The Hindenburg Over Silver Bay


About 15 minutes before midnight on July 1, 1936, the German airship LZ-129, the Hindenburg, glided across the night sky over Silver Bay.

The Hindenburg was on its 24th flight, en route from Frankfurt, Germany, to Lakehurst, New Jersey. But after reaching North America, instead of following the coastline down to New York City, Captain Ernst Lehmann instead chose to go inland as far as Montreal before turning south. He then followed the valley of the Richelieu River to Lake Champlain.

At 10:50 p.m., the Plattsburgh Daily Press received a call that the ship was passing their way. And at 11:05 p.m., the Hindenburg — all 803 majestic feet of it — emerged from the darkness to thrill reporters who were working the night shift. Farther south, a woman at Thompson’s Point on the Vermont shore said the Zeppelin sounded like “a fleet of airplanes” as it passed overhead. Indeed, the craft’s four Daimler-Benz 16-cylinder diesel engines were clearly audible from 400 feet above Lake Champlain.

At 11:35 p.m., it passed over Ticonderoga, inspiring a Sentinel reporter to write, “Silhouetted against a moonlit, star-flecked sky, the Zeppelin created a thrilling, almost awe-inspiring sight.” Now over Lake George, the Hindenburg passed over the Silver Bay Association at about 11:45 p.m. Given the “early to bed, early to rise” nature of the conference center, one wonders if anyone noticed.

At 11:55 pm the Hindenburg was over Bolton Landing. People who knew about the flight had stayed up; they reported seeing a taillight and three running lights as well as illumination from the cabin, and heard the engines clearly. At 12:02 a.m., the Zeppelin was visible from Glens Falls; at 12:15 a.m. it was seen over Saratoga Springs, and it passed over Ballston Spa at 12:25 a.m.; many residents there were drawn outside by the sound of the engines; others had been alerted by telephone calls from friends in Saratoga Springs. The Hindenburg then passed over Albany and continued down the Hudson River towards its destination, Lakehurst, New Jersey.

On August 1, 1936, a month after its passage over Lake George, the Hindenburg flew over the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. It was excellent propaganda, a marvel of aviation and thought to be the future of international travel. But on May 6, 1937, during a routine landing at Lakehurst, the Hindenburg unexpectedly caught fire and crashed. Capt. Lehmann, who had had piloted the Hindenburg down Lake George, died in hospital the following day.

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— Special thanks to “The Night the Airship Hindenburg Flew Over Lake George” by Joseph W. Zarzynski and “Hindenburg: When Dirigibles Roamed North Country Skies” by Lawrence P. Gooley, in addition to contemporary newspaper accounts and Hindenburg histories.

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