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Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah

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-=Jim=- 15 Nov 99 - 12:10 PM
raredance 15 Nov 99 - 11:57 PM
raredance 16 Nov 99 - 12:08 AM
Dale Rose 16 Nov 99 - 02:28 AM
-=Jim=- 16 Nov 99 - 07:28 PM
raredance 16 Nov 99 - 08:08 PM
GUEST,mike whybark 18 May 02 - 03:41 PM
GUEST,mike whybark 18 May 02 - 03:44 PM
masato sakurai 18 May 02 - 07:35 PM
GUEST,johnny 11 Nov 04 - 01:04 AM
Charley Noble 11 Nov 04 - 01:33 PM
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Subject: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: -=Jim=-
Date: 15 Nov 99 - 12:10 PM

We used to do a song called "The Wreck of the Shenandoah" in a folk-singing club in school, many years ago. (The Shenandoah was a dirigible, wrecked in a storm about 1938, I think in North Carolina.)

I remember about 3/4 of the lyrics, so if someone has an incomplete menory, phps we can fill it in.


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Subject: Lyr Add: WRECK OF THE SHENANDOAH (V Dalhart)
From: raredance
Date: 15 Nov 99 - 11:57 PM

Words and music by Maggie Andrews
As recorded by Vernon Dalhart, 1925.

1. At four o'clock one evening of a warm September day,
A great and mighty airship from Lakehurst flew away:
The mighty Shenandoah, the pride of all this land.
Her crew was of the bravest, Captain Lansdowne in command.

2. At four o'clock next morning, the earth was far below
When a storm in all its fury gave her a fatal blow.
For hours they bravely struggled; they worked with all their might,
But the storm could not be conquered and the ship gave up the fight.

3. Her sides were torn asunder; her cabin was torn down.
The captain and his brave men went crashing to the ground;
And fourteen lives were taken, but they've not died in vain.
Their names will live forever within the hall of fame.

4. In the little town of Greenville, a mother's watchful eye
Was waiting for the airship, to see her son go by.
But alas! Her boy lay sleeping; his last great flight was o'er.
He's gone to meet his maker; his ship will fly no more.

5. A loving wife and children, a mother’s broken heart—
They’re mourning for their loved one since the storm tore them apart;
But their faith will not be shaken; they’ll see him by and by.
They know he waits in heaven where the brave go when they die.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: raredance
Date: 16 Nov 99 - 12:08 AM

The US Navy dirigible, Shenandoah, was bound from Lakehurst, NJ to St Louis on September 3, 1925 when it crashed in a storm near Caldwell, Ohio. The commander of the airship was Zachary Lansdowne, a native of Greenville, Ohio. 14 crew were killed and 2 were injured. Commander Lansdowne's wife reportedly said that the Commander's mother lives in Greenville, Ohio, not far from the crash. She believed he had planned to circle her house. A dispatch orginating from Dayton, Ohio said: "Betty Ross Lansdowne arose early this morning, happy in the thought that she would see her boy today. There came the news that there had been an accident... Mrs. Lansdowne collapsed. Tonight her life handgs by a thread." (New York Times, Sept 4, 1925).

rich r

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: Dale Rose
Date: 16 Nov 99 - 02:28 AM

This puts me in mind of an extraordinary night, which still holds a place in my mind as one of those magical evenings which one never forgets.

A good many years ago, about 1961 or 1962 I think, I was spending the night with my cousin Johnny and his family in Southern Illinois. We spent the evening in our usual pursuits, just talking about whatever came to mind ~~ a thoroughly enjoyable evening spent with family. We played the old 78s on their windup phonograph, including The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Vernon Dalhart, and many others of the string band era. Among the Vernon Dalhart songs that we played was The Wreck of the Shenandoah. It was the first time I had ever heard it. Later we spent a good while outdoors looking at the six story tall balloon satellite which was clearly visible in the night sky, looking much like a moving star ~~ certainly a very large airship, if you will.

A couple of hours later, along about midnight, we were looking through a box of miscellaneous items that Johnny had purchased at a sale the previous week. Among the items was a piece of fabric, rolled up and tied with a faded red ribbon. It was fairly heavy material as I remember it, black on one side and a shiny metallic on the other. We untied the ribbon and unrolled the fabric, which was perhaps a foot square or thereabouts. Inside was a card which identified the fabric as a piece of the airship Shenandoah. We sat there in silence for a moment not quite comprehending the enormity of it all. Even now, nearly 40 years later and almost 75 years after the event, the coincidence of the moment still holds its spell for me. It is quite possible that we were the only ones to play the song that particular evening, and most certainly the only ones to play it, then to hold in our hands a piece of that very airship a few hours later.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: -=Jim=-
Date: 16 Nov 99 - 07:28 PM

Thanks, rich r, that was fast! I really thought it would be so obscure that no one would know it... I've run searches on the web for it for a few months but never thought to ask!

Incidentally, I seem to remember another verse which went,

A sobbing wife and children,
A mother's broken heart,
Are mourning for their loved ones,
But the storm tore them apart.

It may have been added somewhere along the line. I don't remember where in the sequence it fit... but the rest is as I remember it.

I also remember an article in Life magazine along about 1960 or so about the incident. -=Jim=-

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: raredance
Date: 16 Nov 99 - 08:08 PM

Dale, That is an amazing set of connected coincidences. It is no wonder the whole affair is indelibly traced in your memory. I have never heard the Dalhart recording of that song (or any other recording for that matter), but even if I sometime track it down it could never have the impact that it did for you that night.

rich r

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: GUEST,mike whybark
Date: 18 May 02 - 03:41 PM

I just did a bumch of writing about the wreck of the Shenandoah, and uncovered some info about the song, as well as a picture of the cover of the sheet music for it.

here's my writing (one of a series of articles I wrote about lighter-than-air aviation on my blog):

and here are the links to info about the song:

and about the songwriters, Carson Robison and Vernon Dalhart:

(geocities sites are offline until May 19th, 2002)

When I contacted the maintainer of the Dalhart site he told me he no longer had the sheet music, so the melody remains unknown; I was unable to locate a digitally-captured recordring. The original sides must be exceedingly rare, as the info about the song indicates that it was recordrded, released, and then pulled from the market at the request of crewmembers families within about two weeks of the wreck.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: GUEST,mike whybark
Date: 18 May 02 - 03:44 PM


Forgot to mention I was excerpting from this thread in a followup to my LTA stuff on the blog, including the lyrics (thaks rich! are you who I think you are?) and Dale's amazing synchronicity story.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: masato sakurai
Date: 18 May 02 - 07:35 PM

Vernon Dalhart's "Wreck of the Shenandoah" is on the CD Inducted into the Hall of Fame, 1981 (Click here for the sound clip).


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: GUEST,johnny
Date: 11 Nov 04 - 01:04 AM

This is a song my dad used to sing to me when I was just a little guy---I'm 52 now. The "extra verse" referred to went something like this:

"A loving wife and children, a mother's broken heart,
Weeps for their loved ones since the storm tore them apart.
But they will meet up yonder, they'll see them by and by.
They'll meet again in heaven where the brave go when they die."

I have the tune in my head, but I'm no musician--sorry there's no sheet music!

Hope someone is still monitoring this thread--and I hope the info I had is useful. Thanks to rich for all his input-----------

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: Charley Noble
Date: 11 Nov 04 - 01:33 PM


Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: GUEST,Jim
Date: 11 Nov 04 - 08:42 PM

Hey, Masato, I tried to find the promised sound clip on your link, but couldn't find one. Good info, though, and I ordered a copy of the CD, thanks.

Anyway, in reading the text of this song, it seems to want to be sung (in my mind, anyway) to the tune of "Jam on Gerry's Rocks," or "Harry Simms." Can anyone who knows the tune tell me if this guess is close? Or is the tune completely original?

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: GUEST,Jim
Date: 12 Nov 04 - 12:21 PM

Bueller? Bueller?

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: catspaw49
Date: 06 Dec 07 - 02:29 PM

I grew up in Tuscarawas County not far from the crash sites and my grandparents had a lot of family even closer to that neck of the woods, Noble County, Ohio. Oddly enough my son Michael is in treatment within a stone's throw of site 2. That sorta rekindled an interest I had in the Shenandoah many years ago.

Like probably half the folks in eastern Ohio, we had a piece of the Shenandoah. It's hard to imagine in the technology of today that anyone would have been excited about a dirigible. But in 1925 the great airships were a thing of wonder and they drew crowds to watch as they passed overhead. The Shenandoah was a day short of her second birthday when she went down. People came in droves to the sites and had picked the ship clean within 24 hours.

In the short time she flew though, millions had marveled at her elegance. It was the first dirigible built in the United States and the first anywhere to use the safer helium. Helium then was extremely costly to produce and the only natural gas helium was only found in the U.S.

The writings of Mike Whybark (above) are excellent and he references the following article as well. When I was in high school and needed to do a 25 page history report, I did it on the Shenandoah and I sure wish I'd had these references then! We have a lot of dead links and rather than link this, I will print it below with proper source.


Death of a Dirigible

by John Toland
From: American Heritage
February 1969, Volume X, Number 2

Over Lakehurst, New Jersey, the sky was unsettled on the afternoon of September 2, 1925. At times it was almost clear; then ominous clouds would scud across the field of the Naval Air Station and disappear as quickly as they had come. The airship Shenandoah, nose to her high mooring mast, was floating gracefully with the variable breezes. Her twenty gas bags were about 91% full; her tanks loaded with 9,075 pounds of water and 16, 620 pounds of gasoline. Sailors were riding up the elevator to the top of the mast. The 682-foot ship- her Indian name meant "Daughter of the Stars"- was almost ready for her fifty-eighth flight, a tour of Midwest state fairs. Everybody wanted to see the flying battleship.

Commander Zachary Lansdowne, the Shenandoah's skipper, had not liked the original orders for this trip. A native of Greene Ville, Ohio, he was familiar with the line squalls that swept over that part of the country during the summer, and he had officially requested that the tour be postponed. The navy had put it off until early September, but rejected any further delay. It would disappoint too many thousands. And besides, the Shenandoah had already flown 25,000 miles in all kinds of weather. Now almost the entire crew of 41 officers and men, together with two observers, had gone aboard. Not far from the base of the mast, Lansdowne was talking quietly with his wife. An Annapolis graduate with considerable lighter-than-air experience before taking command of the Shenandoah, Lansdowne was a tall, rangy, rawboned man who had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian aloft, but also as an understanding and affable officer who lent a sympathetic ear to the personal problems of his crew.

At 2:52 P.M. the nose cone of the ship slid gently from the socket of the mast. The dirigible lifted slowly. Water ballast streamed first from amidships, then from the tail- 2,225 pounds of it in all.

The Shenandoah swung around the mast and a few minutes later headed west into the uncertain sky. Margaret Lansdowne turned her back as the dirigible sailed out over the pine woods. So did the other wives who had come to the field. It was considered bad luck to watch your husband's ship fade out of sight. The graceful Shenandoah was the first rigid dirigible made in America. Started in 1920 at the naval aircraft factory in Philadelphia, its construction had been held up many months by the failure of Congress to pass appropriations. The design of the Shenandoah was almost identical with that of the captured wartime German Zeppelin, the L-49, but American navy engineers had made one great step forward. From a natural gas found in exploitable form and quantity only in the United States they had succeeded in isolating helium, so inert that it could not be set afire with a match. The airshipman's greatest fear, fire, would now be a thing of the past.

But since helium had only 92.6 per cent of the lifting power of the inflammable hydrogen used in German airships, a section ten meters long had been added to the middle of the Shenandoah. In addition, the bow had been strengthened to withstand the strain of mast landings, the fins and rudders had been redesigned, and a walkway for in-flight inspection had been fitted outside the envelope along the very top of the ship. The rigid dirigible, invented by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, had been greatly improved upon during World War I by his German countrymen. Already it had accomplished great feats: two dirigibles, the British R-34 (with Lansdowne aboard as an American observer) and the German LZ-126, had crossed the Atlantic, and another German ship, the L-72, had been flown by French airshipmen on a nonstop, 4,500 mile trip in 118 hours and 41 minutes. Now, with the slender Shenandoah, the United States was attempting to take the lead in the international airship field. In her first flights the Shenandoah had captured the imagination of the world. Her triumphs had been many; she had been moored to the mast of a navy tanker, the Patoka, at sea; she had successfully weathered a winter gale after being torn from her mast at Lakehurst; and she had made a triumphant round trip to the Pacific Coast.

Now, an hour and 26 minutes after leaving Lakehurst, she hovered over Philadelphia. Before long the Alleghenies were reached. The men off watch eased themselves into their bunks along the keel amidships. The keel, a triangular tunnel running along inside the Shenandoah's bottom and tapering at bow and tail, was the heart of the ship. Bisecting its base was a narrow catwalk, the other two sides of the triangle being bounded by the gas cells. These bags, pressing against restraining networks of wire and twine, were usually filled to about 85 per cent capacity at the start of a long trip. As the ship rose, the gas expanded and the bags became swollen; 4,000 feet was the critical "pressure height"- at that altitude the bags would be 100 per cent full. Every five meters along the keel was a triangular frame of latticed girders, which bound together the circular outer ribs. Each of these frames was marked with phosphorescent numbers so the men would always know where they were in the dark interior. The numbering started at the base of the ship's rudders, the first girder being called Frame O, the one farthest forward being numbered 194.75- meaning that it was 194.75 meters (about 640 feet) from the rudders. The crew space, a plywood deck twelve feet square that served as the enlisted men's lounge and dining room, ran from Frames 100 to 105. Farther forward were the officer's quarters. The control car was suspended on metal struts twenty feet below Frame 160.

At midnight, as the Shenandoah's five engines propelled her westward, the sky was partially overcast. But the air was not rough. The night was warm, and the men off duty slept without blankets. Forward in the control car, the midnight weather observations had just been handed to the ship's aerologist, Lieutenant Joseph B. Anderson. Anderson, a studious young man, remained in the control car through most of the flight, and he was to remember vividly all that happened there during the eventful hours that lay ahead. Now he began to draw up his usual midnight weather report, and a few minutes later, getting up from his little desk, he handed it to the skipper. Lansdowne studied it for a few minutes, then nodded. Things weren't as bad as they could be. He started for the ladder, "Don't call me," he said wearily, "unless something unusual comes up." The first day, with the complications of take-off, was always the hardest. He climbed up the ladder and was soon in his bunk. But Lansdowne got little sleep. At 3 A.M. a storm began to brew in the northwest, and a few minutes later he was back in the control car.

The Shenandoah was making little progress against a strong head wind. Lansdowne ordered the man at the elevator controls to bring the ship down to 2,000 feet, in an effort to find a hole in the wall of wind. It was useless. For an hour and a half the slender airship struggled westward, drifting first to port, then to starboard. At a few minutes after 5 A.M., E. P. Allen, the elevatorman, turned to Lansdowne, "Captain," he said a slight undertone of nervousness in his voice, "the ship has started to rise." "Check her," said Lansdowne. Allen turned the big elevator wheel clockwise to drive the ship down. It was obvious that the Shenandoah was not responding to the controls. Sweat covered Allen's forehead. "She's rising two meters per second. I can't check her, sir." Lansdowne ordered engines 4 and 5 speeded up. But despite the increased power, the ship continued to rise. "I can't hold her down," said Allen. There was a note of panic in his voice now. He started to pull the wheel even farther over. Lansdowne stopped him. "Don't exceed that angle," he said in a calm, confident voice that reassured everyone in the cabin. "We don't want to go into a stall." He ordered Rudderman Ralph Joffray to change his course to the south. Joffray tugged his wheel counterclockwise. He had to put his whole body into the effort. "Hard over, sir," he grunted, "and she won't take it."

"I've got the flippers down and she won't check," said Allen, his voice rising again. "Don't worry," said Lansdowne as if there were nothing to fear. In spite of rudders, elevators, and motors, the ship continued to shoot up, tail elevated about fifteen degrees, and to head relentlessly westward, directly into the storm. The dirigible was rolling now like a raft in the sea. The situation was more serious than the Shenandoah's crew, at least for the moment, suspected. Down on the ground, in a little Ohio town called Caldwell, a man awakened when the wind slammed the furniture around on his front porch. He went outside, looked up at the sky, and spotted the giant airship. Directly above it was a dark cloud that seemed to be in a great turmoil. It looked to him, he later told friends, "as though two storms had gone together." And in Ava a woman, seeing the same cloud, called her husband out into the yard. "Come out and see the boiling cloud!" she cried. What they saw was a line squall gathering directly above the ship. Formed by a clash of opposing winds- one moist and warm, the other dry and cold- such a squall was capable of seizing the Shenandoah, twisting her in different directions, and wringing out her light metal frame. The ship's rise was carrying her right into the squall.
All over the Shenandoah, men were on the alert. Mechanics babied their motors, which were beginning to cough and overheat; the ship's sharp tilt was disrupting the flow of gasoline and water through their fuel-supply and cooling systems. Riggers scrambled down the keel ripping the covers off the automatic valves so the already swollen gas bags wouldn't burst. In the control car the atmosphere was quiet but tense. Allen called out, "Still rising two meters per second, sir!" They were at 5,000 feet, far above the pressure height. Lansdowne glanced at the altimeter and held a quick conference with his executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Lewis Hancock. Then he turned. "All right," he said, "open the maneuvering valves." Thousands of cubic feet of helium were valved off in the hope that this would check the Shenandoah's swift ascent. The sky was now solidly overcast except far to the south and southwest. Lieutenant Anderson peered ahead, trying to determine the safest course. Then, directly north of the ship and above, at an angle of 45 degrees, he saw the huge threatening cloud extending above their course to the west. If their rise didn't stop soon, they would shoot straight into the eye of the squall.

"Rising one meter per second," called Allen hopefully. The valving off of helium was finally taking effect. Even so, they were close to 6,000 feet and still the Shenandoah rose. "Go up in the keel, Andy," said Lansdowne to Anderson. He realized that at any moment the rise might stop and, with so much helium valved away, they would begin a fast plunge to earth. "Pass the word to stand by the slip tanks in case of an emergency." Lansdowne waited until Anderson had dashed up the ladder. Then he ordered the valves closed. Above the control car, Anderson carried out his orders, then started back down the ladder. Suddenly a blast of bitter-cold air rushed down the keel through the ventilating hatches, hitting him in the face. The ship had just risen into the squall and was now in the grip of two opposing forces, each wrenching it in a different direction. The fantastic rise stopped sharply at 6,300 feet. The Shenandoah wavered for an instant and began to plunge. Elevatorman Allen, standing near the altimeter, sounded the alarm. "The ship's falling!" he cried out. "She's falling fast, very fast!" Soon no one aboard had to be told. Eardrums pounded as the Shenandoah plummeted down 25 feet a second. "Water ballast!" Lansdowne called out. Tons of water were dumped. The skipper then ordered the ship nosed upward. "She's still falling!" Allen called out. "She's all right, Allen," said Lansdowne evenly. "We'll stop her." His self-possession once more had its calculated effect. In spite of the ship's frightening drop, there was no panic.

In the gondolas, mechanics swore at their erratic motors. In the keel the few men still asleep were pitched from their bunks, while those on duty clung to girders for support. Suddenly, at 2,500 feet, the ship stopped falling and leveled off. But the men were still tense, wondering what would happen now. Lansdowne gave an order to Rudderman Joffray, so quietly that no one else heard. The ship headed south. Then the captain picked up the telephone. Rigger Mark Donovan, near Frame 60, was the man farthest aft. When the telephone glass flashed red, he grabbed the receiver and sang out, "Sixty, Donovan." "How are the cells aft?" asked Lansdowne quietly. "Okay aft of sixty, sir. Fully intact." There was a slight pause. "Pass the word forward," said the skipper. "All men on their toes." He hesitated a moment, then added quietly, "We are going through together." Donovan hung up and started forward. As he did, there was a weird whistle of wind and the ship surged upward, even faster than the first time. The engine telegraphs began ringing frequently in the control car.

Engines 1 and 2 were out and the mechanic on No. 3 reported it was heating up badly. Lansdowne ordered Allen to nose the ship down as far as he could without stalling her. They were shooting up incredibly fast. The rise had to be stopped. He turned and said, "Full speed!"

The altimeter was back at 3,500 feet. Joffray was pulling at the rudder wheel, straining away, throwing his whole body into the struggle. It was a sight Anderson was never to forget. The ship began turning rapidly in a circle. The tail was suddenly thrown up and wrenched to the right. The ship had been caught by terrific opposing blasts of wind. Suddenly there was a shrill screech, as girders began to twist and tear. Without raising his voice Commander Hancock said, "There she goes." When Anderson heard the tear of girders he guessed that the Shenandoah was breaking up amidships. Then the control car began to jar and shake. Every man in the car knew what was happening. The struts that held the big gondola to the ship were being wrenched by wind and torsion. In a matter of moments it would tear away from the ship and drop to earth.

Earlier, when the girders had snapped, the ship had opened at Frame 130 like an egg being cracked from the bottom. Two men were pitched out into space. But the two sections were held together by the many control wires that ran along the bottom of the keel. Donovan, the man farthest aft, had moved back to Frame 30 when he heard a faraway crash of breaking girders. Then the Shenandoah began to quiver, and Donovan smelled burning cloth. Nauseated, he hurried forward to Frame 40, opened a hatch, and, leaning far out, took deep, gasping breaths. Below him the ground was dim and seemed to be spinning rapidly. Just then something snapped in the tail. A trail of sparks shot up under the keel. The main cable controls had broken loose from the elevators and rudders and were running wildly up the length of the ship. Far forward Lieutenant Commander Charles E. Rosendahl, the ship's navigator, who had been ordered by Lansdowne to supervise the dropping of ballast, was working his way along the keel. He heard a fearful clashing and turned in time to see the bottom panel of the ship's outer covering and several of the transverse structural members of the keel cut loose along one side. He saw severed control wires being pulled out like guts of a fish as the control car fell. The man who had the last look at the doomed gondola and its occupants was Anderson, who had scrambled up to the catwalk just as the gondola was wrenching itself loose.

He looked over his left shoulder and saw it hanging down. Suddenly the ladder he was holding on to was yanked away, and the car began its plunge to earth, carrying Lansdowne and seven others to their deaths. Stunned, Anderson felt the catwalk and the girders on both sides of it collapsing like a house of matches. He was pulled off the catwalk, but just as he was about to drop through the great hole torn open by the control car, he managed to get hold of something. The next thing he knew he was setting on a fragment of the catwalk suspended directly over the center of the jagged hole. A few wires were all that held him and the fragment of catwalk to the rest of the ship. He dared not make a move for fear he might topple off. The four men in the crew space amidships looked forward and saw nothing but empty space; the bow section had broken off and was ballooning high above them. Almost at once there came a new tearing and ripping aft of them, followed by a sickening downward lurch as the ship broke again, this time just forward of engines 2 and 3, at Frame 100. The Shenandoah was now in three parts.

In the center section, smallest of the three, the gas bags had collapsed, and, weighted by engine gondolas 4 and 5, it dropped "like an elevator with no brakes." To the four sailors in its tiny crew space it seemed that they must surely follow the control car down to earth. But weakened girders snapped again, the two engine cabs wrenched free, and the little helium remaining slowed their fall. Jagged wreckage dangling at both ends, the center section smashed into the side of a little hill, skidded down a slope, crashed into some trees, and stopped. The four men in the crew space were injured but alive; four mechanics- three of them in the engine cabs- were killed. The 350- foot stern section, meanwhile, was gliding toward the rolling hills at high speed, dragged down by the weight of engine gondolas 1, 2, and 3. With eighteen men aboard, it was headed for the ground, tail first, falling like an arrow and almost as fast. It struck glancingly against a wooded hillside, and again the unlikely happened: the three engines were scraped off by the treetops, and the tail section bounded free. It drifted into a small valley, snagged its port side against a tree, and tilted precariously.

Men tumbled out like spilled oranges. Finally, as it hit the ground, it began to pivot in a huge arc, threatening to crush those who had jumped on the downhill side. One escaped by running uphill. A second ran the other way. A third had gotten a dangling wire twisted around one ankle; after being dragged for fifty yards like a roped steer, he managed to get the wire loose and scrambled up the hill. He ducked just in time to avoid the downward sweep of the great tail fins. Slowly, dazedly, the men began to collect. All eighteen of them had survived. Only the bow section remained aloft. Anderson was still sitting on his fragile suspension bridge of two wires. The bow- now a free balloon- was spinning on a horizontal plane. Anderson felt seasick. There was no sound but the high wind and the creaking of wreckage. The shattered bow section was rising higher and higher. Soon the gas cells would burst. Anderson believed he was alone. But he was wrong. There were six others aboard. One, Navigator Rosendahl, took charge. They found a helium valve, opened it, and stopped the wild ascent. Then Lieutenant Roland G. Mayer lowered a rope to Anderson. Since he couldn't let go of the wires he was sitting on, the line was looped around Anderson and he was pulled to safety.

With Anderson safe, Rosendahl surveyed the situation. Others aboard the floating bow section shouted their reports: having found the helium valve control wire and one bag containing 1,600 pounds of water ballast, they decided to try for a landing. Moments later, down on the ground, a telephone began ringing in the farmhouse of Ernest Nichols. Nichols picked up the receiver. It was a neighbor telling him a crazy story about a runaway airship heading straight for his house. Nichols hung up and went out in the yard. A big object, like a low cloud, was coming over his orchard. It was the Shenandoah's bow. From above he heard men shouting, "Grab Hold!" Wires were dangling from the nose. Nichols grabbed one of them and wrapped it around a fence post. The post snapped. The floating wreckage turned slightly from its course, knocked off the top of a shed, bowled over a grape arbor, skimmed over the ground, and settled down gently, open end first. Anderson and another officer jumped out and made the lines fast to posts and trees. Once on the ground Rosendahl called for pistols to puncture the helium cells and prevent the wreckage from rising again into the air. Rosendahl looked at his watch.

It was 6:45 A.M. All of the Shenandoah was now on the ground. All told, fourteen men had died. The fragments of the Shenandoah and its 29 survivors were scattered across twelve miles of landscape.

First came the rescuers. They did everything they could to make its easier for the dazed survivors. But soon, over the rutted back roads, in buggies, buckboards, and broken-down Model -T Fords, came the curious. Many were full of pity; others treated the disaster like a picnic. By noon thousands of looters and souvenir hunters had torn almost all the covering off both the larger sections of the ship. Women came away from the wreckage staggering under yards of fabric they had ripped from the frame. The looters were armed with knives, hatchets, pliers, and even wrenches. They went away with the ship's logbooks, with fragments of girders up to eight feet long, with blankets and valuable instruments. The still-dazed officers and enlisted men tried to keep guard. When Major Frank Kennedy, an army airship expert from nearby McCook Field, arrived to help he found Frank Masters, one of the Shenandoah's young riggers, trying desperately to guard the control car. Masters was nervous and confused. As he rushed from one point to another, a group of looters would dart in behind his back. He had had nothing to eat for many hours. Sympathetic farmers offered to take him to breakfast, but he refused to leave his post.

Soon the two main sections of the ship, miles apart, looked like skeletons picked to the bone.

At nightfall, in spite of armed national guardsman who threatened to open fire, the looting continued. By morning the control car too had been picked clean. Many instruments had been stolen, all the toggles ripped out, everything movable torn free. Only the naked hull of the gondola was left, and even that had been moved twenty yards from the place where it had struck. The Annapolis class ring was missing from Zachary Lansdowne's finger. It had taken the "Daughter of the Stars" three hours to die piecemeal, and all day to be stripped bare. But her story was far from over. Even before the survivors' train reached Lakehurst it became evident that the disaster was to be a cause celebre. In bold headlines Mrs. Lansdowne was quoted as accusing Secretary of the Navy Curtis D. Wilbur of forcing her husband to take the flight for political purposes.

On September 4, a second sensational charge came from Captain Anton Heinan, a German airship exert who had taught many of the Shenandoah's men to fly. "I tell you it was murder to take that ship out," he said to a reporter from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. The original eighteen-helium safety valves, had explained, and had been reduced to eight. The ship had broken in two because the expanding gas, with insufficient outlets for escape, had crushed the frame. The victims, he declared, "gave their lives to save precious helium.

On September 21 at Lakehurst, a Navy Court of Inquiry opened hearings to investigate the Shenandoah crash. The inquiry almost turned into a brawl when Captain Heinen was called upon to explain his inflammatory remarks. The following week the proceedings were transferred to Washington, and there, on October 9, Mrs. Lansdowne made her first appearance, dressed in deep mourning. Most Navy people thought the attractive 23-year-old widow would repudiate the statements attributed to her by the newspapers. Instead, she bluntly repeated them.

On the evening of November 7 the judge advocate (in a naval court, the prosecutor) paid a surprise visit to Mrs. Lansdowne at the Washington home of her uncle, where she was staying for the duration of the hearings. He said the Navy would like her to appear again. The next day the wife of the Lakehurst commandant invited Mrs. Lansdowne to lunch at the Mayflower. As they were leaving the hotel, the older woman slipped a piece of paper in her hand, saying it was something, which the judge advocate thought she could use in court. It was a draft of a statement declaring that Mrs. Lansdowne had changed her mind; that her husband had regarded the Shenandoah as a man-of-war and that he had been ready to use it ant any time regardless of the weather. Furious, she tore it up.

Three days later, on November 11, Mrs. Lansdowne appeared once more at the Navy hearings. She and her counsel, Joseph E. Davies, walked into the hostile courtroom. The usual tensions of such a hearing had been heightened by the fact that at the same time, in another part or the capitol, the Army's court-martial of Colonel William ("Billy") Mitchell was in progress. (At Mitchell's request Mrs. Lansdowne appeared at his trials and told the court about what she regarded as the Navy's attempt to influence her testimony.) The glare of publicity from the two trials had put the services on the defensive, and at the Shenandoah hearing the navy wives who made up the majority of the courtroom audience were on the navy's side.

Davies (later United States ambassador to Russia just before World War II) insisted that he be allowed to advise his client. The original judge advocate had resigned in order to appear as a witness at the Mitchell trial and answer Mrs. Lansdowne's charges. A successor, Major Henry Leonard of the Marine Corps, had been appointed, and at this juncture he rose to object. This was not a civilian court, he declared, and Mrs. Lansdowne was merely a witness.

Davies told his client not to testify without his advice. The presiding officer, an elderly admiral, warned Davies to be quiet. Davies insisted on his client's rights. The admiral, loosing his patients, ordered him to be quiet or leave. When Davies did neither, the admiral reluctantly turned to the marine guard and said. "You will remove the gentleman from the court." "My client is entitled to counsel!" shouted Davies, but the marine grabbed him by the collar him by the collar and escorted him, still protesting, from the courtroom. For three hours Mrs. Lansdowne was questioned. Every time Major Leonard scored a point there would be a burst of applause from the Navy wives. Whenever Mrs. Lansdowne scored, the incensed women would boo and hiss.

Leonard pointed out that there had been a "prudential" clause in Commander Lansdowne's order that would have allowed him to postpone the flight if he had thought conditions warranted it. But Mrs. Lansdowne, who was managing very well without a lawyer, seized upon the conclusion of the clause, which read, "…remembering, however, that this route will be published in the press and that many will be disappointed should the Shenandoah fail to follow the approved schedule. "That," she said, "is the pressure that is brought on officers in the Navy Department." Mrs. Lansdowne was excused. The court never recalled her. The inquiry ended two weeks later. Most experts agreed that the Shenandoah's gas cells had not ruptured, but that the ship had been torn apart by an unfortunate series of natural forces.

Commander Lansdowne and the others who had died with the ship had not made a useless sacrifice. Even in death the Shenandoah had helped aviation take a long step forward. It is true that the United States government gave up on the rigid dirigible after the crash of the American-built Akron in the Atlantic off Barnegat Light in April of 1933 and that of the Macon, her sister ship, in the Pacific off Point Sur, California, two years later. And when the Hindenburg, Germany's great commercial airship, burned horribly at Lakehurst in 1937, the day of the great "rigids" seemed to be over. But United States experience with the Shenandoah and other dirigibles contributed significantly to our success with the smaller, nonrigid blimp. Ridiculed as the "rubber cow" and the "poopy-bag," the blimp nevertheless played an important role in World War II- blimps helped drive enemy submarines from the Strait of Gibraltar, patrolled the United States coast line for lurking U-boats, and helped clear mines from the waters south of France in preparation for D-Day. Today blimps are an important component of our early-warning defense net and of our antisubmarine forces.

The men who flew the graceful rigids and lived to remember, however, are still loyal to them. Commander Rosenthal, now a retired admiral, still argues strenuously that they deserve another trial. As recently as 1954, he and Paul Litchfield, chairman of the board of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, which built the Akron and the Macon, were fighting for rigid dirigibles both for commercial and naval uses and as flying laboratories for testing an atomic aircraft engine. In Germany, the last commander of the Hindenburg, Captain Max Pruss, and other airship advocates are proposing new passenger and cargo dirigibles, using helium in place of hydrogen, to provide an intermediate service between the slower surface liners and the faster airplane.

Yet memories of such epic disasters as that of the Shenandoah are not easily forgotten. The romantic dirigible, outmoded almost in its infancy by the fantastic onrush of aerial invention, was even in its own time a craft dogged by ill luck.

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Subject: Lyr Req: The Crash of the Akron
From: Joe Offer
Date: 06 Dec 07 - 04:55 PM

I got a 3-disk set called People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs, 1913-1938. It has a 1933 Bob Miller recording of a song by Francis Sims titled "Crash of the Akron." The booklet has this fragment of the lyrics:
    Seventy-three good men perished
    They all died at their post
    Seventy-three passed on to Glory
    Out on that Jersey Coast

    ...An enraged element called lightning
    With fury in its grip
    Destroyed what once was such beauty
    Destroyed that noble ship.

I'll get around to a full by-ear transcription sooner or later - but if anybody has the lyrics and can post them and save me the effort, please do. I gotta go teach my kid now.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req:/Song Origins---Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: Kent Davis
Date: 06 Dec 07 - 11:35 PM

One of the high schools in Noble County is called Shenandoah after the airship. Their sports teams are called the "Zeps". For more:

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req:/Song Origins---Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: catspaw49
Date: 07 Dec 07 - 12:47 AM

My son is going there right now. The folks who keep the museum out of their own pocket in Ava got the school to change the shape of the airship logo they were using. They were using a figure that was obviously drawn from a blimp and not a Zeppelin, kinda' short and fat.

The Shenandoah was one of the most tubular in shape as had been the L49 where the design came from originally. Long and sleek, she was one of the prettiest airships ever. The logo now reflects the Zep shape better but I kinda' gather it wasn't something the school wanted to do. I could be wrong.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req:/Song Origins---Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: Joe Offer
Date: 07 Dec 07 - 12:58 AM

Check out this link at the Naval Historical Center, and follow the crosslinks to the stories of all four U.S. Zeppelins.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req:/Song Origins---Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: catspaw49
Date: 07 Dec 07 - 01:07 AM

Regarding the difference in shape.......

The U.S.S. Shenandoah......Long and sleek looking.

Common Blimp......Looking kind of, well, blimpy.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req:/Song Origins---Wreck of the Shenandoa
From: JJ
Date: 07 Dec 07 - 08:22 AM


Just wanted to thank you for that article.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: catspaw49
Date: 28 Jan 08 - 10:37 PM

I wanted to come back here and add a few things that aren't really important to the song but relate to the actual events surrounding the Shenandoah. It seems the tale of this airship has touched my life at a number of different points so it made me want to come back here and put a few more details on her story that may not matter except to me and a few other nuts.

Afterwards much was made of Captain Lansdowne's unwillingness to do this flight but as usual, a number of different stories have come together over the years and now are taken as truth, when in fact it has blurred the truth. The first of these was that Lansdowne was pressured to make this flight against all good judgement. While it is true that he hated using the Shenandoah for political missions to help the Navy keep its air programs alive and fund both LTA and fixed wing programs, he was in fact an naval officer, academy trained, and knew this was part of his job as Captain of what was at the time, the best piece of promotional material the Navy had.

What Zachary Lansdowne wanted was to make the flight on his terms and to that end had lobbied Navy honchos to postpone it past the thunderstorm season. Like him, I am Ohioian born and bred and agree the summer months can be terrible in all of the Great Lakes states and this promotional tour was designed to cover that portion of the midwest.   It had been originally scheduled for June but a letter sent by him to his superiors made the case to postpone it til latter.

Here is where a major portion of the later blurring comes into play. In the letter he asked to delay the flight until after the thunderstorm season and then, in parentheses, the word "September." Did he mean it was okay to go in September or that September was the last month of the storm season? Whatever way it was he took the flight without complaint when it was rescheduled for September. Well, he did complain but because he detested using the big airship for anything less than operational purposes. To the Navy though, this WAS an operational purpose.

Lansdowne also stated to others that he "would be glad when this flight was over." Later this was taken to mean he had bad feelings toward the entire venture, a premonition if you will. But as one of the very best airship men in the United States and as a well trained and well tested Naval officer, he was not a man who believed in clairvoyant feelings nor was he the type to be stricken with self doubt. Once underway there were very few men in the entire world who could handle an airship as well. Back then to advance past his current rank of Lieutenant Commander he would need additional sea duty and that's where he was going next. This was his last flight as Captain of the Shenandoah and though he was an airship man he was also anxious to get on with the upward climb of his career which the sea duty would provide. Sadly this statement when combined with his previous request regarding the summer months have come together to form a myth that takes honor away from the man that Lansdowne was and turns him into a frightened whiner......something that Zachary Lansdowne most certainly was not.

His wife testified against the Navy and refused to give up her truthful testimony that he did not wish to make the flight. Again though, he didn't want to make ANY flight that wasn't operational in nature. Frankly, he was right. But without the bucks which a promotional tour could provide many Navy programs would be lost or, God forbid, be given to the Army. But somehow over the years we have come to believe that he had premonitions of the disaster due to all of the above. He didn't. He was a line officer and wanted to keep the bullshit stuff to a minimum.

The ship itself was an interesting contradiction. Shenandoah was the most modern of the rigid airships and boasted many firsts. But although many would not or could not admit it, the day of the rigid was over and subsequent ships like the Akron and the Macon were basically exercises in futility. On the other hand, to most of the population in 1925 she was simply amazing and sight to behold as we might view the Space Shuttle were it toured around the country. She seemed quite modern and was as monstrously large as anything that has ever taken to the air.   Think about it......If you watch the Super Bowl this week, the entire field WITH the endzones would be only HALF of her 680 foot length. I mean really.....think of what that must have looked like only a few thousand feet overhead. Kinda' boggles my mind!

When she was unable to avoid the two storms which were converging upon her that early morning many possiblities for her loss were put forth. Everything from engines to valving of the helium was blamed and probably, as in any air disaster, there are a multitude of factors which all had a part. The one thing that was not well known at the time was something with which we have become all too familiar today and that is wind sheer. Most histories of the wreck say she was "wrenched apart" or twisted by the storm. What has become apparent with years of hindsight and analysis is that Shenandoah may well have been the first victim of wind sheer. It is also probable that her extreme length, almost exactly one eighth of a mile, put her not just in one weather event but two at the same time.

Hopefully this all adds a bit to the story. I've been around to a few of the larger libraries and also was able to purchase a couple of good books lately including a nice text named "Shenandoah Saga" by Thom Hook(LOL...even got me an autographed copy!), written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her commissioning. A small but authoritative text by C.L. Keller also provided some good information in a very cut and dried, informational format.

Although I've been unable to meet the Raynors who run the museum in Ada, I have visited the three crash sites in the past weeks and it brings you somehow a bit closer to the events of that day over 80 years ago. I-77 passes directly next to the place where the stern section came to rest and there is a sign and a flag toward the back of that field, basically unreadable from the interstate while at speed.   I wonder how many people go past everyday and wonder why there is a flag in a remote field and if they can read the name U.S.S. Shenandoah on the sign how many have even the slightest idea about what it might be about. But then that's to be expected isn't it?


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: Charley Noble
Date: 28 Jan 08 - 11:03 PM

Thnaks, Spaw, for the additional afterword.

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: Melissa
Date: 28 Jan 08 - 11:11 PM

...and the picture.
I wouldn't have learned any of this stuff if I hadn't run across this thread.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: Uncle Phil
Date: 29 Jan 08 - 09:06 AM

A great story and not one I'd heard before. Thanks for posting it.
- Phil

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: catspaw49
Date: 29 Jan 08 - 10:30 PM

Charley, Melissa, and Phil.....thanks. I'm really not sure why this story about an old airship grabbed my interest but it seems as though all through my life the story of the Shenandoah has continued to come up again and again. Karen just shakes her head at me but thankfully understands these fits of passion for strange subjects.

I guess part of the allure for me with the Shenandoah comes from her many ties to Ohio but even more she represented a time when there was magic in so many things. If Titanic ended the Victorian age, Shenandoah was perhaps one of the earlier examples of what we now see every day---Technology outmoded and worthless almost before its used.

That is the theme of our current times but back then people didn't see it. The march of progress wasn't quite as fast as it is today and people had time to wonder at the magic which put something so large in the air. Plus, there was something majestic and beautiful about the rigids. Blimps still are enjoyable to watch at football games and races and other events but they are fractionally the size of the big "Zeps." I remember one day seeing a Goodyear blimp up close while it was moored at the Chattanooga airport. I was struck by the sheer size and proportion of it, completely amazed and in awe.   Considering the length of the largest Goodyear blimp is less than one third that of the Shenandoah, I might have become orgasmic over seeing her in the same way....LOL....Perhaps not orgasmic but you get my drift (speaking of LTA craft). It was a different time and we had not yet become jaded by the expectations of technological wizardry.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
Date: 18 Sep 11 - 07:24 PM

A really great thread! I'm researching the robbery of the Shenandoah dead - especially Lansdowne and others in the control car. His Anapolis ring was stolen from his still-warm body (clothed in the uniform of his Country)along with his wallet, watch, cuff links and some other jewelry. Others of the crew suffered the same, robbed by their fellow citizens in the early hours on the crash scene.

Does anyone have any more information about these awful desecrations of dead American servicemen by American civilians?

Thanks for any assistance.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: catspaw49
Date: 10 Jan 12 - 09:43 PM

Like I said before, this damn airship has followed me around most of my life and now over the years has become a passion.....actually rigid airships in general and the Shenandoah specifically. A few weeks ago I acquired yet another book and in the process found a picture of the ORIGINAL sheet music and a copy of the COMPLETE words to the song. Note the author which is not as we have it but is what the sheet music says along with the copyright year and the publisher.

I hadn't visited this thread in awhile so I will return in a few days and post some additional information to answer a few questions which have come up. Below are all 12 verses as written.....Spaw

Words and Music by Maggie Andrews
Copyright 1925 by Shapiro Bernstein & Company, Inc.

At four o'clock one evening
On a warm September day
A great and mighty airship
From Lakehurst flew away.

The mighty Shenandoah
The pride of all this land,
Her crew was of the bravest,
Captain Lansdowne in command.

The giant motors thundered
She proudly sailed along
Each man was at his station
Each heart was true and strong

They started for St. Louis
As day turned into night
With not a thought of danger
On that sad and fatal flight

At four o'clock next morning
The earth was far below
When a storm in all its fury
Gave her a fatal blow.

For hours they bravely struggled
They worked with all their might
But the storm could not be conquered
And the ship gave up the fight

Her side was torn asunder
Her cabin was torn down
The captain and his brave men
Went crashing to the ground.

And fourteen lives were taken
But they've not died in vain
Their names will live forever
Within the hall of fame.

In the little town of Greenville
A mother's watchful eye
Was waiting for the airship,
To see her son go by.

But alas her boy lay sleeping;
His last great flight was o'er.
He's gone to meet his Maker;
His ship will fly no more.

A loving wwife and children
A mother's broken heart
They're mourning for their loved one
Since the storm tore them apart

But their faith will not be shaken
They'll see him bye and bye
They know he waits in heaven
Where the brave go when they die

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: catspaw49
Date: 11 Jan 12 - 06:44 PM

Hmmmm.....I noticed that I seemed to have lost a parragraph of the intro material to the above post.

Maggie Andrews was a pen name used by Carson Robison and Vernon Dalhart. The song was also recorded by a tenor named "Guy Massey" who was of course Vernon Dalhart. For whatever reasons they did this, the song was around in play for a very short time before it was pulled from the market at the request of the relatives.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: GUEST,Jake
Date: 30 Jan 12 - 11:22 AM

I am the Great Grand-Son of LT. Thomas B. Hendley, a.k.a. Jake who was the Radio Officer on SHENANDOAH when she went down in Ohio and survived.

Thank you all for sharing in the historical value this site has for me and my family.

A.W. Hendley,

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: GUEST,Greg Davis
Date: 09 Feb 19 - 11:35 AM

Just ran across this and remembered this thread. This songs like the record my grandparents had. Back in the old crank up victrola days. Don't have anything to play it any more and the last time I saw it I think it was cracked. Thought there might still be some interest.

Wreck of the Shenandoah : Vernon Dalhart : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 10 Feb 19 - 02:44 PM

The sheet music for THE WRECK OF THE SHENANDOAH can be seen at York University.

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