Mad In Pursuit Notebook

Round The World on the Graf Zeppelin

Orpha Zimmer5.19.2013. Jim's mother Orpha was a child of her times. She was a bright girl from Glens Falls NY, whose family worked hard to get her through Cornell University. She came of age as Prohibition was getting started and as women got the right to vote. And she easily embraced the feminism of her era. In the Roaring Twenties -- the Jazz Age -- the world was full of wonders.

In 1929 she was married three years and worked in an office at 285 Madison Avenue in Manhattan. The domestic use of air transportation was just emerging. In 1927, the US government issued its first contracts for airmail. Once Lindburgh made his flight to Paris that same year, the idea of flying the mail overseas took hold. In 1928, an alternative form of flight appeared on the scene -- the dirigible. The Germans had this one covered with the success of their zeppelins, which also began to deliver mail across the Atlantic.

In 1929 a bold idea caught hold -- somewhere between Magellan and the Apollo program. A zeppelin would circumnavigate the world. And it would carry mail.

Orpha was there. She addressed an envelope to her husband, to the house he built on Sachem Street in East Rockaway, Long Island. On it she typed "ROUND THE WORLD TRIP PER AIRSHIP 'GRAF ZEPPELIN.'" She bought beautiful stamps. She finished off her envelope with VIA AIRMAIL stickers. And she mailed it somewhere near Grand Central Station. It took off.

graf zeppelin 1929

Can you imagine their delight some three weeks later, on a day shortly after Thursday, August 29, 1929, when Orpha and James arrived home to find the letter that had circumnavigated the globe? Lost is the message Orpha had inside for her dear husband -- too bad.

graf zeppelin cancel

Yes, Orpha tended to keep everything, but this was special and was preserved in their safety deposit box for many years. Now -- a family heirloom.

They say the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree. As it happens, Jim wound up putting together a small collection around early flight, including the above photo postcard of the Graf Zeppelin landing in Los Angeles during its historic flight. He also has a couple additional "covers" (aka envelopes) with the "round-the-world" postmarks. But none are as beautiful as Orpha's.


Graf Zeppelin’s Round-the-World flight: August, 1929

Airships: the Hindenburg and other Zeppelins