From Woody's Couch

Our Playbook on OSU History

The Great Adventures of the Graf Zeppelin

In May of 1928, disaster hovered in the air above France. The Graf Zeppelin, a German airship marginally shorter than the Titanic, ten stories tall and filled with one hundred thousand cubic meters of hydrogen (the world’s most flammable gas) had lost several of its engines.

Graf Zeppelin above Tokyo

Graf Zeppelin flying over Tokyo on its around the
world flight.

The forward port engine had lost its main shaft and two other engines had immediately seized, leaving the ship floating on its last two engines. In response, Commander Hugo Eckener, a very skilled aviator, tried to return the airship to its base in Germany.   But then a fourth engine stopped, stranding the ship and its passengers with the Alps between themselves and safety.

Sketch of the Graf Zeppelin

Sketch of the side view and floor plan of the
Graf Zeppelin, reproduced here on a German postcard.

The choice was either to abandon ship, or to attempt an emergency landing in France. To land on the open ground would cause the ship to bounce, unless gas could be released fast enough to prevent it—a major fire risk. Instead Eckener maneuvered the Graf Zeppelin to an old French hangar, where French troops waited. The French helped the Graf Zeppelin to land but immediately locked down the base—“after all, the last Zeppelin landing in France had been a war machine.” [i]  The Graf Zeppelin and its passengers, as well as the two gorillas on board[ii], were saved.

It was an exciting time in the history of flight.  Two years before, Charles Lindbergh had flown from New York to Paris in about thirty-three hours, sparking a huge rise in popularity for aviators and a surge in the public’s interest in flight.  Commander Hugo Eckener and the Zeppelin Company wanted to build upon this fascination by using the Graf Zeppelin to circumnavigate the globe.

Freud, the radio operator aboard the Graf Zeppelin

Freud, the radio operator aboard
the Graf Zeppelin, dangling out a

The problem? They did not have enough money. Their solution came from the American news mogul William Hearst. Hearst wanted to capitalize upon the excitement that aviators and grand adventures sparked in the American public and, after some haggling, he offered to fund half of the money for the trip in exchange for the rights to the story in the U.S. and Great Britain. Hearst had three reporters on board: the famous explorer Sir George Hubert Wilkins, Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, and Karl von Wiegand.

Hearst's reporters.

Hearts’s reporters from left to right: Captain
Wilkins, Lady Drummond Hay, Carl Von Weigand
and cameraman Robert Hartman.

Hearst also demanded that the trip begin and end in the U.S.  Eckener agreed, but planned to travel right back to the Zeppelin’s home base in Friedrichshafen, Germany after beginning in America, allowing for a complete circumnavigation from both Lakehurst and Friedrichshafen (thus satisfying both his home country and his primary sponsor).

This is how the Graf Zeppelin, after its inauspicious trial run in May, came to be traveling again across the Atlantic toward the U.S. on the 1st of August, 1929. Ninety hours after departure, the ship landed in Lakehurst, N.J. before returning to Germany. From Friedrichshafen, the Graf Zeppelin traversed Siberia before landing in Tokyo, Japan, and continuing across the Pacific Ocean to Los Angeles, California. The last leg was a jaunt across the United States, back to Lakehurst.

Front view of the Graf Zeppelin

View of the Graf Zeppelin as it lands
in N.J. after completing its
circumnavigation of the world.

Commander Eckener in the control room.

Commander Eckener in the control
room on the Graf Zeppelin.

By this time, the Graf Zeppelin had run out of drinking water, though this did not stop Eckener from pushing forward. Instead the passengers subsisted on wine and other alcohol—substances still illegal on the U.S. soil below their feet. Upon its arrival, the Graf Zeppelin broke the record for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe and was met with massive fanfare and celebration.

George Hubert Wilkins, a famous Australian polar explorer and one of Hearst’s correspondents on the Graf Zeppelin, collected photographs and memorabilia related to the flight. Over two hundred of these images were recently acquired by The Ohio State University’s Polar Archives in 2015 and join the larger Wilkins Collection held by the repository. These images range include mass-printed German postcards; images of life aboard the airship; photos of the Graf Zeppelin in flight or in a hangar; as well as photos of crowds cheering and celebrations.

Wilkins himself is not featured in many images.  He is seen in only a few formal photographs, as well as several that depict him dining with Captain Eckener and his fellow correspondents. The exception is a fabulous photo in which Wilkins is examining a book of photographs in the dining area, with a small dog (one which greatly resembles an early Boston terrier) in his lap.

Wilkins, reading, with his dog in his lap.

Wilkins, reading, with his dog in his lap.

Such depictions of life aboard the ship are numerous among the collection and cover everything from work to play. There are images of one crew member rather smugly playing the piano accordion; the radio operator Fruend precariously hanging out a window with a dangling wire; Chef Manz cooking; Commander Eckener solemnly monitoring everything on the control room; and Lady Drummond Hay happily climbing one of the gondolas while the ship was in flight.

Lady Drummond Hay climbing one of the gondolas.

Lady Drummond Hay climbing one of
the gondolas.

Other images show the world in relation to the massive form of the Graf Zeppelin. Several images depict the Graf Zeppelin landing or taking off, surrounded by small white smudges that only vaguely look like people.  Another photograph, apparently taken from the Graf Zeppelin itself, shows the Zeppelin’s shadow, which looks rather like a large missile, over a field. Even from the air, the Zeppelin’s shadow is several times larger than the houses and barns on the ground. Some photos display the huge impact of the Graf Zeppelin’s flight, even without the Graf Zeppelin being the subject of the image. One such photo displays two long rows of U.S. sailors feasting after aiding in the landing and departure of the Graf Zeppelin. Another shows Japanese florists preparing flowers for those visiting the Graf Zeppelin while it was moored in Tokyo.

Japanese Florists

Japanese florists preparing flowers for the arrival of
the Graf Zeppelin.

Finally, the collection has printed memorabilia that Wilkins gathered, mostly postcards and tiny printed cards. These seem to be German in origin, given that all are captioned in German, and display wonderful drawings of the Graf Zeppelin’s plans or of the luxurious cabins and dining areas inside. One tiny image shows the Graf Zeppelin when its frame is only half formed, extending out toward the viewer in a spiral fashion, while unattached parts mimic its swirls on the ground.

frame of the Graf Zeppelin

The Graf Zeppelin as it was being built.

For more information about Sir George Hubert Wilkins, please visit the Polar Archives website:

[i] Nasht, Simon. 2005. The last explorer: Hubert Wilkins : Australia’s unknown hero. Sydney: Hodder, 195

[ii] These gorillas inspired one of the passengers, Merian Cooper, to create the movie King Kong.




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Escaped slave becomes beloved figure at OSU

An escaped slave of Andrew Jackson became a beloved figure of the early university.

Washington Townsend worked at The Ohio State University for about 20 years first as a groundskeeper and then as janitor of Orton Hall, which housed the main library at the time. Townsend was once a slave at the Hermitage, a property of Andrew Jackson’s. He escaped slavery by reaching Ohio in 1860.

1895 Orton Hall exterior

1895 Orton Hall

Townsend came to the University in 1885 and worked until his death in 1904. He is most remembered as having a genuine character and positive attitude. His impact on the early University community is demonstrated by tributes of both faculty and students.

According to the Alumni Magazine, Townsend’s character and service was so well known and highly esteemed by President Edward Orton that Orton’s son, Edward Orton Jr., set up a pension plan for Townsend and paid for a plot of land in the Green Lawn Cemetery when Townsend died. Townsend’s gravestone marker has a tribute to his life written by Orton Jr.

The students felt similarly that his service and presence at the University made it a better place. They mention going out of their way to pass by Townsend to say good morning and even memorialized him in the yearbook.

Washington Townsend's Grave

Washington Townsend’s Grave

Editors of the early Makio would write plays or other literary pieces about their experience at Ohio State. In the 1897 Makio the editors wrote a poem about Townsend’s origins, loyalty to Ohio State and good cheer. They end the poem with the stanza:

Then here’s a toast to you old man.
May many years be thine,
is the wish of all your student friends
and the editors benign.

We learn from the Lantern that Washington Townsend suffered a stroke a couple years before he died. When he died on Christmas Eve 1904, several articles recognized the impression he made on campus. The reporters further said that all their names would be forgotten, but the kind words and faithful service of Washington Townsend would be preserved.

For the complete version of the student poem, view the 1897 Makio.


In memoriam: Bugno, Clarke and Edse had lasting legacies at OSU

We’d like to tell you about three former OSU staff members whose recent deaths remind us of their significant impact the campus community:

Ray Bugno, who died January 6 at the age of 94, was deputy director of the OSU Research Foundation for 38 years, from 1949 to his retirement in 1987. But Bugno was on campus long before he started working at OSURF. His family rented a house on

Raymond S. Bugno, 1987

Raymond S. Bugno, 1987

Woodruff Avenue (where the Fisher College of Business stands now) from former Athletics facilities manager Tony Aquila, who had hired Ray’s father in 1926 to work for him.

In 1936, Bugno started working during the summers for the University, when he was a teenager, and his first full-time job was in Stores and Receiving, in 1940. He worked there until 1943 when he entered military service. When he returned from World War II, he became a student, and he earned his bachelor’s degree from the College of Commerce in September 1949.

That same year, in November, the Research Foundation needed someone to create a new inventory system to meet the requirements of government contracts. Having such experience at Stores, Bugno applied and got the job. Bugno spent more than half of his OSURF career as deputy director of the Sponsored Programs Administration where he was responsible for project administration, accounting, purchasing and reprographics. One of his most important roles was as National Security Officer for OSURF, a job in which he helped faculty gain national security classification for federal research projects.

In 1988, Bugno received the University’s Distinguished Service Award for a career of outstanding service to the OSU community.


John J. Clarke, who died last August at the age of 90, served as a journalism professor at the University for 19 years, from 1967 to

John Clarke, 1968

John Clarke, 1968

1986. During that time, he served as advisor to The Lantern, where he implemented a computer system to make the daily production of the newspaper much faster and more precise. He also established a program through the journalism department for young editors to place them in internships in newsrooms all over the country.

Journalism Students using UDT's, July 1980

Journalism students using VDTs, 1980

First, though, Clarke had a distinguished newspaper career. After receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, Clarke worked as a reporter for the Providence, R.I., Journal-Bulletin. There, he was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1952 for local news reporting for its coverage of a bank robbery in which a police officer was killed. Afterwards, Clarke worked for the Scranton, Pa., Times until he was hired at OSU in 1967 to teach journalism, particularly editing, and serve as advisor to The Lantern.

While at OSU and after his retirement, Clarke directed a copy editing internship program for the

Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, from 1970 to 1991. Journalism students from around the country would be invited to OSU during the summer for an intensive, two-week instruction program in editing. They then would be placed in professional newsrooms throughout the U.S.  Former participants went on to careers at such prominent newspapers as The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and The Miami Herald.

Clarke retired from OSU in 1986, the same year he received the Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.


Ilsedore Edse, who died in December at the age of 97, was a German professor for 22 years, from 1956 to her retirement in 1988.

1956 Ilsedore Maria Edse, Instructor, German, B.Sc. Osu 1952, M.A. OSU 1954

Ilsedore Maria Edse, 1956

During that time, Edse not only taught German to campus students, but educated people on German language and culture through roughly a quarter-century of radio and television broadcasts.

Raised in Koblenz, Germany, Edse came to the U.S. in 1946 with her husband, Rudolph, who had been recruited to work on the American space program. Her husband eventually became director of OSU’s rocket research laboratory in the Department of Aeronautical Engineering.

Edse's Award, April 1980

Edse receives the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, April 1980

Edse earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree from OSU, and she began teaching German while she was working on her doctorate. It was during this time, in 1954, that she was asked by another professor to do a daily German instruction program on WOSU-AM. After the other professor stopped participating, Edse carried on alone. She later added a monthly radio program on German opera.  In 1957, Edse began her television career on WOSU-TV with a twice-monthly live program called “Die Deutsch Stunde” (“The German Hour”). In that half-hour program, Edse would teach the language through skits, satiation comedy and other visual means.

For her program, Edse received two Emmy Award nominations, and she received many accolades for her teaching and broadcasting. The most satisfying may have been from her native country: in 1980 West Germany awarded her its highest honor – the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany) – for her distinguished contributions to intercultural understanding.

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