Newly analyzed amateur footage of the crash shows the airship’s final seconds from a fresh angle—allowing historians for the first time to see the airship from nose to tail just after the fire breaks out.
Newly Analyzed Footage Helps Solve Hindenburg Mystery
Published: May 28, 2021
NARRATOR: A new piece of the Hindenburg puzzle has surfaced. Ironically, it was available from the beginning, but no one had been interested at the time.
DAN GROSSMAN: I was here at Lakehurst for the 75th anniversary. We had a memorial service, and a guy comes up to me and says, “I’ve got some film on the Hindenburg disaster. You probably don’t really care, but this was taken by my uncle, and if you want to see it, I’ll show it to you.”
So, this is right where we met in…
BOB SCHENCK (Nephew of Harold Schenck): This is right where we met.
DAN GROSSMAN: …in 2012…
BOB SCHENCK: Yeah.
DAN GROSSMAN: …where you showed me this film on your laptop.
And if you remember, I was so excited, I took my cellphone and I took some photos. I asked your permission, and I took photos of the film on your laptop.
BOB SCHENCK: Yup. Yup.
DAN GROSSMAN: Because it was like, “This is special!”
BOB SCHENCK: Yeah.
My dad had bought this nifty Kodak camera, wind-up movie camera, 8 millimeter. And he couldn’t come, because he worked, so he asked my uncle and my mom if they would take some shots and see the Hindenburg land.
DAN GROSSMAN: And as soon as I start looking at it, I realize it looked really different, and it looked really interesting.
NARRATOR: And yet, Harold Schenck’s film, which starts earlier and is shot from a different angle than all the other photographers, is never seen by investigators.
BOB SCHENCK: It was, at the time, publicly put out that he had it. Nobody ever asked for it. There was plenty of footage taken by the newsreels, and nobody really cared, I guess, about angles.
NARRATOR: But perhaps this new angle will make a difference. After 80-plus years, might this footage show something new? And what could a closer inspection of the film reveal?
To learn more about the film’s history, Dan Grossman brings it to Colorlab, a world class facility that restores historic film for the Library of Congress, National Archives and others.
PAT DOYEN: I’m excited. You have something for me to look at, right?
DAN GROSSMAN: I am excited for you to look at it. So, here is the film we’ve been talking about.
PAT DOYEN: Wow.
DAN GROSSMAN: And I also brought you the camera that it was filmed on.
PAT DOYEN: Oh, wow!
NARRATOR: Film archivist Pat Doyen is an expert in preserving and restoring rare vintage film.
PAT DOYEN: Good provenance here. And you believe that the film was shot with this exact camera?
DAN GROSSMAN: Yes, I do.
PAT DOYEN: I can see that this is the kind of box that this film would have been packaged in. I can see that you had it processed by Kodak. There’s an address, there’s a stamp from the time. So, this is all really good information.
And when we look at it over the light table, there’s a few things we can tell. Now, there’s a number here: 36814.
DAN GROSSMAN: Oh, okay.
PAT DOYEN: That was written on the box, and you can see it’s also on this leader.
DAN GROSSMAN: And who wrote that? Would Kodak have written that?
PAT DOYEN: That, yes, that would have been for processing.
DAN GROSSMAN: Okay.
PAT DOYEN: So, right now, I’m going to look for what they call a date code. So, Kodak put some symbols on the film to tell us when it was manufactured. So, I’m looking at the date code, and I see a triangle square.
DAN GROSSMAN: So, how do you know what a triangle and a square means?
PAT DOYEN: So, there’s a reference to check that out. And we can see this film was manufactured between July to December, 1936.
DAN GROSSMAN: Ah.
NARRATOR: 1936, the year before the accident.
PAT DOYEN: When someone would buy a film for 1937.
DAN GROSSMAN: Great.
PAT DOYEN: We can see the aperture plate: that little cutout on the left side.
NARRATOR: The camera’s aperture plate defines the frame of the picture, where the image extends in between the sprocket holes.
PAT DOYEN: This one here, which matches our film, has the square in between the two perforations.
DAN GROSSMAN: Is, that is exactly what we’re seeing, right here?
PAT DOYEN: Mmm hmm.
DAN GROSSMAN: Oh, yeah, of course. It looks just like your book.
PAT DOYEN: It tells us that it was shot with this model of camera, the Cine Kodak Eight Model 20.
NARRATOR: A year before the disaster, in an eerily prophetic ad, featuring the Hindenburg, Kodak suggested using their cameras to film moments that make history.
PAT DOYEN: It also tells me that it was camera original.
NARRATOR: “Camera original”: this film was exposed in a camera, it’s not a copy.
PAT DOYEN: If it was a print, you wouldn’t see the circles or the squares, because the printer blocks that off.
DAN GROSSMAN: So, what’s your verdict on the film?
PAT DOYEN: So, it’s a little shrunken, and it’s got some aging here. It’s got a little silver mirroring, which tells me that it’s an old film. This doesn’t happen right away, overnight, it takes years and years; sometimes decades. So, all of this taken together, I can’t say with a hundred percent certainty, but everything points to this film being an authentic film…
DAN GROSSMAN: Wow.
PAT DOYEN: …that it was shot at that time.
DAN GROSSMAN: This is a good day.
NARRATOR: After digitally scanning the film, Dan and Pat take a look on a large screen. This is the first time this footage has been widely seen.
DAN GROSSMAN: Wow! Look at how much detail we get from this scan.
NARRATOR: The roll of film will last only two minutes. To conserve it, Harold Schenck shoots brief moments: the ground crew assembling, the giant ship passing over the hangar. The landing lines are the last thing Harold Schenck records, before disaster strikes.
BOB SCHENCK: And as it exploded, he had the camera at his side, and it was a wind up camera, so he had the presence of mind to switch the switch on and pick it up at that moment.
DAN GROSSMAN: Thanks to that aperture plate, you actually see the nose and the tail at the same time.
PAT DOYEN: Is that unusual?
DAN GROSSMAN: Yes, it is.
NARRATOR: The spring runs down. After rewinding, he rolls again, getting the aftermath.
DAN GROSSMAN: You can see details of the girder structure. Where the gas cells were would be a lot of information for us about how this flame progressed.
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