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THE GOODBYE PROJECT: Letting Go is Good, Yo! Episode 13—Down in Flames

About The Goodbye Project:

There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?

I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.

Why? Everything has a story.

And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.

EPISODE 13: DOWN IN FLAMES

A fine writer and friend of mine, Chris Emmerson-Pace, pointed out once that fire is a recurring theme or motif in my fiction.

I’ve always had some sort of strange interest in disasters—mostly firey ones—and I didn’t know why, even as I kept collecting books like Fire in the Grove and The Circus Fire—books that didn’t just sit on my shelf; books I devoured and defaced with research and notes.

Now, though, because of The Goodbye Project, I’ve spent time processing and thinking about why it is I’m attracted to certain things. In the case of disasters, they’re metaphors for situations in life: something grand and beautiful—something light—can always fall into unrecognizable ruins—something dark (it’s probably the same reason I have an obsession with abandoned buildings). One of the most moving passages I’ve ever read which illustrates this appears in Ron Elliott’s Inside the Beverly Hill Supper Club Fire: “I glanced around the garden. At least 100 bodies covered the ground, making it look more like a battlefield than the lovely spot where sparkling fountains, pagodas, and flowers had saluted many a radiant, just married bride’s promenade. How well I could recall their beaming faces’ disclosure of the dreams alive in their hearts. Now the garden hosted the dead, their blank eyes staring unseeing; their dreams tragically and abruptly ended.”[1] Such disturbing eloquence should serve as a reminder that each one of us needs to stop and cherish every single minute we’re here—because the next minute? We may not be.

I don’t think I knew anything about the Hindenburg until I was sixteen. New York Times reporter Leonard Buder lived a couple of miles from me, and I don’t remember how I was lucky enough to get invited to his home one day, but it probably had something to do with my position as the high school columnist for the local newspaper.

I remember him giving me a lot of good advice on being a reporter. But at that time in my life, I didn’t want to be a journalist. I was doing it because Dad said he wouldn’t pay for college for marine biology. So, I’m sad to say I don’t even remember what Mr. Buder’s wise words were. But I do remember something else—our entire discussion about The Hindenburg disaster. And here is where Dali’s Persistence of Memory comes in: I could swear, even to this day, that he pulled out a scrapbook and was showing me old clippings of the great zeppelin in flames, and the pictures were burned into my memory. However, given how he would have been 8 or 9 at the time of the event, I don’t know if this memory is something my mind may have fabricated—the famous photo of the thing going down in flames is everywhere. It’s possible we simply talked about the Hindenburg as a major turning point in media coverage of events, and I made an association later.

It really doesn’t matter, though, because after that I spent some time in the library with the microfilm and microfiche, reading all the material I could find on the disaster and its aftermath.

Over time, my interest in the airship waned—and most of the books I read on the subject I checked out of the library—so there isn’t much in my collection on that subject. In addition, several dedicated, passionate people out there host websites that really should be turned into books—they’re well-researched, well-written, and fascinating. My two favorites are Patrick B. Russell’s Faces of the Hindenburg and Daniel Grossman’s Airships: The Hindenburg and other Zeppelins (links to these are below the photos). So in essence, I feel as though I can re-visit trusted sources anytime I might be curious.

Here’s the scoop on what I’m letting go; I’ve put some links to information on the Hindenburg disaster if anyone is interested.

Published by Scholastic, this book is intended for younger readers. I picked it up because I liked the extensive detail of the drawings.

This book featured Hindenburg as the cover art probably because it would be the most eye-catching, but it literally did contain an article on several of last century’s greatest disasters, including some I’m sure have slipped out of our general consciousness, like the 1903 Iroquois Theater Fire and the London Killer Fog of 1952. This book is no longer in print, and I can’t even find a used one anywhere online so I can give you a link—however, there is a book called Catastrophe! The 100 Greatest Disasters of All Time, by Stephen J. Spignesi, and that is available from Amazon here: http://amzn.com/0806525584

I was going to ditch this video set, but then discovered it’s not available on DVD, so I’m keeping it—the DVD the History Channel and Amazon have is 54 minutes; this set is 100 minutes on two VHS tapes. To purchase, visit Amazon here: http://amzn.com/B000006DMW

HINDENBURG SITES OF INTEREST

Faces of the Hindenburg

Patrick B. Russell has spent many years building this site, and has conducted painstaking research into the lives of each of the Hindenburg’s passengers to provide in-depth biographies. In many cases, he has had direct contact with the passengers’ kin. He updates this site every time he receives new information—and, earlier this year, he posted an approximate position of each passenger on board at the time of the disaster. This site truly honors those who didn’t survive—and those who did.http://facesofthehindenburg.blogspot.com/

Airships: The Hindenburg and other Zeppelins

Daniel Grossman has the most in-depth site on airships in general—let alone the Hindenburg—that I’ve ever seen. There are photographs of Hindenburg’s interior, detailed close-ups of the ship’s décor, diagrams, specs on the interior and exterior, a diagnostic of what happened in the last few moments, and more; Grossman has worked closely with historians to provide much of the information (http://www.airships.net/sources). Find the site here: http://www.airships.net/hindenburg/disaster

The Hindenburg Photos: -A Mystery-

Todd L. Sherman found a scrapbook of his grandfather’s that contained photos of the Hindenburg—but a few things didn’t match up. This page details his burning quest to uncover the truth. Why do I like this page? Because I have lots of mysteries in my past like this, too—and I think, so do we all. The coolest thing about this is that other people from all over the world have written to him with bits of information to help him solve the mystery. It’s worth the read; the detail Sherman gives is amazing.http://www.afn.org/~afn42211/genealog/sterner/hindenburg/

Herb Morrison’s Groundbreaking News Coverage on Old Time Radio: Radio Days: A Radio History

James F. Widner has an astounding collection of old time radio broadcasts. To hear Herb Morrison’s radio broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster as it occurred, visit the link below. The explosion happens just after minute:second  8:30, and the recording seems to skip or miss a couple of Morrison’s words; a fascinating explanation for this also appears on this page (apparently the explosion was so powerful it jarred the then state-of-the-art recording equipment):http://www.otr.com/hindenburg.shtml


[1] Ron Elliott, Inside the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire (Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company), 15. Note: this book was reissued in paperback in 2010. Here’s the link in case you’d like to purchase it: http://amzn.com/159652751X

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