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The US gained interest in rigid airships due to their successful use by Germany in WW I. Both the US and Great Britain studied captured German Zeppelins during the Great War gleaning much design information, and the Shenandoah's design was based on the German LZ-96 which had been built as a bomber in 1917, but was captured by the French on October 20, that same year.

Shenandoah

Photo credit: US Navy

This Navy photo above is the mast at San Diego, California. I identified the site of this mast by locating a 1925 map of the military facility. See below.

Construction

The Shenandoah was assembled in Hangar 1 at Lakehurst, NJ. Lakehurst was already established as a Navy Lighter-than-Air facility. She was completed in 1924 and commissioned "ZR-1", "Zeppelin, Rigid #1". She was 680 feet long, almost 79 feet in diameter, and stood 93 feet above the ground. She was designed to use helium rather than hydrogen for obvious safety reasons. (In fact, after the crash of the Roma in 1922, the US Congress mandated that US airships use helium instead of hydrogen). To conserve the scarce and expensive helium, rather than venting the precious helium, condensers were installed to capture engine exhaust to recover water vapor to compensate some for weight loss due to the consumption of fuel. She was commissioned on October 10, 1923.

Operations

The Shenandoah's capabilities were tested from September, 1923, through the summer of 1924. On January 16, 1924 she suffered an accident when, while moored at Lakehurst, a gale ripped the covering on her upper tail fin, causing her to roll and tear her nose away from the mast. She suffered significant damage but was saved by the test crew on board at the time. After repairs, in August, 1924, the Shenandoah took part in tactical exercises and mooring experiments with ships. In October, 1924, she participated in exercises cross-country to practice mooring operations with newly installed mooring masts in several locations. This exercise took the Shenandoah from Lakehurst to California and back to Washington in the first-ever crossing of the USA by a rigid airship.

Demise

On September 2, 1925, the USS Shenandoah began a good-will tour of the US Midwest, to include flyovers of several cities, and state fairs. On September 3rd, she encountered thunderstorms and was caught in an updraft which quickly took her above her pressure limits. She was torn apart in the turbulence, and crashed near Caldwell Ohio. Fourteen of her crew of 53 died, including her commander, Zachary Lansdowne. The record shows that Commander Lansdowne fought for cancellation of the publicity tour due to the high probability of thunderstorms, but was overruled by senior leadership. This incident caused Colonel Billy Mitchell to criticize senior military leadership, which, in turn, lead to his courts marshal ending his Army career. (If this does not sound familiar, look up the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986.)

Ignominious End

Since the crash of the USS Shenandoah was on land, the crash sites (there were 3) drew thousands of curiosity seekers. People being people, sadly, they turned into looters and anything they could carry way, they did so. This resulted in the loss of much of the Shenandoah's outer fabric, her logbooks, and many parts such as instruments, and controls disappearing into private homes.

Sites of Interest

Lakehurst:

I include this first photo of the USS Shenandoah at Lakehurst, as she is being removed from Hangar 1 on September 4th, 1923, not because it is hard to find the location, as it is easy to still locate Hangar 1. I include this photo because it is both beautiful, and when compared to a similar shot of the Hindenburg in the same hangar, one gets a feeling of the enormity of the Hindenburg - and yet, the Shenandoah was a giant all her own!

Shenandoah at Lakehurst.

Photo credit: Abandoned and Little Known Airfields.
http://www.airfields-freeman.com/NJ/Airfields_NJ_E.htm

This shot, above is at Lat 40.029381 N, Lon 74.3178 W. (Click here to View in Google Maps).

For comparison, take a look at this photo of the Hindenburg in the same hangar:

Hindenburg in Hangar 1.

Photo credits: National Archives.
http://www.airfields-freeman.com/NJ/Airfields_NJ_E.htm

All I can say is WOW! The Shenandoah fills up barely a 5th of the opening in the hangar, while the Hindenburg fills up well over half! Oh my! These great airships must have been absolutely something to see! Nothing in our times, not even the US Saturn V rocket, the US Space Shuttle, or the Russian Nova rocket was ANYTHING like the Great Airships!

Cathedral of the Air:

Cathedral of the Air

Photo credits: Google Street View.

The shot, above is at Lat 40.017873 N, 074.310421 W. (Click here to View in Google Maps).

The Cathedral of the Air was built in 1932 by the American Legion to serve military personnel of the surrounding military facilities. Suprisingly, little information is found on-line about its history - even the Wikipedia article about it is only one short paragraph! Within its walls, both the USS Shenandoah and the USS Akron are commemorated with bronze plaques.

Here is the plaque commemorating the USS Shenandoah. Note the it was dedicated in 1926, just one year after the fateful disaster. I could find absolutely no information on where this plaque was originally placed. Dedicated in 1926, at least 6 years before the Cathedral of the Air was completed, this plaque certainly was dedicated and displayed somewhere else!

Shenandoah Plaque

Photo credits: Rick Zitarosa.

It's a fine tribute to the crew of the Shenandoah, but it is sad that it has fallen into such obscurity. I've been researching airships for at least 15 years and did not become aware of the existence of this Shenandoah plaque till I saw a post on the AIRSHIPS, DIRIGIBLE, AND ZEPPELINS FaceBook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/airshipblimpzeppelin/, in 2016.


Ft Worth, Texas; Helium Processing Plant:

This next photo haunted me for a long time because I know it is the Shenandoah, and I know was shot from Ft Worth, TX, and I know the date. It was the 9th of Oct, 1924, taken some time after 9:46 AM. Despite all this information, I did not know a key and desired piece! The location of the Mast! (A very fine story of the Shenandoah's cross-country trip in 1924 is found in the Jan, 1925 issue of National Geographic. It describes how the Shenandoah arrived at Ft Worth at 8:30 PM on October 8th, and departed at 9:46 AM on October 9th.)

Still, all I knew was that the mooring was at or near the Helium plant in Ft Worth. Yet, this is a nice picture from that spot, and it would be nice to know exactly where it was! I'm probably the only person on earth who cares and simply wants to know where this mast was, but how many there are doesn't matter. Here is the photo:

Shenandoah at Ft Worth.

Photo credit: http://www.b-36peacemakermuseum.org/Airship/tabid/808/Default.aspx
(The same photo also appears in the Jan, 1925 National Geographic, page 12.)

Well, I found it! Here is where it was:

Ft Worth Mast Location.

Photo credits: Google Earth.

In this shot, above, the Mast map-tack is at Lat 32.828463° N, 097.346317° W . I also placed a map-tack at the location of the remnants of the Helium Plant. Here is a map with the position of the Ft Worth Mooring Mast marked in Google Maps:


View Larger Map

How do I know this? I'm glad you asked! I found a discussion of the Helium Plant location at the "Fort Worth Forum", with a link to some very nice photos of the Helium plant remnants, and though no one in the forum knew the location of the mast, someone did post that the Helium plant had been near the intersection of Meacham Blvd, and Blue Mound Road! Armed with this new information, I quickly found the location of the plant in Google Earth (See map-tack above). Since the mast site was not known, and the area showed no signs of a mast at the Meacham International Airport, about a mile to the west of the helium plant, I decided to search for a map from the period. I struck pay dirt! I found a terrific map of the Ft Worth area at the University of Texas Libraries, a fairly detailed and high resolution map, too large to reproduce here. But here, below, is a section of the map, and what did I find? A site clearly marked "UNITED STATES HELIUM PRODUCTION PLANT", and a second site marked "UNITED STATES DIRIGIBLE MOORING MAST"!

Section of 1925 Ft Worth Map

Photo credits: University of Texas Libraries.

So my next step was to convert this section of the 1925 map into a high contrast image and overlay it on Google Earth. After lining up the streets, many of which are the same as they were in 1925, I was able to "see" where the mast used to stand! Here is my overlay. Place your mouse on and off the image to alternate the view with and without the overlay:

Photo credits: Google Earth & Univ of TX Libraries (overlay).

Not having cartographic tools, I think the alignment is pretty good. In the lower third of the Google Earth image, the criss-cross of roads match very well, and the road where the rail spur which ran south of what is Meacham Blvd today, lines up well with the 1925 map. Unfortunately, "Blue Mound Road" does not line up with the road immediately to the West of the Helium Plant, but the 1925 map shows "Decatur" was also called "Blue Mound Road", and since the area became very industrial over the last 88 years, I suspect much road redesign and relocation over the years. Nevertheless, I think the location of the site of the Ft Worth Mooring Mast is fairly "sound". It might be a few feet in one direction or another, but I consider the location now "known"! Mystery solved!


St Louis:

I spent a LOT of time on this next photo and finally identified it! It is the USS Shenandoah over St Louis, Missouri, which dates it to on or about 2 October, 1923, just one month after her first flight, and even before her "christening" on 10 October. I was misled for a long time trying to identify this photo by the Hill-Behan Lumber Co which is visible in the photo along the left side, about 1/3 the way down. It took me hours of study to finally realize the text in the image was "Hill Behan Lumber Co.", the words "Lumber Co." being far more legible than "Hill Behan"! This made me think this photo was from 1924 during the cross-country trip the Shenandoah made when she traveled across the southern US - and the Hill Behan Lumber Co had stores in Missouri, Mississippi, Illinois, and Louisiana.

The Hill Behan Lumber Co resulted in a wild goose chase because the January, 1925 issue of the National Geographic magazine article provided me with the major cities the Shenandoah passed, and they Spartanburg, S C; Atlanta and Carrollton, Ga.; Birmingham, Ala.; Columbus and Greenville, Miss.; Bastrop and Shreveport, La.; and then to Dallas and Fort Worth. I thought I struck gold! All I had to do was match the roads in the photo to the roads in the cities she passed over in Mississippi and Louisiana, and I would have it! But....

For days I looked over the map for nearly every large city along the flight path and found...NOTHING! I was so discouraged. Then, another breakthrough. Though I had seen it before, for some reason, it did not "click" that this could be in the St Louis area, but I Googled "USS Shenandoah St Louis", and the wiki page (which I had seen many times before) came up - and there in front of me was a small photo of the Shenandoah moored at....ST LOUIS! So I resumed my road search and quickly found the key indicators! There it was before me! She was near the Bethany Cemetery (one of the indicators in the photo) and over what is today near Dr. Martin Luther King Rd, and Keinlen St or Hodiamont Ave. in St. Louis! So, here is the photo:

Shenandoah at St. Louis.

Photo credit: Urbana School District 116, Urbana, Illinois
Full size photo at usd116.org

In this shot, below, the map-tack is at Lat 38.673797 N, Lon 90.286592 W. (Click here to View in Google Maps).

St Louis area.

Photo credits: Google Earth.

And in this next shot, below, the perspective is set to approximate the perspective of the earlier USS Shenandoah photo. It's a little hard to tell, but the streets line up perfectly, except where 90 years of change has taken place! The Bethany Cemetery matches well, and some, but very few, structures line up. (It's amazing how few structures are original, considering the 90 year span between the original 1923 photo and this graphic from 2012!

St Louis area.

Photo credits: Google Earth.

(Click here to View in Google Maps).

This next photo, also from the St Louis overflight, I recently added to my growing list of identified locations! I always knew the photo was from the same overfight of St. Louis as the previous photo (above), but I had long set it aside not sure I could locate its site on a map. But I spent some more time on it, and my effort paid off! Here is the second photo:

Shenandoah at St. Louis.

Photo credit: Urbana School District 116, Urbana, Illinois
Full size photo at usd116.org

I was first able identify the large warehouse buildings behind and to the right of the ZR-1's tail, then the "mansion" in the middle of the right side of the photograph. Once those were identified, I was able to match more buildings in the area under the ZR-1, positively confirming I had found the location this photo was taken. Here is the site as seen in Google Earth:

Shenandoah Over St. Louis.

Photo credit: Google Earth

I placed the map tack in the photo above at Lat 38.669219 N, Lon 90.279231 W by guessing the point on the ground over which the ZR-1 is at the moment the photo was taken. May not be exact, but it is close.

(Click here to View in Google Maps).

Since you don't have the benefit of knowing which buildings in this Google Earth image match the 1923 photo of the Shenandoah, here is a direct comparison:

Over St. Louis building ID.

And a close-up of the two key identifying buildings:

Over St. Louis building ID close-up.

There's more! I was stunned to see only ONE building still existing in the street which appears under the nose of the Shenandoah in the photo. That street is Theodosia, and using Google Earth "Street View", I captured a photo of that one remaining building. Here it is:

5852 Theodosia.

Photo credit: Google Earth

And one more road stood out. That is what is today called Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. I matched 5815 Martin Luther King Dr with the 1923 photo:

5815 MLK Dr.

Photo credit: Google Earth


Scott Air Force Base, Illinois

Scott Field (re-designated "Scott Air Force Base" in 1948), near St. Louis, was built as an aviation training field during World War I. Training operations began there in late 1917. Scott Field survived the end of WWI, and became a "Lighter-than-air (LTA)" base in 1921. They had big plans for LTA! A giant airship hanger was immediately built and was completed in January 1923. Scott's hanger was second in size only to the great hangar at Lakehurst, NJ, and was 910' long, 200' wide, and 185' tall! She could easily hold an airship like the Shenandoah, which was 680' long and stood a little over 93' high from the ground.

Scott Field, I think, explains the Shenandoah's visit to St. Louis. Above, I mentioned that the Shenandoah was on test flights in September & October of 1923, the purpose of which was for airworthiness, and handling in as much weather as they could encounter. Since Scott Field was clearly to be a "hub" of airship operations, it made quite good sense that the Shenandoah would land there for handling operations tests, and perhaps, though I could find no evidence of it, hangaring tests in Scott's giant hangar.

There is a terrific photograph of the Shenandoah landing at Scott Field, which I will reproduce here and link to the original since there is a copyright on it. It shows the Shenandoah coming in steeply to Scott Field on Oct 2, 1923. The original photo was a 4x5 glass plate, and the digital scan is not particularly good, plus they scanned the image backward. This is why I have posted a copy of the image here, but corrected left-to-right.

Shenandoah landing at Scott AFB

Photo credit: University of Missouri, St. Louis Mercantile Library.
The original photo is found here: St. Louis Globe Democrat Collection

This is such a great photo, I simply had to try to locate where it was taken as best I could. Since I knew it was at Scott Field, and it was 1923, I thought I could at least isolate the general area, as Scott Field in 1923 had to be pretty much just that - a "field"! But in the process, discovering the giant airship hangar at Scott Field was already built by the time the Shenandoah arrived in October, 1923, I turned to the location of the hangar. Finding the hangar location would be "in the ballpark" because most certainly, the Shenandoah was within a few hundred yards of it!

Finding the hangar proved to be a tough problem. Very nice photos of the hangar exist, as in this next one below, but the AFB has changed so much in the intervening 90 years, I began to doubt I could locate the hangar site. To make matters worse, even the Scott AFB history pages on the Scott AFB web site mentions absolutely nothing as to where the Hangar was!

Airship Hangar, Scott Field

Photo credit: USAF, Public Domain

For a long time, I struck out till I found that there is ONE building left in the Historical District of the original Scott Field which was present in 1923 when the Shenandoah visited! Here is that building, originally an electric substation:

Original building, Scott Field

Photo credit: USAF, Public Domain

So I found the building, and matched it to photos of Scott Field from the day:

Location of original building, Scott Field

Photo credit: Upper photo, ScottAirShow.org, http://scottairshow.org/scottyears.html
Lower image: Google Earth

Making some educated guesses as to the distance the Hangar was from the 1923 building, and drawing in a rectangle the size of the hangar, I place the hanger on what became an active runway and looks now to be a taxiway. Then in April, 2017, I received a comment from Dean P. who referred me to a 1935 topographical map of Scott Field, available on-line, and the location was fully identified! My original estimate of the location was only about 500' too far East! The properly identified location is shown here (next image). Thank you Dean P.!

Location of Scott Field Airship Hangar

Photo credit: Google Earth

So my conclusion of the approximate location of the Shenadoah on Oct 2, 1923, when it was "docked" at Scott Field is about Lat 38.544992 N, Lon 89.853405 W, a few hundred yards off the front of the Airship Hangar.


NAS North Point, San Diego

During her mooring tests in 1924 at NAS North Point San Diego.

ZR-1 at NAS North Point.

Photo credit: US Navy.

So here is the NAS North Point today:

NAS North Point Mooring.

Photo credit: Google Earth

I've identified a few structures in the 1924 photo which still exist today, and before I found a terrific map of the island from 1925 I did a crude triangulation to locate where the mooring mast might have once stood. My estimate turned out to be only a few hundred yards off to the East! By locating the old map, I found the mast to have been at Lat 32.696081 N, Lon 117.217389 W. (Click here to View in Google Maps).

So here is the NAS North Point from that 1925 map:

NAS North Point 1925.

Photo credit: http://img.readtiger.com/wkp/en/San_Diego_Bay,_Plan_Showing_Anchorages_and_Moorings_-_NARA_-_295436.jpg

By lining up the map on Google Earth and matching the streets of Coronado, and the streets and buildings shown for the Naval Air Station, the location of the Mooring Mast (seen marked on the map just above and left of the "R" in "Rockwell Field") was immediately apparent.

Multiple other photos exist of the Shenandoah moored at the San Diego mast. Here are two:

ZR-1 at San Diego Mast.

Photo credit: Naval Historical Center, http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/images/h98000/h98226.jpg

ZR-1 at San Diego Mast

Photo credit: F. Carvallo, http://fcarvallo.deviantart.com/art/Shenandoah-1924-San-Diego-with-civilians-394986184


Shenandoah Crash Sites & Markers

When she came down that September day in 1925, she broke into 3 parts, creating 3 crash sites. I've identified all 3 locations, as well as the markers and memorials. Here are my findings:

Crash Site #1

Crash Site 1.

Photo credit: National Register.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalregister/3972152180/

(Above.) The control car, two engines, and part of the midsection fell here near the Andy Gamary farmhouse (seen in the background) The wreckage is at Lat 39.839108 N, Lon 81.538544 W . (Click here to View in Google Maps).

Crash site 1.

Photo credit: Bing Maps

In this image above, the location of the control car is marked by a memorial in the dead center of the image (the circle #1 in the center), and is at the Lat/Lon indicated in the previous photo.

Crash Site #2

Crash Site 2.

Photo credit: Airships.net.
http://www.airships.net/us-navy-rigid-airships/uss-shenandoah

(Above) The aft section fell near what is today Interstate 77 about 1/2 mile SW of Crash Site 1 at the Gamary farmhouse.

Crash Site 2.

Photo credit: Google Earth

Here is the site in Google Earth. The map tack is at Lat 39.835184 N, Lon 81.546320 W. (Click here to View in Google Maps).

There is a marker the site of Crash Site 2, and it is visible from Interstate 77:

Crash Site 2 Marker.

Photo credit: National Register.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalregister/3971384407/in/photostream/

(Above) This is the "monument" at the aft section crash site. I was unable to find a current photo of the marker.

Crash Site #3

Crash Site 3.

Photo credit: US Navy
http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/ev-1920s/ev-1925/zr1-loss.htm

(Above) Crash Site 3 is where the nose section of the Shenandoah came down. Today, one can visit the exact spot on highway 78 (also known as "McConnelsville Road") where there is a nice granite marker, and a painted sign.

Crash Site 3.

Photo credit: Google Earth

(Above). This spot is also found on Google's "street view"! The map tack is at Lat 39.741256 N, Lon 81.593285 W. (Click here to View in Google Maps).

(Below) And this is the Google Street view image of Crash Site 3:

Crash Site 3.

Photo credit: Google Earth -Street View

(Below) And finally, here is a close-up of the granite marker at Crash Site 3:

Crash Site 3 marker.

Photo credit: Historical Marker Database
http://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=18025


Memorial at Ava, OH

There is a real nice memorial located at Ava, Ohio. It is a stone monument, with a representative bronze ZR-1 in the middle:

ZR-1 Memorial

Shenandoah memorial.

Photo credit: Historical Marker Database.
http://www.hmdb.org/PhotoFullSize.asp?PhotoID=52572

The memorial is here:

Shenandoah memorial.

Photo credit: Google Earth.

The memorial is at Lat 39.833237 N, Lon 81.574209 W. (Click here to View in Google Maps).

Here is a close-up of the bronze plaque:

Shenandoah memorial bronze.

Photo credit: Historical Marker Database.
http://www.hmdb.org/PhotoFullSize.asp?PhotoID=52573


The Shenandoah is often mentioned as the only US Rigid Airship to crash on land. While this is true, the Roma also crashed on land, in February 1922, though the Roma was a "Semi-rigid". Both were great disasters, with tragic loss of life of many aviators. The fact that the Roma was a semi-rigid airship does not make it's disaster any less significant or of less historic interest. See my page on the Roma. But for all Airship aficionados, the Shenandoah is the one airship for which there are documented sites which can be visited including a fine memorial at Ava, OH. If there is anyone who visits the sites of the USS Shenandoah, and cares to send me some high resolution photos of the sites and memorials, I will be happy to modify this web page to include your photograph(s), along with proper recognition.