“Oh, the humanity!”
Local Resident Remembers: The Hindenburg Disaster
Jo Yatauro of Dayton recalls hearing many a family story about the Hindenburg disaster as she grew up. Years before she was born, her mother and grandparents lived and worked in the area. They were very much a part of the day-to-day at the Lakehurst Naval Airfield in southern New Jersey, but that was until the German airship Hindenburg burst into flames there on May 6, 1937.
The tragedy was front page news around the world and made especially famous by the spectacular film footage and dramatic radio coverage by reporter Herbert Morrison, known for his impassioned comment that day “Oh, the humanity!”
The disaster ended large passenger airship travel in favor of airplanes, but for Jo’s family it was life-changing and became folklore for the generations to come.
At the time, Jo’s mother Mary Ellen Kearns Jeduel was just a teenager and worked as an assistant to an airship captain. Jo’s uncle, Edward Joseph Kearns, brother of Mary Ellen, worked among the ground crew. Lucky for Jo, neither was hurt on May 6, but many of their friends and co-workers were not as lucky.
Jo’s grandmother, who had an inn near the airfield, regularly fed the pilots and crews who passed through, enjoying many happy occasions with her customers. But, on May 6 it was where many of these same people were brought for emergency medical treatment in the aftermath.
Two years later, Jo’s mother started a new life. She moved to East Brunswick where she became a nurse and started a family. This is where Jo was born and raised. Life went on, but Mary Ellen never forgot that part of her life and kept a scrapbook to hold the memories. That day long remembered is now 75 years ago.
All but one of the family’s eyewitnesses has since passed away. Jo’s Aunt Helen, who was 14 on that day and now lives in Florida, has been consulted for the books Ships in the Sky: the story of the great dirigibles by John Toland and Lighter Than Air by David Owen.
By sharing the memories once quietly kept in a scrapbook in the attic, Jo hopes that her children and grandchildren will appreciate the family’s place in history. After displaying at the South Brunswick Public Library, she will donate the fragile collection of yellowed news clippings and photographs to the Lakehurst History Museum for their preservation.
By Rosemary Gohd, PR/Marketing