In galleries of historical photos, you are likely to see the same few iconic pictures repeated again and again. A soldier kissing his sweetheart in New York amidst a parade celebrating the end of World War II. Elvis shaking hands with President Nixon. Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. However, history is too rich, diverse and bizarre to limit your appreciation of it to these comfortable cliches. The photos in this article, not commonly circulated, will give you flavors of a past that may taste new to you.
If you take a ride on the NYC subway today, you may stand to be slightly uncomfortable. Pandhandlers might do a song and dance routine in your face. Someone may have even peed on a seat or two. But these headaches are nothing compared to the state of the city’s railway system in the seventies and early eighties, when the subway was extraordinarily dangerous.
This photograph of a group of young women riding a graffiti-blanketed subway was taken by Willy Spiller, whose favorite subject was the NYC subway system. He was present for a major crime wave. During the late seventies and early eighties, the subways were such hotspots for violent crime that there were over two thousand cops assigned to walk underground beats at every hour of the day.
The Hindenburg, the enormous airship most famous for eventually exploding, is seen here passing the Empire State Building in 1937. When the photograph was taken, the Hindenburg was on its way to its disastrous landing in New Jersey.
The Hindenburg was a commercial passenger rigid airship. It was the largest airship, by envelope volume, in the world. It was in operation for fourteen months, first taking flight in March of 1936.
Extensive research after the disaster suggests that the explosion was caused by a spark resulting from a disparity in electric potential between the airship and the atmosphere. The spark caught a hydrogen leak and set the airship on fire.
Thirty-six people were killed in the disaster. It was the last of the major airship disasters in history. In comparison, the Hindenburg disaster was actually significantly less fatal than multiple other, less famous incidents that preceded it. However, the Hindenburg loomed large in the world’s consciousness, and travel by airship became markedly less popular.
The explosion was a media spectacle. The public ate up newsreel footage and audio recordings from the disaster’s aftermath. It was the kiss of death for the institution of airship travel, which has never recovered.