather would playfully chide Mrs. Pannes for having not kept a close enough eye on it. They watched deer scatter from beneath the ship as they flew over the Jersey pine barrens. One of the stewards brought them sandwiches at about 6:30 that evening, informing them that it might be another hour or two before they landed.

As the Hindenburg approached the mooring mast at Lakehurst shortly after 7:00 PM, Mr. and Mrs. Pannes were standing by the observation windows in the dining salon on the portside of the ship along with other passengers, Margaret Mather among them. With the ship apparently just minutes away from landing, Mrs. Pannes decided to go downstairs to their cabin to get her coat. Contrary to the way the story has been told in various airship history books, with Mr. Pannes remaining at the dining room window while his wife went downstairs, it seems that Mr. Pannes in fact went with her.

Once downstairs, Mr. Pannes apparently remained in the main hallway on the starboard side, probably watching the landing through the windows set into the B-deck floor while his wife went to their cabin. The Pannes' cabin was in the new passenger cabin area that had recently been built just aft of the main B-deck hallway. As Mr. Pannes waited, fellow passenger Karl Otto Clemens came downstairs to get his suitcase, pausing next to the windows to take photographs of the landing crew on the ground below.


The approximate locations of John and Emma Pannes on B deck at the time of the fire.


When the ship caught fire moments later, Clemens called to Mr. Pannes to jump through one of the windows. John Pannes turned instead towards the door to the new passenger cabin area, saying that he first had to find Emma, and rushed off. It was the last time either of the Pannes' were seen alive.

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