My very first airplane flight was in December of 1969, ORD to LAX via Continental Airlines. (On the day that the first 707 jet was to land at O'Hare International Airport, I went outside of our family home and stood on the suburban street to see it fly overhead and hear for the first time the noise that was to interrupt telephone conversations for years to come.) There is nothing that can compare to the takeoff I experienced at 20 years old. The power of the engines, as we accelerated down the runway, seemed to cause the very air to vibrate. In all of the flights that have followed, I have searched in vain for that first thrill of being airborne. As passengers in coach, we were treated to lavish service, hot meals, and cocktails for a minimum charge. The stewardesses (only young, attractive, single women at that time) were attentive and solicitous of our comfort, offering pillows and blankets and more cocktails.
Today I use FF miles to upgrade from coach when flying long distances. Flying first class from Palm Springs to Boston last year, the service was not quite as good as it used to be in coach, but the cocktails are free. (Okay, not really free, but included in the first class airfare.)
Travel, for me, has always been about the journey and rarely about the destination. So yes, I compare the seat pitch of different airlines and different seats within an airplane before booking a flight. (Seatguru.com) I read reviews of cruise ships and lust over pictures of accommodations on luxury airlines. And hunger for the glory days of travel.
There were no greater glory days of passenger air travel than when the Zepplins flew the skies. The trip from Frankfurt, Germany to Lakehurst, NJ took at least two days and change. If the weather dictated, it could take much longer as the airship navigated around storms when possible. The Hindenburg's final flight took over 77 hours. And while I could no more have afforded a berth on the Hindenburg than I can now afford a suite on Etihad Airlines, I can still stare at old photos and imagine what life on board must have been like for those able to pay the premium for a fast transatlantic voyage.
For an online experience of what it was like on the Hindenburg, go to Airships: The Hindenburg and other Zeppelins. There you will find the original passenger brochure from the Hindenburg, pictures to set the imagination soaring and journal entries from passengers and journalists. But reserve a large block of time as this website, run by Daniel Grossman, who has generously permitted the use of images from his site, is a treasure trove of all things airships.
Passenger cabins on board the Hindenburg were in the hull of the ship, unlike those of the Graff Zepplin which were in the gondola. The port side dining room and starboard lounge were located between the cabins and the passenger promenade:
Passenger Deck A
Click to enlarge
On the deck below were the Shower, Lavatories, Smoking Room, Officers' and Crews' Mess and the kitchen, complete with a dumbwaiter to deliver hot meals to the dining room on Deck A. Additional passenger cabins were added to B Deck when the Hindenburg was forced to use hydrogen gas which provided greater lift than the safer helium.
The smoking room was accessed through an airlock that only allowed one person at a time to enter or leave. The pressure in the room itself was higher than that on the rest of the airship to prevent a stray wisp of hydrogen from getting in and being exposed to burning cigarettes and cigars. All passenger matches and lighters were collected at embarkation, for obvious safety reasons, and there was one electric lighter provided in the smoking room for use on board. Also accessible from the smoking room was a bar, manned by Max Schultze, a friendly bartender whose job also included insuring that no one left the smoking room with any lit smoking materials.
Lower Deck B
Click to enlarge
There was enough room in each cabin for the passengers to hang the few articles of clothing that they would need for their journey, a fold-down sink basin with hot and cold water taps, a fold-down table, an upper and lower bunk with ladder and a folding camp stool. Not unlike modern railway cabins in a sleeper car. Except of course, that these walls were constructed of fabric-covered foam panels, and the ladder and beds were made of lightweight aluminum.
Meals were served on linen tablecloths in the port side dining room where the tables and chairs were of lightweight, tubular aluminum with red upholstery.
The Dining Room and Promenade
Between meals, the passengers would gather in the Lounge, for card games, or to work jigsaw puzzles or to be entertained by fellow travelers. A separate room was provided for those who wished to quietly read or write letters.
Promenade next to Passenger Lounge
Note open Observation Window
But by far, the most popular spot on the airship was the Smoking Room.
The bar and smoking room were also the scene of a raucous party on the Hindenburg’s maiden voyage to America, where passenger Pauline Charteris improvised a kirschwasser cocktail after the ship ran out of gin for martinis.
Airships: The Hindenburg and other Zeppelins
Smoking Room on Deck B
At the time of the maiden voyage of the Hindenburg, Pauline Charteris was married to the mystery writer Leslie Charteris, whose most famous character was Simon Templar, also known as The Saint. And in one of the few liberties that Max Allan Collins takes with the passenger list, Leslie Charteris is now divorced and returning to the States on the Hindenburg's final voyage in The Hindenburg Murders
The Hindenburg Murders
by Max Allan Collins
Published by Berkley
June 1st 2000
I had not planned on writing about Max Allan Collins work two weeks in a row, but just as I discovered that the Lusitania had been torpedoed and sunk 99 years before last week's diary, I realized that the 77th anniversary of the Hindenburg disaster occurred on May 6. Which could be taken as some kind of omen about travel during the first part of this month. And while, like most Americans, I was aware of the violent end to the Hindenbrug (Oh, the humanity) I had never given much thought to the flight that proceeded the fire at Lakehurst. Fortunately, Max Allan Collins did. And as in his other disaster novels, he has researched the historic details and has selected another mystery writer as his protagonist.
Leslie Charteris, now divorced, was returning to the States on the Hindenburg when he was recruited to use his skills to quietly investigate his fellow passengers. One of them, a Nazi spy collecting information during the passage, has been murdered. Much like his protagonist, Charteris, debonair, charming and sporting a monocle has little trouble ingratiating himself into the different groups of passengers and in finding an attractive young woman with whom to spend his evenings.
During his investigation, Charteris begins to suspect that the murdered spy may have been involved in a plot to sabotage the airship. As the hours tick down to Lakehurst, the search for answers becomes more intense as the lives of 97 passengers and crew are in jeopardy if Charteris' suspicions are confirmed.
Though not a highly complicated mystery, it is a fun romp much in the style of the 1930s detective novels. Scattered throughout are references to the adventures of the Saint, sure to please any fan of Leslie Charteris. As usual, at the end of the novel, Collins gives credit to his sources and explains that when actual accounts conflicted, he chose the one most suitable to his story.
As a result of his acknowledgements (which BTW, included Airships: The Hindenburg and other Zeppelins) I watched the 1975 disaster movie "The Hindenburg" starring George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft. Although the story was pretty typical of 70s disaster flicks, the sets, as would be expected in a Robert Wise film, were every bit as accurate as Collins claimed. It was worth watching just to see the layout of the Hindenburg.
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