Phrases Associated with the Hindenburg

Thanks to the newsreels and radio broadcasts of 1937, the Hindenburg disaster ranks in the top 100 of the world’s greatest disasters. Even though the number of people killed was low compared to many other notable disasters, it was the way that a small group of journalists were able to record what they saw and their immediate reaction to it that had a very lasting impression on the public. For over 75 years, the words and phrases related to this airship disaster are part of the English lexicon:

Oh, the humanity!: Exclamation: the sudden and terrible loss of life. This phrase was a portion of one of  the most famous radio broadcasts of all time. Herb Morrison, a young radio reporter for station WLS was present to witness the arrival of the Hindenburg at the airfield in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Morrison came along with a still  photographer and a newsreel photographer; they were anxious to try out their new equipment. Morrison was speaking into the microphone describing what he saw and when the zeppelin burst into flames, Morrison becomes very emotional, expressing his shock and disbelief at what he sees: “It’s burst into flames. … Get out of the way, please; oh my, this is terrible. … It is burning. … This is one of the worst catastrophes in the world … oh, the humanity!” (On the recording, Morrison’s voice sounds very high-pitched because the recording was set to the wrong speed, masking his normally deep voice.) German employees at the airfield did not want this accident to reflect badly on the Third Reich so they tried to confiscate the recording equipment. Thinking quickly, Morrison distracted the Germans, while Charles Nehlsen, a WLS engineer, gathered and hid the equipment. Later that evening, the WLS team boarded a flight to Chicago from a very remote part of the airport. Back at WLS, Morrison’s voice was dubbed onto the newsreel footage.

Hindenburg: Adjective. A horrible disaster or failure.

To buy a ticket on the Hindenburg: an action or effort is doomed; a person faces certain death as a result of a specific action.

Read related posts: The Hindenburg Disaster by the Numbers

For further reading: Adonis to Zorro: The Oxford Dictionary of Reference and Allusion by Andrew Delahunty and Sheila Dignen, Oxford University Press (2010).


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