The truth as memory allows, Part 2

Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part column which began yesterday.

An event took place on May 6, 1937 that has been quite clear in my mind — the crash of the German dirigible Hindenburg. “The airship Hindenburg, the largest dirigible ever built and the pride of Nazi Germany, burst into flames upon touching its mooring mast in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 passengers and crewmembers.”

Before the ship, landed it followed the Hudson River and my family could see it, as we lived very near the river. Some place in the piles of memorabilia that my mother collected is a newspaper photo of the ship on its way to Lakehurst.

In May of 1937 I would have been only three years and six months old and my sister was about five years my elder. Is it possible that I remember this tragedy?

I have heard of very young children remembering at this age, but I really don’t know about this. It was, however, such a momentous event that reinforcement from my family could have easily imbedded this event in my mind. That is sufficient explanation for me.

Again, I phoned my sister and her memory matched mine – this was serious international news! Hitler had come to power in 1933 and Nazi Germany was preparing for the most devastating war the world had ever seen.

I could go on with other recollections of serious events such as the murder of the Lindberg child, which I vaguely remember while we lived there (in New York). However, that was also incorrect, as the child was murdered in 1934 when I was less than one year old.

I do, however, remember my family driving by the Lindberg estate in Westchester County where the Lindberg family lived.

There is another tragic event involving a ship that is, I hope, much clearer in my memory. It is the sinking of the Andrea Doria in the Atlantic Ocean in 1956.

I was on the troopship USNS Upshur coming home after a year-and-a-half serving in the Army in Germany. Not too long before we docked in New York, we were told about the sinking and could see some remains of the ship floating as we passed by.

It was a very unusual and tragic accident: “On 25 July 1956, while Andrea Doria was approaching the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, bound for New York City, the eastbound MS Stockholm of the Swedish American Line collided with her in one of history’s most infamous maritime disasters.

Struck in the side, the top-heavy Andrea Doria immediately started to list severely to starboard, which left half of her lifeboats unusable. The consequent shortage of lifeboats could have resulted in significant loss of life, but the ship stayed afloat for over 11 hours after the collision.

The calm, appropriate behavior of the crew, together with improvements in communications, and the rapid response of other ships, averted a disaster similar in scale to that of the Titanic in 1912. While 1,660 passengers and crew were rescued and survived, 46 people on the ship died as a direct consequence of the collision.

The evacuated luxury liner capsized and sank the following morning. This accident remains the worst maritime disaster to occur in United States waters since the sinking of SS Eastland in 1915.”

A note: While sailing to Germany on the Upshur we were shown the movie “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” On the return trip in the same ship 15 months later we were shown “Return of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.’

Terrible films. And that IS the truth!

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.

Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist