Conshohocken’s Connections to The
Hindenburg in Lakehurst, and the President in Springfield
By Jack Coll
I was organizing a few files in my office in an attempt to forget about the Eagles loss to Tampa that I just wasted three hours watching when I came across the files of two national known incidents that involved Conshohocken residents.
I wrote about both of these incidents in a book published back in 2011 titled “Tales of Conshohocken & Beyond,” but certainly worth repeating
I’ve been writing about Conshohocken residents and their achievements for more than 35 years in an effort to make current residents proud of the community they live in and long-time residents reminisce about the great town they chose to call home. So here they are taken right out of the book written by Jack and Brian Coll, “Tales of Conshohocken & Beyond.”
You Might Remember This One
Lakehurst, New Jersey, May 7, 1937, as the German aircraft “Hindenburg,” made its approach at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station at 7PM, hundreds of onlookers gathered to view the 804-foot-long aircraft landing. Suddenly the upper fin burst into flames and in a matter of seconds, 36 passengers and crewmen were dead as spectators looked on in horror. Herb Morrison was covering the event for a local radio station and if you ever heard the recording, it’s one you’ll never forget. In a high pitched almost weepy voice, Morrison cried, “It burst into flames….Get out of the way, Please, Oh My, this is terrible, Oh, the humanity and all the passengers.”
Donald Flynn, a former Conshohocken resident and then United States Customs Agent, was one of three customs agents waiting to board the Hindenburg as it landed on the runway in Lakehurst. Flynn was walking on the runway towards the doomed aircraft as it descended towards the runway. Flynn had moved out of Conshohocken to Philadelphia to be closer to his job, but his brother William, who still lived on West Sixth Avenue, and other family members still lived in Conshohocken. It was customary for the customs agents to board the aircraft in a hurry to search passengers’ bags and passengers were not permitted to de-board the craft until the customs agents gave approval. As Donald approached the Hindenburg with his co-workers, a sudden burst of flames just forward of the upper left fin led to one of the greatest disasters of all time as the airship went down in a fiery blaze.
Donald and the other agents worked through the night and helped save the lives of many of the burned passengers of the Zeppelin. His family back in Conshohocken was extremely concerned as they were aware that Donald and the other two agents were among the first people to board any incoming vessels to inspect all of the luggage on the ship. It wasn’t until the following day that family members received a telegram stating that Donald was safe.
A year later, another article pertaining to the Hindenburg appeared in the Conshohocken Recorder Newspaper headlined:
Local Resident Has Hindenburg Souvenir
As reported in the newspaper
James Denno, 101 East Third Avenue is the proud possessor of a souvenir from the wrecked German Zeppelin Hindenburg, which was destroyed by fire at Lakehurst, New Jersey May 7, 1937, when thirty-four persons lost their lives.
The souvenir is a triangular piece of the aluminum frame of the main structure of the ship which measured an overall length of 865 feet, eleven inches. (In another article the overall length was reported to be 804 feet) The piece of the frame in possession of Mr. Denno is perforated with lace holes in order that a double piece of fabric is extended in order to prevent leakage.
The local resident came into possession of the piece of the giant air liner while on a visit to a relative in New Jersey last week. The souvenir is on display today and tomorrow in the window of the Kehoe Brothers Hardware Store, 109 Fayette Street. It was exhibited to the school children of both the public and parochial schools earlier this week.
In 2011, that very same piece of Hindenburg history surfaced again. Anna Dare, the great-granddaughter of James Denno, was in possession of the triangular piece of the aluminum from the doomed ship. Dare explained that the piece of history has been in her family for nearly 75 years and at that time she was looking to let it go, looking for a buyer at the time for remains.
Anna Dare has a little Conshohocken history as she broke down some barriers as a youngster when she became the first female All Star in Conshohocken’s Little League Baseball history. Anna played shortstop for Art Andrey and Fred DeStolfo on the Blue Jays back in 1983, before earning a spot on the All-Star Team.
A Historic Landmark Bronze Plaque marks the spot of the disaster, and visitors are welcome to visit the site in Lakehurst, New Jersey.
I just found this next story extremely interesting especially considering it happened more than 150 years ago.
Bishop Matthew Simpson, The President and Conshohocken.
Matthew Simpson was a Methodist bishop of Philadelphia who became very good friends with President Abraham Lincoln back in the early 1860’s. The president would often summon Bishop Simpson to the White House for his opinion on important matters, stating that the bishop was more in touch with the common American and would understand the reaction of the situation, helping Lincoln to make decisions.
When President Lincoln was assassinated, his body traveled across parts of the country to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois. On May 4, 1865, Bishop Simpson stood at Lincoln’s graveside and gave what was described in history as the “Great Eulogy.” And a great eulogy it was.
The twenty-page document, found in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, states in part, “Abraham Lincoln was a good man; a man of noble heart in every way.” Thousands of mourners as far as the eye could see stood at the grave site, and not a dry eye was to be seen.
Stephen Miller of Conshohocken was an enlisted man in the Northern forces stationed in Washington, D.C., when Lincoln was assassinated. Miller was selected as a member of the Honor Guard in the president’s funeral procession and was at the graveside when Bishop Simpson brought tears to the nation with his speech.
Just two years later, Stephen Miller and Bishop Simpson crossed paths once more when Bishop Simpson came to Conshohocken to lay the cornerstone and dedicate the founding of the Conshohocken United Methodist Church, built at the corner of Elm and Fayette Streets. Once again, Bishop Simpson gave a speech to the more than one hundred Conshohocken residents in attendance before going back to Philadelphia.
So let Conshohocken history show that the Conshohocken United Methodist Church, founded in 1848 had Bishop Simpson and Conshohocken resident Stephen Miller in attendance, quite a story for the church now located at Sixth Avenue and Fayette Street and still going strong more than 155 years later.
It’s little stories like this, small snapshots of this borough’s history, incidents that happened not only in Conshohocken but far from the borough that makes us proud to be residents of Conshohocken. Very few communities in America can boast the history that has come out of this one square mile borough we call Conshohocken.
Photographs above include:
The Methodist Church once located at Elm and Fayette Streets where Bishop Simpson, one time friend of President Abraham Lincoln helped lay the cornerstone for the church.