One of many composites of an airship moored to the Empire State Building. Never happened! Photo credits: Public domain
The INTERNET is rife with images of airships moored to the Empire State Building. The only problem is, it never happened! The pinnacle of the Empire State Building was never built as an airship mooring, even though the desire to moor airships on buildings did exist in the early 1900's. The idea suffered from a major problem: It was a very bad idea!
It's a grand idea, yes! But when the practical issues of the idea surface, one sees that it is a terrifically bad idea! This is why it never happened:
It was grandiose to romanticize the idea of disembarking a great airship through the nose of the craft moored to the top of a skyscraper, taken to ground level by one or more elevators. But imagine a great airship, attempting to hover above the bustling city dwellers below, needing to occasionally dump great quantities of ballast water on the unsuspecting pedestrians! Imagine the danger to the surrounding area as the airship approaches the mooring tower as it dumps ballast even blocks from the intended destination! Imagine the high wind conditions at the nose as the passengers pass from the airship to the mooring tower entrance - hundreds of feet above the surroundings with nothing between the passenger and certain death except a narrow walkway! The airship also must be able to turn in the wind so the nose can always be pointed into the wind so the mooring tower must be designed to permit this continuous swivelling as wind conditions change.
And imagine the difficulty of dropping a rope from the nose of the airship and having it grabbed by mere humans dangling from an access platform at the top of narrow structures at the top of skyscrapers! Positioning a great Zeppelin is far too complex to imagine this scenario ever working!
And how would the airship have been replenished? Fuel, water, crew supplies, food, hydrogen or helium lifting gas? Provisions would have certainly been needed, even if only an intermediate stop!
No, the idea of mooring towers on skyscrapers never passed the "dream" stage. It is a myth, only a myth, that giant airships ever moored on any building. But it still captures the imagination in the photoshopped images found all over the Internet.
The truth is, airships have landed on buildings! Not the great, rigid airships such as the Graf Zeppelin, Hindenburg, Los Angeles, R-100, R-101, or the Shenandoah, but small airships, "dirigibles", also known today as "blimps".
I've identified five airships that are known to have landed on building rooftops. These events were so long ago that they are long forgotten and have become generally lost to history! These are all detailed below. As I become aware of other, actual airship landings on buildings I will be updating this page.
On the 30th of June, 1905, Roy Knabenshue landed his "Toledo No. 1" on the roof of the Spitzer building in Toledo, Ohio. (For more on the Toledo No. 1 see: Knabenshue Toledo No. 1)
Photo credits: Roy Knabenshue Collection
The Spitzer Building still survives today at 41.652673°N, 83.536297° W
On the 14th of September, 1910, Capt George E. Yager landed his airship on the roof of the Klemm department store on the North side of the Courthouse square in Bloomington, Indiana.
Yager Airship on the Klemm Department Store. Photo credits: Public domain
The location of the Klemm Departement store is at 39.167702° N, 86.534364° W
Some years before February, 1917, Capt Horace Wild, or one of his crew landed on the Johnson Hotel in Red Oak, Iowa. I could not find a date with this landing happened. The only reference I could find was a story in the "Hotel World" magazine, 3 Feb, 1917, where Capt Wild mentioned the landing in a speech he was making at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago. Here's the story:
"Another hotel story Capt Wild told with gleeful humor was this: It was in the days when we gave flying exhibits at state and county fairs. We were at Red Oak, Iowa. The proprietor of the Hotel Johnson there is Sam Payne and I gave him a pain before I got thru with him. He was joking about our flying and said he would pay the hotel bill of our crew if we would land on the top of some building. Well, next morning our airship was landed on top of the Johnson. And at the end of the week Mr. Payne drew a check for $250 to cover our hotel bill. And Mr. Wild threw a picture of the Johnson on the screen showing the airship on the roof!" (From the "Hotel World", 3 Feb, 1917. pg 45).
I take the phrase "It was in the days when we gave flying exhibits at state and county fairs" to mean that the landing was likely a good 5 years earlier, perhaps 1907-1912.
Although I'd like to find a real photograph of the Wild airship on the hotel, the best I've been able to find is a post card from the time.
Wild Airship on Hotel Johnson Red Oak, Iowa. Photo credits: Public domain
The location of the Hotel was a bit hard to identify, but eventually I found that it is the present location of the Houghton State Bank, the Hotel having been long demolished. The location is at 41.008756° N, 95.230955° W.
In May, 1919, U.S. Army A-4 landed on the roof of the Statler Hotel in Cleveland, OH. It was a stunt at the Staler orchestrated by the Cleveland section of the Society of Automotive Engineers where the meeting of the association took place.
Army A-4 landing on the Statler Hotel. Photo credits: "Flight" Magazine, 10 July, 1919.
A short entry in the July 10, 1919 "Flight" magazine records that the airship was piloted by James F. Shade and that the purpose of the demonstration was to drop off two passengers at the hotel to "show the progress that has been made in the development of dirigibles and the skill with which difficult landings can be made by experienced pilots."
I should point out that the A-4 was a very successful training airship for the U.S. Army and even once carried Brigadier General Billy Mitchell in February 1923! You can read more here: Army A-4.
The Statler hotel building still exists and is located at 41.500750° N, 81.684853° W.
On 20 Jun, 1928, the Goodyear blimp, "Pilgrim" landed on the O'Neil's Department Store in Akron, Ohio.
Goodyear Pilgrim. Photo credits: Public domain
Read more about the Pilgrim at airships.net. According to the article on airships.net, the Pilgrim was deflated in June, 1928 and fitted with a new, larger envelope so that modification must have taken place shortly after this publicity stunt.
The location of the landing was at 41.079314° N, 81.520568° W, and the building still exists: