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Arthur Falk Hindenburg Papers

refer to caption
As the German passenger airship Hindenburg attempted to land at New Jersey’s Lakehurst Naval Air Station, it caught fire and was destroyed. Of the 97 people on board, 35 died. Courtesy of National Air and Space Museum.

COLLECTION SCOPE & CONTENT

At 6:25 P.M. EST on May 6, 1937, while approaching Lakehurst Naval Station’s mooring mast between storms, Hindenburg burst into flames. Within thirty-four seconds, fire consumed the entire airship. Passengers and crew members jumped from the burning airship, some falling to their deaths. Thirty-five of the ninety-seven men and women on board, plus one member of the ground crew, died. At least 360 of the more than 17,000 pieces of mail on board the airship survived the disastrous fire. The disaster ended transatlantic commercial travel in lighter-than-air vessels. Debates continue regarding the cause of the spark that ignited the hydrogen and outer covering.

This collection includes the first list of mail salvaged from the wreckage to reach philatelic hands. Postal officials typed the lists in 1937 as they prepared the disaster mail to be processed and delivered to the addressees. In addition, certificates of expertization, correspondence, and clippings kept by Arthur Falk relate to Hindenburg disaster mail.

These papers are held in the NPM curatorial archives with restricted use.

PROVENANCE

The United States Post Office Department documented the mail salvaged from the German zeppelin LZ-129 Hindenburg after its disaster on May 6, 1937. Philatelists had never seen the typed lists and internal correspondence of the POD until, during the 1970s, stamp dealer Arthur Falk found some records. He had been told that the file had been in the desk of the late Albert Goldman, New York City’s postmaster during the 1930s and 1940s. Falk obtained a letter of introduction from a postal official in Washington, D.C., to postal officials in New York City. He sought out an older postal employee, who directed him to Goldman’s desk. Searching through a basement of miscilaneous postal discards, he located the desk. When he opened a drawer, he found the prized file, and soon received permission to photocopy the documents. Since then, the desk’s contents have been destroyed.

Until recently, Falk’s lists were the only source available to identify Hindenburg crash mail. He used the lists to publish his book Hindenburg Crash Mail: The Search Goes On in 1976. Falk held back some of the information on the lists so that he would have the sole access to that information for expertising. Unfortunately, the book does include some errors and misidentifies some forgeries as genuine. Falk saved the information for history and provided the first clues of the kinds of information logged by postal officials. In 2011, the late Arthur Falk’s sons Ronald and Allen donated the papers to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum with the assistance of Robert Horn. These papers provided valuable research information for the museum exhibition Fire & Ice: Hindenburg and Titanic, www.postalmuseum.si.edu/fireandice. They served as a resource for currently definitive source on Hindenburg disaster mail and forgeries, LZ-129 Hindenburg Zeppelin Crash Mail by Dieter Leder.

NARRATIVE DESCRIPTION

Box 1

Folder 1     Acquisition and releases. This collection of papers includes confidential names and addresses that require restricted use for privacy purposes.

Folder 2     Book: Hindenburg Crash Mail: The Search Goes On

Folder 3     Post Office Department documents Folder 4                 Expertising documents
Folder 5     Certificates and correspondence Folder 6                 Correspondence and clippings
Folder 7     Dieter Leder’s LZ-129 Hindenburg Zeppelin Crash Mail

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Arthur Falk Hindenburg Papers | National Postal Museum

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