Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon has been one of those books deep in my to-read list since I first read reviews of it in 1982, but I’m just getting around to reading it now. Imagine my surprise this morning when I ran across the following passage in that book (on page 370/location 6798 of the Kindle version) as the author enters New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.
It isn’t widely known in America that the descendants of Jolly Roger pirates put an end to dirigible flight. So I heard at breakfast in a diner.
As someone who did a little bit of research about the event that ended airship travel for my own 2014 novel Fire Answers Fire, the story about offspring of pirates bringing down the Hindenburg was new to me, but here are the details, as related to William Least Heat-Moon by a diner companion in a loud shirt.
“Let me tell you about the Pines,” he said. “Maybe you heard of the Hindenburg — the zeppelin — but I’ll let you in on the true story of what really happened. I’ve lived here all my life, and I know what happened even if the government said they didn’t know.”
The gist was this: a storm forced the Hindenburg into a holding pattern (that was a fact I could check out). The airship, only a few hundred feet off the ground, circled central New Jersey for two hours. Lakehurst, where it was trying to land, is on the edge of the Pines, and everyone knows Pineys don’t tolerate anyone poking into their woods. They figured the zeppelin was a government ship looking for their stills where they turn blueberries into whiskey, so they shot at the thing and opened leaks in the fabric. By the time the Hindenburg started to tie up, there was enough free hydrogen to blow the ship to kingdom come, which it did.
“The official explanation was St. Elmo’s fire,” he said. “Static electricity. St. Elmo never in his life set fire to any aircraft. People can believe it was anti-Nazi sabotage if they want, but I’m telling the truth. It was potshots by the Pineys, and it was nothing new. They’re descendants of pirates and smugglers who ran into the woods to hide. Mixed in with a few Tories and Hessians.”