Fire in the Sky

6 May

Today is the 75th anniversary of the crash of the airship Hindenburg at the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

The Hindenberg burns (Photo from the Lakehurst Naval Air Station website)

The Hindenberg burns
(Photo from the Lakehurst Naval Air Station website)

(Other views can be seen at

The Hindenberg was 804 feet long and 15 stories tall, according to the New York Daily News today, and I think if that thing were seen flying around Manhattan in our era, it would induce more than a few nightmares. (The Daily News’s page 1 headline today was “Evil’s Smile,” about the all-day arraignment at Guantanamo Bay of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others.)

"The Hindenburg Airship, 1936" over Manhattan

“The Hindenburg Airship, 1936” over Manhattan
(image from

Size of the Hindenburg compared with a Boeing 707

Size of the Hindenburg compared with a Boeing 707
(Illustration from

Several things I learned today as I looked at Hindenburg stories online surprised me. One was that the dirigibles had been a regular means of transportation for more than 30 years. (For definitions, see Dirigibles, Zeppelins, and Blimps: The Differences Explained on

Despite its size, the 5-year-old son of one of the designers lifted the lighter-than-air Hindenburg with his hands, that now-elderly son recalled in today’s Daily News article.

And then there’s this:

Swastikas on the Hindenburg

Swastikas on the Hindenburg
(AP photo on

Jay Maeder wrote in a New York Daily News article in 2000:

EVEN AS Adolf Hitler was genially assuring England and France that his rearmament of the Rhineland indicated no unpeaceable designs, and even as the American Eugenics Society was meeting in New York to hail the Reich’s forcible sterilizations of the feeble-minded and other racial defectives as “a great step ahead,” the pride of Nazi Germany, the mighty Zeppelin christened the Hindenburg, was over the North Atlantic, bound for New Jersey, inaugurating the first regularly scheduled air passenger, mail and freight service between Europe and the United States. The 129th and biggest ship to roll out of the Friedrichshafen zeppelinwerks since 1900, in the skies just three months now, had already sailed from Germany to Brazil and back. Now the great silver queen was making the first of 10 projected round trips between Frankfurt and Lakehurst. LZ129 was more than just an elegant flying hotel attempting to rival the luxuries of the ocean liners. It aspired to be nothing less than a symbol of the enduring friendship between the U.S. and Hitler’s proud new Germany, the first of a great fleet of transatlantic dirigibles for which Zeppelin Co. boss Dr. Hugo Eckener was quite frankly fishing for American capital. To such an end, indeed, President Franklin Roosevelt had been pleased to make available to Germany the facilities of the Navy air station for the trials; England and France, by contrast, had refused to let the ship so much as overfly them. In Congress, a bill to enlist federal support through mail subsidies awaited introduction. American Airlines was prepared to invest as well.

(Here the U.S. government’s willingness to make deals with evil is an unnerving echo of today’s other big story, about the arraignment of KSM and the other 9/11 conspirators. The U.S., of course, supported Osama Bin Laden and his mujahadeen in Afghanistan when they were fighting the Soviet Union.)

My dream link to today’s Hindenburg anniversary is pretty slim—the anniversary reminded me that I’d had a dream recently (I thought; actually June 23 of last year) that I titled “Fire in the Sky.” I didn’t remember much else about it, but when I looked the dream up, only its apocalyptic feeling of doom resonated with the Hindenburg fire or 9/11.

Fire in the Sky (6/23/11)

Daytime, hazy. I’m with K. and a woman—D.? a friend of K.’s?— standing looking out over the parapet wall on a roof setback of a very large, concrete apartment building…

Beyond the building is an unattractive urban setting, apparently Chicago. A busy expressway passes right in front of the building. There’s an ugly mixture of lower-rise buildings on the other side, then a wide river, then a skyline. On both sides of the river, the buildings on the left are low, the ones on the right are tall. Sky takes up the larger portion on the view, and there’s an epically large, puffy bank of white clouds just to the left of, and over, the skyline.

B-17 Flying Fortress

B-17 Flying Fortress
(photo from

A plane of a sort of old military style (like a B52, but smaller) [inaccurate: a B29 or B17], seeming fairly distant, flies from the left toward the bank of clouds. As we watch, a missile rises from left-of-middle across the river, angled in the direction the plane is traveling and leaving a black contrail. A moment later, another one maybe a mile to the right of it, then another one to the right of that. So three black, vertical contrails. One of us mumbles, “Missiles.”

The plane and the missiles both disappear into the bank of clouds, but clearly they’re going to intersect. A few moments later, a massive orange flame, probably hundreds of feet tall, bursts out of the middle of the cloud bank, and then a second one from lower in the clouds. “Fire in the sky,” I say softly, thinking of one of the signs of the end times. K. and D. nod in agreement.

The link between that dream set in Chicago and today’s anniversary became slightly less slim, however, as I continued to read up on the Hindenburg disaster. The Chicago Tribune‘s story today about the Hindenburg was titled “18 years before the Hindenburg, a blimp disaster hit the Loop.

And now it occurs to me that this is a plane from World War 2, so it’s in the same general period as the Hindenburg.

View from near Jumel-Morris Mansion

View eastward from near Jumel-Morris Mansion
(photo by DTH-LTJK)

By the way, in the record of my “Fire in the Sky” dream, I had noted an observation I made upon awakening, about the “city on both sides of the river”: “This isn’t a view of Chicago I would know well. It reminds me more of the view from the cliffs of upper Manhattan looking east—from, say, Jumel-Morris Mansion or the New Leaf Café.” This double identity—it’s Chicago but it’s New York—is another example of the double dream exposure I wrote about the other day in “From a quilt to a dream: Double image.”

(Google map for Jumel-Morris Mansion, added 5/7/12:)

Google map for Jumel-Morris Mansion

Google map for Jumel-Morris Mansion

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