Hindenburg Revisited

DATELINE: Disaster Cause

That marvelous PBS series, Secrets of the Dead, has a streaming episode called What Happened to the Hindenburg!

It takes a refreshing new look at the blame game that for sixty years or more has dismissed hydrogen as the culprit. Not only was the gas made to be considered unsafe, it ended the short reign of the airship, Zeppelin balloons, as a form of luxury transportation.

Most of us know the pompous and unprofessional radio broadcast that lamented the “humanity” of a disaster, but this documentary is far more horrific in giving us the details, and far more credible than the 1975 movie with George C. Scott and the Nazi conspiracy notion.

It certainly didn’t help the German mode of transportation in the years before the World War that it was a favorite project of Adolph Hitler. In fact, the Hindenburg was almost christened the Hitler, after the mad dictator. It was a ship that was an air version of Titanic, but with 35 deaths and fewer than 100 passengers, it measured up in microcosm.

Only years later when NASA used hydrogen in its space shuttle launches did a scientist named Dr. Addison Bain decide to take his free time to the archives. There, he found the dismissal of sabotage and the scapegoat of hydrogen somewhat unlike his own professional study of the gas.

When he began to investigate the conspiracy theories dismissed and the faulty investigation, partly the lack of sophistication in the era, that he saw new possibilities.

His clever detective work discovered the airship was painted with a highly flammable concoction that was an ingredient of solid rocket fuel! Powdered aluminum: Bingo!

Once again, the PBS series gives us something special in merging good science techniques with intelligent documentary filmmaking.

 

 

 

 

 

Digging Deeper into Ben Franklin’s Past

DATELINE: Electrifying Discovery

Franklin Re-enactor Not $50, Counterfeit Ben!

The first episode of the first season of Secrets of the Dead did not disappoint. Called “Ben Franklin’s Bones,” this historical documentary examined a horror story that seemed to emerge in the 1990s when excavators started to dig in the cellar of a Westminster house where Ben Franklin lived in for fifteen years.

Located in London, where he was an ambassador to Parliament for the colonies around 1760, Franklin rented rooms from a “second family” as he called them.

Police and detectives were called to the cellar where workers discovered a treasure trove (if that’s a bonanza) of many human bones. They needed a medical examiner to tell them how old these were, and if they died mysteriously.

Of course, the bones dated from the time that Franklin lived in the house. The noted Renaissance American was active in all kinds of research, membership in the Royal Society as part of his life of scholarship in London. However, no one thought he could be a serial killer. Call in the forensic experts.

And he wasn’t. The bones belonged to people (men, women, and children, birds and turtles) that were already dead. The bones were finely sawed—including the tops of skulls.

It seemed a bit creepy that Franklin could have anything to do with this: yet, the daughter of the household had married a doctor named Hewson who was a noted surgeon. He had presented papers on his research using mercury and turtles—both of which were in the cellar hole. The house, once renovated, became a museum to Franklin’s years in London.

Franklin was a close friend of the doctor and had sponsored his entry into the Royal Society. It would seem that even Ben Franklin had been connected to “Resurrection Men,” the notorious body snatchers of the era of Enlightenment. They provided cadavers stolen from cemeteries to medical men.

It wasn’t a crime to steal a body, only its clothes or jewelry.

The tease of indicting Franklin made for an alarming, if not suspenseful, study of life on Craven Street where the great man resided. All in all, this was a delightful look at a little-known facet of Ben’s amazing life.

 

 

Secrets of the Dead? WWII Pep Pills!

DATELINE: Deadline Pep!

james holland Holland Invades Germany!

We never heard of this PBS marvel of history documentaries. It sounds like a bad show from the History Channel, something morbid about ghosts or Egyptian mummies.  It is entitled Secrets of the Dead!

Of course, it is none of the above. It is an intelligent look at historical events, uncovering little known information and formulating new theory.

For this episode from Season 17, it is called World War Speed. It is about the shocking notion of amphetamine usage during the second World War!

Who knew?

What’s worse, who suspected that the governments of England, United States, and Nazi Germany, condone and required drugs to stimulate the soldiers.

We’d like to think that only craven Hitler demanded his soldiers take amphetamines to remain awake for days: like good Aryan supermen.

However, Generals Montgomery and Einsenhower learned of the practice and decided it was a good strategy. You see, not only did it keep men awake but made them act out in deranged, but heroic ways. Men would volunteer for death missions and do utterly suicidal actions.

Hitler had experimented on victims of concentration camps to see how the pep pills effected people who were starving to death. However, even Hitler decided the side-effects were too grave to continue on his army. Not so with the American and British.

They gave pep pills to men in tanks that were deathtraps. It gave them courage beyond logic. We are horrified to think that this show, hosted by James Holland who most recently worked on the History Channel “Hunting Hitler”—and he has not lost his yellow journalism style here.

It is appalling to think that innocent young men had no idea that “pep pills” drugged them out of their minds.

We may tune into this series again. It is a shocker and provides teachable moments.