Weegee Wednesdays: “Paris is beautiful”

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Weegee, [Post card from Weegee in Paris to Wilma Wilcox, in New York City], May 28, 1960, (2009.70.75)

Hi Dear…

Paris is BEAUTIFULL
DID A BIG JOB
FOR T.W.A. They
are very HAPPY.
When do you
want to come
over?

LOVE
Weegee

57 years ago tomorrow, Weegee sent this delightful card from Paris to Wilma Wilcox in New York City.

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Mary Ellen Mark, 1940 – 2015

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Mary Ellen MarkTunice, Mississippi, 1991 (456.1993)

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Mary Ellen MarkRoy Cohn, 1986 (457.1993)

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Mary Ellen MarkLas Vegas, 1991 (459.1993)

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Michel AuerMary Ellen Mark, November 14, 1983 (361.1988)

Mary Ellen Mark passed away yesterday, May 25, 2015. She was 75.

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Weegee Wednesday: “17,000 pounds of black market potatoes seized from barbershop”

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Weegee (1899-1968), [17,000 pounds of black market potatoes seized from barbershop, New York], May 20, 1943, (2325.1993)

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Weegee (1899-1968), [17,000 pounds of black market potatoes seized from barbershop, New York], May 20, 1943, (13984.1993)

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Weegee (1899-1968), [17,000 pounds of black market potatoes seized from barbershop, New York], May 20, 1943, (13985.1993)

Seventy two years ago today:

Potatoes au Bay Rum
If you think the potatoes you buy during the next few days smell like hair tonic, chances are they are part of the batch of 17,000 pounds Mayor LaGuardia, the cops, Market Dept. inspectors and the Office of Price Administration found in a midtown barbershop [Charles Barber Shop, 1221 Sixth Avenue]. Yesterday the jobber who brought them here agreed to sell them. They are being taken to Bronx Terminal market for distribution to retailers. The jobber is out on $300 bail for having put the potatoes in bags labeled wheat, oats and bran.
PM, May 20, 1943, p. 18

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PM, May 20, 1943, p. 18

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PM, May 20, 1943, p. 18-19

Potatoes with Aftershave Lotion might be a contemporary version of the title of this story. (“Bay rum is the name of a cologne/aftershave lotion. Other uses include as under-arm deodorant and as a fragrance for shaving soap, as well as a general astringent.” Wikipedia) Why in the world were there starchy, perennial nightshades in a midtown Manhattan barber shop? Why did Weegee take a few photos of the edible tubers leaving a midtown Manhattan barber shop? And why was this newsworthy? And why am I, 72 years later, making a mountain (of mashed potatoes) out of this molehill?
We wanted to get to the root of this potato mystery. Perhaps the best way to answer every question is to visit (or consult online) the New York Public Library… After spending a fruitful few hours planted in front of a microfilm reader in the The Microforms Section, Room 100, of the NYPL in Midtown Manhattan, we now know a little more about the spuds in sacks…

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Daily News, May 20, 1943
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Daily News, May 20, 1943 (NEWS foto)

Next! Some 18,000 pounds of tough-skinned potatoes, that haven’t even been shaved, get the vagabond’s rush from a barbershop at 1221 Sixth Ave. yesterday. The spuds, headed for a Bronx market, eventually will have their eyes picked out by New York housewives. City bought them. Benjamin Caplan, custodian of the potatoes, won a parole..$49.95 profit.

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New York Herald Tribune, May 20, 1943, p.20, Herald Tribune-Acme

Sixth Avenue Barber Shop Loses Its Potatoes
Some of the 17,000 pounds of potatoes found in the barber shop of Charles Falcone at 1221 Sixth Avenue on Tuesday being removed yesterday by Bronx Terminal Market wholesalers for resale to the city’s closed markets.

The wayward potato story was front page news in The Daily News and New York Herald Tribune, while The New York Post, covered the story, sadly with no photos. The Herald Tribune’s coverage was more digestible as it was a little more factual and less tongue-in-cheek.
(The photos published in the News and Tribune are uncredited, I guess that they were not made by Weegee.)
Apparently the potatoes, described as scarce, more valuable than diamonds, and vital to the war effort by Magistrate Anna Kross, were bought by Benjamin Caplan from a farm outside of Plattsburgh, New York, for 2 cents a pound (about 27 cents today) or $343.75 (about $4,663.91 today), where they were at risk of spoiling. Anthony Zubinsky drove them down to Manhattan, for $120 (about $1,628.13 today). Caplan asked his friend Charles Falcone, the barber, if he could store the spuds in Falcone’s barber shop while he tried to sell them, presumably legally, and not on the black market. Apparently unloading 157 bags of the scarce, luxury food, in mislabeled bags, in the middle of the afternoon in midtown Manhattan caught the eye and ire of passersby who notified the authorities. The authorities came raining down on the Charles Barber Shop. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia (1882-1947), with a chip on his shoulder, the Commissioner of Markets , the Commissioner of buildings, (due to the weight of the potatoes, the barber was charged with violating a building code), fire and police departments, and members of the press, descended on the Charles Barber Shop, on Sixth Avenue, near 48th Street.
Mr. Caplan appeared before Magistrate Anna Kross at the Jefferson Market Court. In the end, the Office of Price Administration exonerated Benjamin Caplan, he sold his spuds for a legal price, they were brought to the Bronx Terminal Market, and were sold at the city’s markets below the maximum of 6 cents a pound.
A quote, almost like dessert, from The Herald Tribune, May 20, 1943: “You probably never want to see another potato,” a reporter said to Mr. Caplan.
“I’ll be back up there tomorrow,” he replied wearily, referring to his upstate source of supply, “and if there aren’t any potatoes, I’ll get apples.”

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Weegee Wednesdays: “There was dancing in the streets”

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Weegee, [It’s V-E Day!], May 1945, (15607.1993)

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Weegee, [There was dancing in the streets of New York], May 1945, (15685.1993)

There was Dancing in the Streets
New York — Unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht, although still unofficial, was cue for a bunch of youngsters to carry over their celebrating far into the evening on Times Square. They brought along their musical instruments, sat on cars and sent a solid number bouncing down the White Way. Two sailors caught the mood and to the delight of bobby soxers who beat time with their hands, danced a modern victory version of “The Sidewalks of New York” (typed caption adhere to variant photo)

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Weegee, [Celebrating V-E Day], May 1945, (15680.1993)

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Weegee, [Celebrating V-E Day], May 1945, (15682.1993)

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Weegee, The Lights Go On Again, May 1945, (15608.1993)

The Lights Go On Again
New York, N.Y. — With the celebrations of V-E Day, New York’s brownout was lifted tonight, and the Great White Way sparkled as of old. Here, at Irving Place and E. 14th Street, marquees and signs glow brightly. Note marquee at right, which advertises movies of Hitler and his Nazis, who have become only another turned page in history with unconditional — and complete surrender of Germany. (Typed caption adhered to verso)

To commemorate last week’s 70th anniversary of V-E Day, several photos of Victory in Europe Day in New York City for this week’s Weegee Wednesday.

Weegee’s photos during World War II of the home front in New York City, mostly in Manhattan, are fascinating and largely unexamined (they are rarely included in exhibitions and publications and they don’t conform with the photographer’s hard-boiled, crime, noir, etc. cliches). Here we see a photographer at the top of his game, thoroughly and at times, idiosyncratically, documenting and celebrating, (with a 4×5 inch Speed Graphic camera and Kodak and Ansco film), the inhabitants (to stretch an old joke a bit too far: the Naked City was for a few years the Uniformed City) of New York City’s participation and involvement in a lengthy yet ultimately successful war – the signage, labor, entertainment, blackouts, registration, rallies, rationing, recycling, etc.; culminating in victory celebrations… (Some of the photos were published in PM, many weren’t, and Naked City was published approximately two weeks before atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki…)

Weegee Wednesday is an occasional series exploring the life and work of Weegee.

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60 years ago today the Third Avenue El closed in Manhattan

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Arnold Eagle (1909-1992), Third Avenue El; Chatham Square Station, New York, ca. 1940, (461.1987)

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Arnold Eagle, Third Avenue El; 34th Street Station, New York, 1943, (479.1987)

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Arnold Eagle, Third Avenue El; Looking Up from 27th Street, New York, ca. 1938, (470.1987)

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Lee Sievan (1907-1990), Chatham Square, Where Third and Second Avenues Meet, New York, 1946, (1.1990)

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Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), “El,” Second and Third Avenue Lines, New York, April 24, 1936, (251.1985)

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Arnold Eagle (1909-1992), Under the Third Avenue El, North of 27th St., New York, 1939, (480.1987)

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Weegee (1899-1968), Under the Third Avenue El; But there is beauty along the street of forgotten men… it lies in the patterned black and white gold along the trolley tracks where the morning sun breaks through, Bowery, New York, ca. 1945, (Weegee Portfolio 35)

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Vivian Cherry, Watching the tearing down of the Third Avenue El, New York, 1955, (170.2003)

Remembering the Third Avenue El
The IRT Third Avenue Line, commonly known as the Third Avenue El, was an elevated railway running from Lower Manhattan to the Bronx. Opened in 1878, it was originally operated by the Suburban Rapid Transit Company and later acquired by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) and eventually became part of the New York subway system.
After the Second, Sixth and Ninth Avenue Els were demolished in the early 1940’s, only the Third Avenue El remained, intended to stay in use until the Second Avenue Subway was built to replace it. Pressure to close the Third Avenue El from real estate interests soon followed.
The Third Avenue El was closed in sections from 1950 to 1973 starting with the closure of the South Ferry spur, which connected South Ferry to Chatham Square. The City Hall spur closed in 1953, which started at Park Row in Manhattan and then connected with the South Ferry spur at Chatham Square.
On May 12, 1955 the main portion of the line closed from Chatham Square all the way to East 149th Street in the Bronx, thus ending elevated line service in Manhattan. mta.info

The 3rd Avenue Elevated, nycsubway.org
The Rise and Decline of New York City’s Third Avenue Elevated Train Line, by Lawrence Stelter.


“Third Avenue El” by Carson Davidson, from the Prelinger Archives on archive.org.


“The End of The ‘El'” from the Prelinger Archives on archive.org.

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Weegee Wednesdays: “Wondering if that elusive fame I was after was worth while…”

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Weegee (1899-1968), Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), “a great photographer,” in the office of his gallery, 1944 (Portfolio 26)

71 years ago tomorrow PM published Weegee’s story of his encounter with Alfred Stieglitz with words by Weegee and a fraction of the above photo of Stieglitz seated on a cot in An American Place gallery, 509 Madison Avenue. Also in the photo is a painting of a pair of seagulls on rocks and water by John Marin (1870–1953), and a bunch of pillows and books, including Carl Sandburg’s four-volume biography Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (1939), which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1940. Todd Webb (1905-2000) made a similar portrait, in 1946.

There appears to be only one negative from this meeting, but there are three examples of Weegee’s reporting or non-photographic story telling to compare: PM, Sunday, May 7, 1944, half of the penultimate chapter, “Personalities,” in Naked City (1945), and a brief spoken version, released on the record “Famous Photographers Tell How” (1958). Some excerpts (and commentary/criticism) below:

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PM, May 7, 1944, p. M3

Weegee meets a great man
Weegee brought in a photograph of an old man sitting on a cot, his hands in his lap. Weegee is the cigar-smoking, crime, fire and seamy-side-of-life photographer who lives across the street from police headquarters and does his best work from midnight on.
“This is Stieglitz, Alfred Stieglitz, ” said Weegee. “He’s a great photographer. They called him the Old Master of the Camera in the Saturday Evening Post, [Thomas Craven, “Stieglitz – Old Master of the Camera,” Saturday Evening Post, 216 No.28, January 8, 1944] a couple of months ago.
“For me he is the answer to a question I ask myself sometimes,” said Weegee. “Hundreds of photographers, amateur and professional, including myself are trying to get recognition.
“It’s so tough and impossible that sometimes it makes your heart ache. This Alfred Stieglitz, he became famous both in Europe and America – one of the three, four greatest photographers.

One day he spoke
“On Madison Avenue, in the fifties, you can see him any morning, walking alone, an old man in a black hat. No one bothers to look at him. Just another character. I’ve noticed him many times, walking as if in a trance. I wanted to talk to him, but I was afraid to disturb him. Finally, one day I did. I walked up to him and said, “You Stieglitz?” He stared at me as though I had woken him from a dream. I told him my name. You know, I thought maybe he had read about me in PM or in the camera magazines. He told me he never read about other people or himself.
Stieglitz invited Weegee to his gallery…
“His gallery is called An American Place,” said Weegee. “The name was printed on the door. When he opened it, there was a strong smell of disinfectant, like in a sick room and it was fitted up with paintings hung on the wall.
“There was cubbyhole at the back of the gallery, with a cot in it, and Stieglitz slumped down on it, too exhausted to take his cape off. He started to talk, the most famous photographer in the world, the man who sponsored unknown painters and sculptors who are famous today.
“Stieglitz pointed to a phone near his cot. It never rings, he said. I have been deserted. The paintings on the wall are orphans. No one comes up to see them!
“He was a failure, he told me,” said Weegee, “and others were successful because they had wanted money, because they were politicians, showmen. He himself had not made a photograph in 10 years, and he had never used the products of Eastman Kodak because of their slogan You push a button. We’ll do the rest.”

He cried himself to sleep
“He told me: I am 81 years old. The happiest time in my life was in Berlin, at the turn of the century, when it was free. When I returned to America, I used to cry myself to sleep every night for two years thinking of the dirty streets here.
“I looked around the studio and asked Stieglitz how he lived, how he paid the rent… The rent and the expenses for the studio, about $4000 [approximately $53,345.91 in 2015] a year, were contributed by the artists when they sold any of their paintings and other interested individuals.
“Suddenly he slumped over in pain. My heart. It’s bad. He said it in a whisper as he slumped over on the cot. I hung around there for a while, waiting until he recovered. And then left quietly and shut the glass door with the words painted on it, AN AMERICAN PLACE.
“It doesn’t seem right that such a great artist should have such a little reward,” said Weegee.

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Weegee (1899-1968), Naked City (1945), pp. 232-235

PERSONALITIES
Alfred Stieglitz became famous both in Europe and America as the master of the camera, and what did fame get him?
On Madison Avenue in the fifties… morning… noon… and night a lone man walks the streets…No one pays any attention to him…
“You Stieglitz? I’m Weegee. You may have read about me in magazines, or seen my pictures in PM.”
…then up to 509 Madison Avenue where we took the elevator to the seventeenth floor. We stopped at a door. On the glass was painted AN AMERICAN PLACE. It wasn’t locked and we walked in…
I had so many questions to ask… the hours went by fast… (I was wondering if I was going to find a ticket on my jalopy parked at the door.)
I switched the talk back to photography. Was he a success? No, he was a failure… A picture needed careful planning and thinking and could only be captured on film at a certain fleeting fraction of a second… and once that passed, that fraction of a second was dead and could never be brought back to life again… that he had never compromised with his photography, for money or to please an editor. One had to be free to do creative work.
What about his influence on American photographers? Could he teach them to do the same things he accomplished? The answer was a firm no…
I asked Stieglitz how he lived and paid the rent…
Suddenly he slumped over in pain. “My heart, it’s bad,” he said in a whisper as he slumped over on the cot. I waited till he recovered then left quietly… wondering if that elusive fame I was after was worth while.

Weegee talking about photographing Alfred Stieglitz can be heard below.

I once photographed and did a story on Stieglitz. Truly a great photographer. And we started talking about things and, and he said, ahh… he said: “Something happens, it’s a thousandth part of a fleeting second. It’s up to the photographer to capture that on film, because like a dying day, the thing will never come back again. Famous Photographers Tell How (1958)

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Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), [Letter to Weegee], 1945

An American Place
Sept 11-45

Dear Weegee: A copy of your “Naked City” was given to me. My laurel wreath I hand to thee…
Alfred Stieglitz

On September 11th, 1945, over a year after their meeting and several weeks after Naked City was published, Stieglitz wrote this delightful letter to Weegee. Weegee must have left an impression of Stieglitz. Weegee’s musings on fame and his encounters in the forties with famous photographers are fascinating, including a photo of the great Lisette Model, working at Nicks Jazz Joint. The other photographer featured in Naked City, in the “Personalities” chapter, after Stieglitz, is Pat Rich, “who is known as the Virtuoso of the Cheese Cake (leg) photo” (Naked City, p. 237). Weegee knowingly and enjoyably mixes high and lowbrow culture, although the lines between them might have been a little less opaque seventy years ago.

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Weegee (1899-1968), Naked City (1945), pp. 236-237.

…Both images [of Stieglitz and Rich] are accompanied by extensive meditation on the role of the photographer. Suggesting that Stieglitz is “a failure,” Weegee indicts the elderly master for his ethereal focus on highbrow goals, and asks us to see himself as a popular rescuer of the tradition Stieglitz has left in flaccid debilitation. Conversely, Rich is presented as a more positive role model… Yet, despite this masculine vigor, Rich lacks the cultural ambition Weegee identifies with Stieglitz. Each photographer thus functions as an opposing pole on a continuum, from the extreme aesthete to the explicit populist. Just as he uses the photo essay format to balance between hard-boiled street tales and the glossy aesthetic of the museum, Weegee asks us to see himself as the innovator of a photographic vision that melds Stieglitz’s enterprise with the uninhibited potency of Rich’s girlie shots. Weegee’s final chapter, the text only, “Camera Tips,” emphasizes this, suggesting that readers should recognize “Weegee the Famous” as a successor to these men. – V. Penelope Pelizzon and Nancy M. West, “Good Stories” from the Mean Streets: Weegee and Hard-Boiled Autobiography, Yale Journal of Criticism, 17, no.1, 2004. pp. 43-44

By May 7th, 1944 Weegee had been using the “Weegee the Famous” stamp on his photos for a few years, and had become a well known photographer, had hundreds of photos published in newspapers and magazines annually for several years, exhibited photos at the Photo League and MoMA, (Action Photography, 1943, and was weeks away from inclusion in another exhibition at MoMA, Art in Progress, 1944), and was about a year away from the zenith of his fame, with the publication of Naked City. It’s possible to argue, (although not my opinion), that at 45 years old, his best work was behind him, that he had already made his best and most famous photographs.

Throughout the 1940s, Weegee positioned himself as an increasingly central character in the photographs and stories he contributed to PM. His articles focused on the art of picture taking nearly as much as on the people and events pictured. Consider some of the headlines to his feature stories at the time: [“Weegee meets a great man.”]… To a degree unprecedented for a freelance photographer at the time, Weegee drew attention to the behind-the-scenes drama of photography – a drama in which he was, of course, the star. Although he would later instruct aspiring photographers that “it is the picture that counts, not you!” Weegee’s own pictures, captions, and stories tirelessly showcased their creator. – Weegee and Naked City, Richard Meyer (and Anthony Lee), pp. 27-28.

Weegee’s meeting with Stieglitz, and the story of the encounter in PM, are significant steps in the evolution of Weegee’s photographs – from illustrations in newspapers to framed, exhibition quality (“vintage”) prints on museum walls; and the evolution of Weegee from “tabloid” photojournalist to Artist…

Bibliography:
Anthony W. Lee and Richard Meyer, Weegee and Naked City, University Press, 2008
V. Penelope Pelizzon and Nancy M. West, “Good Stories” from the Mean Streets: Weegee and Hard-Boiled Autobiography, Yale Journal of Criticism, 17, no.1, 2004. pp. 20-50

Weegee Wednesday is an occasional series exploring the life and work of Weegee.

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78 Years Ago Today: “Camera Tells Graphic Story of Spectacular Destruction of Giant Hindenburg”

The New York Times; newspaper; Hindenburg; blimp
The New York Times, May 24, 1936 (2006.23.1)

Ready for the return voyage on her second visit to the United States. The Hindenburg tied up to the mooring mast at the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst. The photograph, made by special arrangement, was taken at a distance of fifty feet with an extreme wide angle lens, showing the impressive size of the giant airship as it appears to a person standing near.

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Sam Shere, [Crash of the Hindenburg, Lakehurst, New Jersey], May 6. 1937 (225.2003)

The New York Times; newspaper; Hindenburg; blimp
The New York Times, May 9, 1937, p.10 (2006.23.5)

The world’s greatest airship meets disaster at the end of her first North Atlantic crossing of the year.
The dirigible Hindenburg, carrying thirty-nine passengers and a crew of sixty-one, plunging in flames to the ground at Lakehurst, N.J., following an explosion as she was maneuvering for a landing after riding out a violent electrical storm. The picture, one of the most remarkable news photographs ever taken, shows the huge craft enveloped in fire at both ends as the 7,300,000 cubic feet of hydrogen in her gas chambers ignited to make her an enormous torch. Less than four hours earlier millions of New Yorkers had admired the beautiful ship as she flew over the city en route to her American port. (Times Wide World Photos.)

The metal skeleton of the enormous craft melts to scrap in the intense heat of the conflagration.
A view of the burning of the Hindenburg, with a huge cloud of flame and black smoke rising high in the air. Half of the framework already has been consumed and the rest rapidly is disappearing, with spectators powerless to check the flames. (Times Wide World Photos.)

The New York Times; newspaper; Hindenburg; blimp
The New York Times, May 9, 1937 (2006.23.5)

The Flaming Pyre that a few seconds before had been the dirigible Hindenburg.
The great air-ship burning fiercely from end to end as the crumpled, twisted mass sank to the ground on the landing field at Lakehurst. Filled with inflammable hydrogen, the big craft was reduced to smoking embers with a swiftness which awed those gathered to cheer the completion of the ship’s twenty-first crossing of the North Atlantic. (Times Wide World/ Photos)

A Fragment of the craft which was among the last bits to yield to the flames.
A close-up of the wreckage, showing the destruction of one of the motor gondolas by the fire after the framework of the Hindenburg had been burned bare and reduced to twisted metal. (Times Wide World/ Photos)

The tragic end of 135,000 miles of air travel.
The flames crackling about the intricate framework of the Hindenburg after the craft had plunged to the ground. (Times Wide World/ Photos)

The crumbling framework as the flames complete their work of destruction.
Spectators surrounding the wreckage of the airship, seeking to help those of passengers and crew who managed to survive the disaster. (Times Wide World Photos)

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Albany Evening News, May 7, 1937, p. 12 (2006.23.2)

Nose Down, Tail Still Aloft and Spouting Flames, the Hindenburg Crashes

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Albany Evening News, May 7, 1937, p. 13 (2006.23.2)

Camera Tells Graphic Story of Spectacular Destruction of Giant Hindenburg.
Flames, starting in ship’s stern, sweep forward with incredible speed to envelope the yet undamaged bow which keeps craft afloat.

Fire trucks of little avail in crash as this striking picture of the disaster shows.

Flaming skeleton all that remains of the huge, proud craft of a few minutes before.

Closeup view of skeleton shows how completely the craft fell prey to hungry flames.

This woman, one of the few survivors, is led from the tragic scene.

The search for bodies in the hot debris begins.

The Hindenburg hits the ground, a seething funeral pyre for scores.

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Die Volks Illustrated, (Photo-montage by John Heartfield, Volume 16, No. 20, May 19, 1937 (87.2005)

The Cause
Autarky. To save foreign currency, the perished airship ‘Hindendburg’ was filled with highly explosive hydrogen gas instead of nonflammable helium gas. This was because the ‘Four Year Plan,’ on account of the gigantic armaments expenses, must exercise autarky (self-sufficiency and isolation from the world economy) in all other areas. (Translation of caption, from TMS.)

78 Years ago today, on May 6, 1937, the airship Hindenburg exploded in Lakehurst, New Jersey. A few newsreels from archive.org:


Hindenburg Explodes, from the great Prelinger Archives on Archive.org.

A few links from the Internet:
“The Hindenburg 75 years later: Memories time cannot erase” – NJ.com
New York Times – On This Day
Preserving the Heritage of Naval Air Station Lakehurst:
Navy Lakehurst Historical Society

Audio can be heard here.
A page from the National Archives.

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