The passing the undying

Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air and Space Museum, catalog no. 16_003979. Detail restored.

Falling astern, the obelisk of the Washington Monument sank back into the rainy horizon. As it passed below, it had momentarily been interpretable as a realized intention toward history. But what had passed above it was innocent of intent. Instant by instant, it was only passage. Eventually the silver-tinted body took on a name (USS Shenandoah), a terminus (crashed 9/3/1925), and thereby a history, but that descent from wordless air into inked words was only the end of the body’s passage, not the passage itself. As long as it remains, a shadow cast along time by passage is not history but memory: never not vanished but nevertheless not yet known not to be.

2 thoughts on “The passing the undying

  1. My mother, as a girl, knew a song about the tragic last flight of the majestic Shenandoah, if my post-infancy memory serves me right. The age of the immense airships ended with the immolation of the Hindenburg at Lakehurst, but the great American dirigibles, which floated more safely on helium rather than hydrogen, were nonetheless all destroyed when flying in stormy weather–Macon, Akron (only 2 survivors), and Shenandoah.

  2. Plus, in 1921, the British-built, hydrogen-inflated ZR-2 (British designation R38), which during pre-commission rudder testing snapped in two over Hull, fell into the Humber, and exploded. The explosion was so massive that it broke windows for miles around and registered on seismometers as far away as Edinburgh, but the river absorbed so much of the explosion’s energy that not one person on the ground was killed. Think historical irony; think “If only.” If ZR-2 had exploded either a few seconds earlier or a few seconds later, the history of lighter-than-air flight would have turned out differently and no Hindenburg fantasies would ever have been born in dream.

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