On Writing About The Hindenburg

Today’s post by Ariel Lawhon | @ArielLawhon

Hindenburg disaster

Like many people, I have long been familiar with the iconic photos of the Hindenburg’s destruction. The zeppelin, with its nose in the air, spewing flames, is one of the most recognizable photos in history. I find it impossible not to stare at that tragic image and wonder what caused such horrific, immediate destruction. I’m not alone in this of course. Scientists, historians, and armchair detectives have been asking that question to no avail for almost eighty years. And that, in the end, is what led me to write FLIGHT OF DREAMS. I am hopelessly drawn to unsolved mysteries.

I often blame this personality quirk on a childhood spent reading Agatha Christie novels, but in truth it goes much deeper than that. I have a deep need to make sense of the unknown. I want to understand tragedy. I want to find answers when none are readily available. Where many would see only a photo of a burning airship I see a mystery that must be solved. And, as fate, would have it, I have chosen a career that allows me to do so—if only in a fictional way.

But novels are not about moments, they are about people, and the greatest challenge with this novel was getting to know the real men and women on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. I was determined that I would not change their fate—even when it broke my heart. I knew that if they lived in real life they would live in the novel. And I knew that if they died in real life I would have to render that on paper as well. Easier said than done as it turns out because I came to love them all in end and saying goodbye to some was much harder than I could have anticipated. The fact that I had the actual newsreel footage on hand—their deaths so famously caught on film—only made it more real to me. Perhaps that’s what made it so powerful as well. They are not figments of my imagination, but men and women immortalized forever on grainy black and white film. My job has simply been to sharpen the focus and bring them into color so the world can see them more clearly.

FLIGHT OF DREAMS is the result of my short-term love affair with a singular moment in history. It is my idea of what could have happened on board the Hindenburg that evening in early May 1937. It is my attempt at making sense of a senseless tragedy. And while no one will ever know what caused the spark that brought down the Hindenburg I hope that you will humor me by reading my theory. And I hope you enjoy the ride. I’ll be waiting for you on the ground with a box of tissue and hot cup of tea.


**Email readers can see the famous newsreel footage here.

3 Responses to On Writing About The Hindenburg

  1. Anne Rightler March 9, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    I watched the video and then went to an article on Wikipedia…WOW. I look forward to your ‘take’ on this tragedy. Thank you for sharing If you need help w/ reviews, I would love to help. Sounds like a wonderful book.

  2. Victoria March 9, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    This sounds so good. Thank you for imagining and sharing your theory and what may have happened. It is good that these people aren’t just a tragedy, but a real loving memory. I love writing. I love stories and I love those who delve deeper into a moment.

  3. Carol Viens March 9, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    I recently read your book, and loved every minute. It was even more touching to learn that all your characters actually lived (and in some cases died) The research alone must have taken months and it’s evident that you did your job well. Can’t wait to see what you writer next.

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