Sunday, January 24, 2010

Speech: The Hindenburg Disaster / Herbert Morrison

Today’s speech is a departure from movie speeches.  It is a speech with which many will be familiar, the commentary by Herbert Morrison of the destruction of the airship Hindenburg.
The film and audio can be seen at:

The speech is as follows:

It's practically standing still now.

They've dropped ropes out of the nose of the ship; and they've been taken ahold of down on the field by a number of men. It's starting to rain again; it's—the rain had slacked up a little bit. The back motors of the ship are just holding it,) just enough to keep it from—

It's burst into flames! It burst into flames, and it's falling, it's crashing! Watch it! Watch it! Get out of the way! Get out of the way! Get this, Charlie; get this, Charlie! It's fire—and it's crashing! It's crashing terrible! Oh, my! Get out of the way, please! It's burning and bursting into flames; and the—and it's falling on the mooring-mast. And all the between.

This is terrible; this is the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world. "Oh my Jesus!" its flames... Crashing, oh! Four- or five-hundred feet into the sky and it—it's a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. It's smoke, and it's frame's down; and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring-mast.

Oh, the humanity and all the passengers screaming around here.

I told you; it—I can't even talk to people Their friends are on there. Ah! It's—it—it's a—ah! I—I can't talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest: it's just laying there, mass of smoking wreckage. Ah! And everybody can hardly breathe and talk and the screaming. Lady, I—I—I'm sorry. Honest: I—I can hardly breathe.

I—I'm going to step inside, where I cannot see it. Charlie, that's terrible. Ah, ah;—I can't. Listen, folks; I—I'm gonna have to stop for a minute because I've lost my voice. This is the worst thing I've ever witnessed.

Some facts and trivia:

The event took place in 1937.

Morrison’s commentary was not live. It was stitched with separate newsreel footage and shown later.
None of the newsreel camera operators caught the first flames. Their lenses were focused on the ground crew in anticipation of a repeat of ground crew being pulled up by the mooring ropes as happened with the USS Akron.

 It was the first time that recordings of a news event were broadcast.

 Morrison's usual broadcast work was as an announcer on live musical programs, but his earlier successful reporting of midwestern floods from an airplane led to his assignment at Lakehurst that day.

The usual recording that is heard is not an accurate recording of Morrison’s actual voice. The recorder on which his voice was recorded was running slow, with the result that playbacks have been faster and Morrison’s voice higher.

The real voice and speed can be heard at:

Colourised footage can be seen at:

At the point at which Morrison says “It’s burst into flames” there was a shock wave which caused the recorder to bounce on the disc creating deep grooves until Engineer Nehlson is able to momentarily lift the lathe from the disc and place it back down. The discs, which are contained at the National Archives reflect the grooves and the force of the explosion.

35 of the 96 passengers died and one person on the ground died.

My mother remembers seeing it fly overhead in Holland when she lived there.

(All of the above websites are worth a visit).

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