Airship USS Akron in happier times.
Airship USS Akron in happier times.

Akron Airship Disaster Memorial

Field review by the editors.

Toms River, New Jersey

The most famous Zeppelin disaster in history happened to the Hindenburg, which caught fire and crashed in 1937 in Lakehurst, New Jersey. It was a horrifying end, and 36 people died. But four years earlier another airship, the Akron, crashed nearby, just off the coast of New Jersey. The Akron was 785 feet long -- nearly as big as the Hindenburg -- and its crash remains the deadliest airship disaster ever: 73 people died, only three survived. But no one remembers the Akron because no one took pictures of its disaster as it happened.

Maybe it would help if the Akron had a memorial like the one that marks the crash site of the Hindenburg. But the Akron's only public acknowledgment is a tiny plaque and piece of the airship's metal framework, mortared into a column of the Grand Army of the Republic memorial in Toms River, the nearest big town to the crash site (The GAR was a veterans organization for soldiers who fought in the Civil War). "This Metal in Memoriam to Officers and Men of U.S.S. Akron," reads the plaque, which looks like it was made shortly after the disaster in somebody's basement. It was generous of the GAR to give some space on its monument to the Akron, but didn't the Akron at least deserve its own pile of rocks with a plaque?

The Akron memorial does have one advantage over the much-grander Hindenburg memorial a few miles away: the Hindenburg memorial is on a military base and requires advance permission to see, while the Akron tribute can be visited at any time.

Akron Airship Disaster Memorial

Oakdale St., Toms River, NJ
At the traffic circle in Lakehurst, turn east onto Hwy 37. Drive 1.5 miles. Take the jughandle turn on the right for Commonwealth Blvd. Cross Hwy 37 and drive on Commonwealth about a quarter-mile. Turn left onto Oakdale St. Drive five blocks. You'll see a small park on the right with a colonnade memorial to the Grand Army of the Republic; the Akron plaque is mortared into the center column.
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