The Blimp!!!

Since the season approaches, I figured it might be time for the blimp post. There are things in a child’s life that loom large, larger than the sum of their parts might suggest possible. One that comes to mind from my own kinderheit is the blimp, a.k.a. the “Goodyear Blimp”.

This amazing vessel had a sound that you could never mistake, a low, chipper flatulence emanating from its propellers. That sound, burrowing into the stillness of a late July evening after our bedtime, would catapult me and my siblings from our beds (yes, I believe even my older sister was for a time captivated by the sight of the venerable craft) and into the front or back yard, as the case may have been, to watch the airship sail over the house with its marquee lights blazing colorful messages. It might as well have been the gingerbread cottage from Hansel and Gretel flying over the house, we were that smitten.

The Goodyear Blimp as it looked in 1972 when I was ten. Photo by Robert Ciavarro.

The Goodyear Blimp as it would have looked when I was a kid. These days they are blue. This is the Europa over Germany in 1972. Photo used by kind permission of Robert Ciavarro.

The first sighting of the blimp every year was something of a magical moment. It usually came to town a week or two before the Seafair hydroplane races (what we called simply the “boat races”) on Lake Washington. You might hear it first, or you might see its tiny sliver of glint and grey way off on the horizon from the car window as you rode home from church in the spacious back seat of your parents’ Ford Galaxy 500. Once I was out in the street playing Kick the Can with my homies (we didn’t call them “homies” back then…we used the now archaic Anglo Saxon word “friends” — and yes, we played in the street) and I turned around and saw the blimp hovering, it seemed, directly over Chris’ house at the end of the street, big as a raincloud.

I loved the blimp. I loved it with something like an epic love. It was just a big gasbag with a motor, but in those late midcentury days the world was still a little bit in awe of the whole idea of flight, and my parents passed that sense of wonder down to me at an age when I was supremely impressionable about the revering of things. I thank them for it. After all, what are our moments on earth but metaphors of heaven? The blimp was a lot like my idea of God at that time — big, benevolent, skyborne, (kinda burpy), and watchful… watchful and all-seeing. It surprised us with its grace and strange beauty and sudden appearance. It saw us before we saw it, but when we saw it back, we knew ourselves to be blessed.

———-

UPDATE: 10 May 2011

I recently found this photo I took in 1978. This is probably the Columbia.

About to tie up to a star on a summer evening.

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8 Responses to “The Blimp!!!”


  1. 1 Louis July 8, 2009 at 17:17

    “…a low, chipper flatulence emanating from its propellers..” BRILLIANT! Count me in as one who too loved the Goodyear blimp and its annual summer visit. My mother would often shop at the commissary at Sand Point Naval Base, where the blimp – I believe it was always the airship Columbia – would be stationed during its visits to Seattle. I could just stare at it for hours. Anytime I heard its lazy growl on a hot summer day, I would always stop in the middle of whatever I was doing and gawk at it. Summer to me was always Meydenbauer Beach, the Bellevue Arts and Crafts Fair, the hydros and the Goodyear blimp.

    • 2 jstwndrng July 8, 2009 at 23:36

      Louis,
      Thanks for adding this vignette of your childhood summers. Comments like that will make this a really rich archive for my daughter someday, especially since it shows it wasn’t only her crazy dad that gawked after airships. How did your mom get to shop at the Navy commissary? Was she or your dad in the Navy? I think Jess over at vintageseattle.org did a thing on the commissary a while back.

  2. 3 Kip July 8, 2009 at 21:12

    You have conjured up two memories in one post! The Goodyear Blimp, that graceful airship floating above the lake and the Sound…in direct contrast to The Blue Angels, ripping up the sky with precision moves and ear splitting sound. Both providing thrills in their own way. The other memory is of the Ford Galaxy 500. Man, that was a sweet car! Of all the cars from yesteryear, the 500 was the coolest!

    • 4 jstwndrng July 8, 2009 at 23:41

      Yessir, we had some fine times in that old Ford, and no mistake. Maybe I’ll post on that sometime. There’s a photo somewhere of you and me and Cal and Marni and my brother Ben and my cousin Karen all sitting on top of it at Pizza and Pipes. We were all so young!

  3. 5 Marni July 9, 2009 at 03:34

    I’m having an actual visceral memory experience after reading this- thank you! I can hear it and see it and remember it and practically taste the air in my backyard in Medina right now.

    • 6 jstwndrng July 10, 2009 at 03:14

      Glad to help in the visceral memory department. Of all of us, you are probably the only one whose childhood backyard still exists.


  1. 1 The Big Noise and other flying things « Just Wondering Trackback on August 10, 2010 at 19:50
  2. 2 Last call at the Treetop Grill « Just Wondering Trackback on September 3, 2010 at 22:16

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