As Douglas Botting points out in Dr. Eckener's Dream Machine (Holt), it was the Graf Zeppelin that (at nine thousand dollars a ticket) was the first airship to circumnavigate the globe, in 1929, before airplanes were capable of covering long routes in a short time. The zeppelin also inspired poetry: Dr. Hugo Eckener, the psychologist who perfected and popularized Count Zeppelin's invention, called it "a fabulous silver fish, floating quietly in the ocean of air." Despite occasional developmental turbulence (the doomed LZ-5, for instance, rammed into a pear tree), the zeppelin soon became an expression of German identity, as the historian Guillaume de Syon argues in Zeppelin!: Germany and The Airship, 1900-1939 (Johns Hopkins). De Syon describes how Eckener's "flying cigar" became a national obsession, even lending its phallic profile to sell laundry detergent.
Henning Boëtius's father was at the elevator wheel of the Hindenburg when it went down, on May 6, 1937. In his novel The Phoenix (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), translated from the German by John Cullen, Boëtius offers an elegiac view of the ill-fated airship. As the mighty zeppelin succumbs to flames, Boëtius imagines his dazed father thinking, "Two little words . . . Too bad." (Mark Rozzo)