Tuesday, February 17, 2009

USS Shenandoah: The Premature End of an Aircraft

BY Jessica Meadows

Nestled in the corner of Noble County, among the trees and narrow winding roads, sits a historical crash site and museum for aircraft USS Shenandoah.

The Shenandoah’s history thickens the air. It’s as if the ruins are resting beneath the snow in the mangled mass of aluminum that ended the lives of 14 men.

The Shenandoah was the first of several ships of its kind that took the United States Navy to new heights. The 680-foot aircraft was used as a scouting vessel for the submarines and ships that traveled the ocean following World War I.

The Shenandoah crashed on the stormy morning Sept. 3, 1925. The Shenandoah descended from the heavens in three parts. One section landed on property that would eventually be owned by husband and wife, Bryan and Theresa Rayner. When the crash occurred, Bryan’s grandfather owned the land. He and other men helped rescue survivors.

The huge helium tanks that inflated the ship were both responsible for the breakup of the wreckage and for the saved lives of all but 14 crew members. Although the storm ultimately destroyed the ship, the helium allowed parts of the ship to stay in the air. Many of the survivors were located in these parts of the Shenandoah that remained afloat, brought only to the ground by groups of men, including Bryan’s grandfather, who tied it down.

The historical evidence is housed in a mobile-home museum, which is maintained by Bryan and Theresa Rayner.

The museum displays include: photographs of the hundreds of people in their Model T’s who traveled to the crash site to see the wreckage, time lines of the ship’s life and death, a National Geographic form 1923 with a detailed tour of the Shenandoah and many other trinkets from the 1900s.

The Rayners volunteer their time in the community to teach children and others about the Shenandoah and its importance.

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