Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘Shenandoah’

Shenandoah Airship Trailer Museum

Shenandoah Airship Trailer Museum in Ada, Ohio

U.S.S. Shenandoah Airship Trailer Museum in Ada, Ohio

In a remote corner of southeastern Ohio, those interested in history will feel fortunate to stumble upon U.S.S. Shenandoah Trailer Museum. This small, but very nice, camper trailer nearly overflows with historic memorabilia, which the Rayner family began organizing for display back in the 1980’s. Rayner’s Towing Garage in Ada, Ohio has a fantastic collection of items related to the Shenandoah Airship crash back in 1925, and the historical marker out front explains the story of the crash. Commander Zachary Lansdowne had been warned not to take this particular flight due to the rapid changes in Ohio weather during September. But on its tour of midwestern state fairs, he wanted to fly the immense 680′ zeppelin over his family home in Greeville, Ohio where his mother was living at that time.

USS Shenandoah Station Memorial Post Card

USS Shenandoah Station Memorial Post Card

Bryan and Theresa Rayner were eager to share their knowledge on a recent visit to their museum. Theresa, who works at the local post office, attempted to have a commemorative stamp made on the 80th anniversary, but that wasn’t possible due to government disaster regulations following 9/11. Therefore, for the 85th anniversary, the post office did have a commemorative post card developed. Part of the airship landed on the family farm of Bryan Rayner, who developed his interest way back at the age of three when he went with his grandfather to take people to the crash site at their farm.. Unfortunately, Bryan recently suffered a severe heart attack and now joins those who died in the Shenandoah crash.

The walls are covered with pictures and stories of the 1925 crash of the famous airship, Shenandoah. There were actually three places where major sections of the airship fell to earth. The stern section of the ship crashed  near Ava and a memorial can be seen from I-77, heading south, between the Buffalo and Belle Valley exits. The control car crashed on nearby Andy Gamary Farm, while the bow section drifted a bit farther south to Sharon, Ohio along State Route 78.

The Shenandoah was built for naval purposes and not designed for luxury travel. Frequently while on its missions, it would be tied to a naval carrier in the ocean. When released it could float away above the clouds. By lowering a “spy car” just below the clouds, it accomplished its missions of reconnaissance on enemy ships and subs.

Display showing the skeleton of the famous Shenandoah airship

Display showing the skeleton of the famous Shenandoah

The skeleton of the ship was made of aluminum girders with the fabric covering coated with silvery aluminum paint. Inside the ship there was actually a long walkway, along which the crew could sleep and eat. There were twenty gas cells with their outside covering being made of cotton and the inside made of “goldbeaters skin”, the stomach lining of oxen.

Pieces of Shenandoah: oxen stomach lining, aluminum and wood frame

Pieces of Shenandoah outside fabric, oxen stomach lining, aluminum and wood frame

Pieces of all these parts are available to see and even touch inside the museum. Most are behind glass, but they feel it is important to have young people especially, be able to touch the original pieces to gain a better feel for their historic importance. The Rayners took items to local schools in Noble County to share the story with the children over the years. They even set up a 12″ walkway, which was the actual size of the walkway inside the airship, for children to duplicate the experience of the limited space inside.

One of many glass cases filled with memorabilia

One of many glass cases filled with memorabilia

Glass cases are packed with memorabilia that has been gathered from many sources. Some items have been donated to the museum and others have been purchased. Old 78 records with songs about the Shenandoah, such as “The End of The Shenandoah”, have been collected. Sheet music of “The Wreck of Shenandoah” can also be viewed. A large collection of rings made from pieces of the airship fill a special exhibit case. Some were purchased as gifts for Bryan, who had a real passion for keeping the memory of the Shenandoah alive.

You might be surprised at the number of visitors who have toured the U.S.S. Shenandoah Trailer Museum from all over the United States, Canada, England, Australia, and New Zealand. Over the years many, who actually lost family members in that crash, stopped by to leave a piece of history and view the grand collection of memorabilia. On the 2013 anniversary of the crash, Commander Zachary Lansdowne’s granddaughter and family visited the museum.

This is one of those times when an individual or two have made a real difference in the world by keeping alive the stories and events of the airship Shenandoah.

The U.S.S. Shenandoah Trailer Museum can be found in Ada, Ohio just off I-77. To visit the Shenandoah crash site, take I-77 to Exit 28 , Belle Valley. From the west side of the interstate, take Hwy 821 North 5 miles to Ava. The monument is on the north side of town on the east side of the road and well marked. Rayner’s Garage and the Shenandoah Trailer Museum are on the south side of town. The museum has limited open hours.


Shenandoah Crash Recollections with Ed Lehotay

USS Shenandoah airship

USS Shenandoah airship

Step back 88 years to September, 1925 as we visit an observer, Ed Lehotay, a lively 97 years old. He and his family actually saw the giant Shenandoah airship that fateful morning before it crashed in nearby Ava, Ohio.

USS Shenandoah was the first of four US Navy rigid airships built at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey.  It made the first airship crossing of North America at speeds of up to 69 mph.  On its 57th flight, this “strongest airship in the world” was on a publicity tour of Midwestern State Fairs when it was caught in a thunderstorm in the rolling hills of southeastern Ohio.  Surprisingly, 29 of the crew of 43 survived the crash.

Ed Lehotay at 97 years of age

Ed Lehotay at 97 years of age

Nine year old Ed Lehotay recalled September 2 as being a dreary day with the threat of a storm in the air. They had gone to bed about 10:00 that night in their family home on Patton Hollow Road just south of Cambridge. Their house shook in the terrible storm with torrents of rain pouring down. As the lightning flashed and lit up the sky, their father had noticed a large airship pitching back and forth like a bucking horse directly over their house. His father woke the whole family at 4:00 in the morning on September 3, 1925. The children’s eyes were wide with wonder at the huge airship over their house being lit up by the lightning.

The Shenandoah moved slowly just over the rooftop. Their family was shocked to see the 680′ long airship with a diameter of nearly 80′ so close, rolling from side to side. That’s as long as two and a half football fields!  When the sound of the roaring engines combined with the rolling thunder, the noise was unforgettable. From the living room window, the family watched the airship as it drifted across the road, over the barn, and up the hill nearly touching the top of their cherry orchard. The crew threw the spider lines from the airship in hopes they would either get tangled in the tree tops, or perhaps someone would be able to reach them and restrain the airship.

Ed and his family would never forget the sight of the USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) on that eventful morning. As the squall line continued to pummel  the zeppelin, the ship eventually broke in half with part of it landing near Ava, Ohio in Noble County, and the rest being scattered about ten miles farther, with many of the crew falling to the ground along the way.

Rings made from Shenandoah's aluminum frame

Rings made from Shenandoah’s aluminum frame.

People made a beeline to the crash location in the continuing rain. Ed begged his family to let him go to the site, but they felt there would be too much confusion there for a youngster. Instead his brother drove to Ava through the mud roads in his new Willy’s Baby Overland. Once there they saw people cutting up the fabric of the airship for raincoats. Even though it was raining, people still needed drinking water so a local farmer, fearing his well would go dry from so many users, began charging for water – something rare in those days. Another young entrepreneur brought thirst quenching bottles of pop to sell at the site. Many took pieces of Shenandoah’s aluminum frame as souvenirs.  Ed’s brother brought him a piece of aluminum, which Ed melted in their forge and fashioned into rings. His dad put on one of those rings with a diamond shape on top, wore it every day and was even buried with it on his hand.

Shenandoah Memorial in Ava Ohio

Shenandoah Memorial in Ava Ohio

Today the Shenandoah Memorial stands near the place of the crash. Originally, the memorial was back in the woods at the actual site of the crash, but today it has been moved where people can visit it more easily. It consists of a small metal replica of the Shenandoah airship inside a tall granite archway , which is surrounded by swirling metal storm clouds. A bronze plaque lists names of those who lost their lives in the crash.

At the southern end of Ava, there is a USS Shenandoah Memorial Trailer Museum beside Rayner’s Garage. Bryan and Teresa Rayner have saved many pieces of memorabilia regarding that crash in 1925. Bryan has a special interest since his family owned one of the farms where pieces were found.

A local high school in Noble County carries on the historic memory of this event by having their high school sports team called the Shenandoah Zeps.  Their logo is a sleek dirigible.

How wonderful it would have been to view the Shenandoah in all its magnificence as it glided through the sky. Thanks to all those who help memories of the  famous airship and its crash still live on!

To visit the Shenandoah crash site, take I-77 to Exit 28 , Belle Valley. From the west side of the interstate, take Hwy 821 North 5 miles to Ava. The monument is on the north side of town on the east side of the road and well marked. Rayner’s Garage and the Shenandoah Trailer Museum are on the south side of town. The museum has limited open hours.

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