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Three Odd Books: Lighter Than Air

Three Odd Books on the lighter than air conquest of the skies, from the first balloon ascents to the mysterious airship sightings of 1896, to the tragedy of the Hindenburg dirigible, by Odd Salon Fellow and resident airship aficionado, Justin Quimby.

Airships: There are few other inventions which were so widely praised and adopted only to flame out and nearly disappear from the modern world. The crash of the Hindenburg, captured by newsreel cameras and that oh so memorable phrase, “Oh the humanity!”, sealed the fate of the airship in 1937. But airships have a complex and rich history, dating back to the 1670s. Here are a few books to whet your appetite for these floating ships of the skies.

Wonderful Balloon Ascents: Or, The Conquest of the Skies 

F. Marion

This 1870 book is a wonderful snapshot of the Balloon-mania which swept Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. A chronicle of early attempts, both successful and unsuccessful, to ascend to the heavens and navigate the celestial realm, the book contains snippets around each attempt. Translated from F. Marion’s original French, you’ll marvel as the nationalism of the era seeps through the characterizations of the various aeronauts.

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The Great Airship of 1897 

J. Allan Danelek

In November of 1896 residents of California watched a mysterious bright light, often described as being suspended beneath a “cigar shaped” craft of considerable size, pass slowly over their cities, sparking a media frenzy. A few months later, what appeared to be the same craft was seen in the skies over the sparsely populated prairie states of the Midwest making its way methodically eastward. Then… the reports ended.

This book covers the 1896 “Airship Frenzy” and the various theories of what caused it. Collective hysteria? Mass hallucination? Aliens? An actual airship? The author examines each theory in turn and presents some interesting thoughts on why this may have been an airship well ahead of the current state of the art which crashed before its grand unveiling.

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The Hindenburg 

Michael M. Mooney

Whenever I talk about my love of airships, inevitably the conversation turns to the Hindenburg. Michael Mooney’s book is a minute by minute description of the final flight of this beautiful airship. If you want to hear someone lovingly describe refueling procedures and duralumin support struts, this is the book for you! You’ll learn about the meals served onboard, the quality of service, and about the onboard smoking room. While the author does veer off into conspiracy theories on why the Hindenburg was destroyed by a bomb, the rest of this tome is a fantastic read for airship aficionados.

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Justin Quimby is a Fellow of Odd Salon, collector of airship stories, and enthusiastic amateur member of the Five Ton Crane art collective.

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