Friday, May 6th, 2011

Writing Prompt: Oh, the Humanity!

Hindenburg on FireOn May 6, 1937, the German airship, Hindenburg, exploded just as it arrived at it’s destination, Lakehurst, New Jersey. Thirty six people were killed.

Herbert Morrison, a radio announcer on WLS Radio, watching the disaster unfold, delivered a live speech as the zeppelin went down in flames, the last line of which has been exploited in movies, television and elsewhere (often taken out of context and used for dramatic — even humorous — effect).

He said:

“Oh, oh, oh. It’s burst into flames. Get out of the way, please…this is terrible…it’s burning, bursting into flames, and is falling… Oh! This is one of the worst… it’s a terrific sight… oh, the humanity.”

Almost a thousand people waited for the Hindenburg that evening. Bad weather and rain delayed both the ship’s arrival and timely docking. A set of unfortunate circumstances: the use of hydrogen for buoyancy and maneuverability (rather than the safer helium gas), the small gas leak noticed too late, Captain Max Pruss’ too-fast landing and subsequent reverse engine thrust, all contributed to the inferno.

Reports say the spectators felt the heat of the blast nearly a mile away.

Here’s Your Prompt: Write an eye-witness account of an accident, a natural disaster, or a medical emergency. What was your first thought, or the first words out of your mouth? What were you doing when “it” happened? Were you with anyone? Were you near enough to be injured yourself? What about anyone else you were with?

Who else was involved? How did it happen? What was the ultimate outcome? Write what you experienced during the event. Don’t ignore your senses: how things looked, felt, sounded, smelled and even tasted. Include how you were feeling when the event was happening, and now, looking back on it, how you feel about it having happened.

Journalistic Prompt: Write the same story as a reporter, not as an eye witness. “Interview” others who saw what happened and relate, in their words, the most key elements of the story: who, what, when, where, why and how. Keep your own opinion out of the story, and be certain to include a spectrum of eyewitness opinions — including contradictory accounts and conclusions — to make certain the story is “fair and balanced.”

For more information on journalism, see my other prompt on the inverted pyramid style of writing for newspapers.

2 comments to Writing Prompt: Oh, the Humanity!

  • Kelly,
    Thanks for remembering this catastrophe in your blog. I find the Hindenburg disaster interesting as an example of how one bad event can condemn an otherwise acceptable technology. Hydrogen dirigibles had been operating safely until that day 76 years ago. In fact, of the approximately 90 people actually aboard the Hindenburg when the giant bag of hydrogen gas caught fire, about 60 survived.
    Hydrogen dirigibles can be operated safely, and hydrogen has much better lifting capacity than helium.
    I call this phenomenon the Hindenburg Syndrome. Sometimes just one unfortunate example can kill a good idea.

    • Hi Steve! I agree: the Hindenburg itself made 10 trips across the ocean the previous year without mishap…and traveling only 85 miles per hour, consider the amount of time it spent in the air without a hitch! I’d love to take a dirigible ride one day, but I fear I’ll have to content myself with a hot air balloon…

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>