Episode 19 - The Inferno

(10 February 1977)
Writers: Rod Peterson and Claire Whitaker.
Director: Harry Harris.
Music: Alexander Courage.


"In the spring of 1937 my family and I were totally unaware that a truly catastrophic event was about to take place, and that I would be there to witness it"


The clanking of the printing press as John-Boy readies another edition interrupts the quiet of the evening. Olivia and John suddenly hear cussing from the shed and find John-Boy holding a broken pedal. In exchange for a half-page advertisement in the next six issues, John agrees to weld the pedal onto the press. While making repairs, John-Boy decides to submit a paper for a contest at National Press Services. He is hoping for the cash prize to offset delinquent bills and the chance to cover a special news event.


Curt and Mary Ellen prepare for a romantic evening alone, but are interrupted when Erin bursts into the house. Curt is feeling like the family is smothering him. The next day is no better when Curt finds Mary Ellen in the examination room sewing Elizabeth’s doll. Curt is upset that the monthly statements lie unfinished and the account book is open for patients to see. Ben walks in to tell Mary Ellen all the latest happenings. Curt becomes mad about the gossip, shows Ben the door, and fights with Mary Ellen.


A letter arrives announcing that John-Boy won the contest. The prize is twenty-five dollars and an assignment to interview passengers arriving at Lakehurst, New Jersey from the transatlantic flight aboard the German dirigible Hindenburg. John-Boy meets Stewart Henry, a newspaper reporter, at a local bar afraid he is late because of inclement weather. Henry calms his worries saying the Hindenburg is also waiting for bad weather to pass. After driving to the landing strip, John-Boy and Stewart watch the huge dirigible land. Without warning, however, the air ship explodes in front of them. Employees under the ship’s shadow frantically run to escape, passengers scream in horror, and onlookers gasp in disbelief.


John-Boy arrives back in Rockfish with Jason waiting to take him home. The family patiently waits and Grandpa reads The Daily Progress that accounts the disaster. When John-Boy walks into the house, he is tired and distraught from his horrible experiences. Grandpa lightens the mood by telling the story of when he and Grandma rode the bus to Hickory Creek for Bertha’s wedding. The trip, Grandpa recounts, took so long that Bertha was pregnant by the time they arrived. Olivia reminds Grandpa not to tell the story in front of Grandma. John-Boy is tired and just wants to sleep; hoping he can sleep after what has happened.


Curt and Mary Ellen are making plans for a picnic. Curt is reading poetry to Mary Ellen and she is preparing tuna sandwiches, potato salad, and deviled eggs. But when Curt asks why there are so many eggs, Mary Ellen admits that Elizabeth, Aimee, Patsy, and Jim-Bob have invited themselves on the picnic. Curt madly stomps out of the house after concluding he will never get a chance to be alone with his wife.


John-Boy attempts to write about the disaster but stares at blank paper while reliving the horrible moments. Grandpa informs John-Boy that a surprise awaits downstairs. He finds Ike, the Baldwin sisters, Mrs. Brimmer, and the family in the living room. Ike presents John-Boy with a certificate on behalf of the community expressing their appreciation for writing the biggest newspaper byline of the year. John-Boy is angered when everyone just wants to hear more about the story. He blurts out that a lot of people were killed and he can’t make sense out of it. John-Boy later admits to John that he cannot write about it. John says that when his saw breaks and he cannot finish a job, he has to admit he did the best he could do.


Mary Ellen spends the night at the house after Curt does not return home. While making breakfast, Curt arrives at the house. After Olivia hears both of their complaints she says there is a solution. She relates that when they were newlyweds, Grandpa and Grandma seemed to go out of their way to always be around. John placed a potted geranium on the front porch whenever the new couple wanted some time alone. It worked and Curt and Mary Ellen return home with the hope of doing the same thing.


John asks John-Boy to help him cut down a tree that was hit by lightning. While chopping wood, John-Boy relives the incident that concludes with the downing of the Hindenburg just as the tree falls to the ground. The crashing of the tree brings John-Boy back to reality and he is now able to recount the horror of seeing a woman on fire. John-Boy did not understand the German she was speaking and kept repeating, “I don’t understand it. I don’t understand it.” John tells John-Boy he thinks the story can now be written. John-Boy does finish the story just in time to make his deadline. Grandpa decides to go with him when he sees Olivia holding a potted geranium. John decides to take the rest of the morning off.


"Forty years have passed, but that house still stands, and the solace and comfort and love we knew there as children, continued to sustain us to this day".


Elizabeth: Erin couldn't Marylin ever gonna have a baby?
Erin: Well I think that's their business Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: I hope she has a little girl, 'cos I can be Aunt Elizabeth!
Jim Bob: If it's a boy are you goin' to be Uncle Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: No, silly, you will.
Jim Bob: I'll be Uncle Elizabeth?
Ben: No, you'll be Auntie Jim Bob....
Jason: And you'll be Auntie Ben!
Ben: Goodnight Uncle Erin!
Erin: Goodnight Aunt Jason!
Jason: Goodnight Uncle!
Elizabeth: I'm sorry I asked.
(everybody laughs.)



Elizabeth’s doll is named Miss Margaret.

The Hindenburg burned on May 6, 1937.

Information about the Hindenburg can be found at: http://www.nlhs.com/hindenburg.htm and http://www.unmuseum.org/hindenburg.htm.


Also appearing:

Ike Godsey (Joe Conley); Flossie Brimmer (Nora Marlowe); Miss Emily Baldwin (Mary Jackson); Miss Mamie Baldwin (Helen Kleeb); Stuart Henry (Jack Ging); Joe the Bartender (Tim Maier).