On August 19, 1929 Lady Grace Drummond Hay stepped aboard the Graf Zeppelin as the only woman witness to the airship’s famous round-the-world voyage.
She joined a total of 60 other passengers and crew members, all men, for the historic journey.
Along with her fellow Hearst newspaper correspondents, Karl H. Von Wiegand and Sir George Hubert Wilkins, Lady Hay was responsible for relaying details of the journey to an eager public down below.
An article from TIME magazine recorded the zeppelin’s launch from Manhattan, NY:
“Marines, sailors and Boy Scouts relinquished the ropes which held her to earth. Up she nosed, and away, a steady-moving monster quickly lost in the darkness. Manhattan watchers heard her motors, saw her slummer through the murk. She circled the Statue of Liberty before heading to sea.”
The article also recorded Lady Hay’s observations of the moment the zeppelin soared towards the clouds.
“We passed from a symphony of silver to golden glory as the lights of New York City scattered themselves beneath us like grains of golden Stardust, tracing patterns strange and fantastic, set with the jewelled brilliancy of ruby, emerald and topaz electric signs…”
Despite tranquil images of the giant silver airship cutting cleanly through the clouds, Lady Hay’s journey was not all smooth sailing.
The British born correspondent moved stateside after becoming a widow in her early 30’s. She gained the title of Lady at the age of 25 when she married Sir Robert Drummond, a man nearly 50 years her senior. Her elderly husband died six years later, leaving Lady Hay free to pursue a series of extraordinary adventures.
Lady Hay had only recently ended a long running affair with her travelling companion and fellow correspondent, Karl H. Von Wiegand.
Farewell the part drama, part documentary based around the Graf Zeppelin’s 21 day world tour makes much of their tense relationship aboard the airship.
Excerpts from Lady Hay’s diary and letters during the voyage suggest her anxiety at spending almost a month in such close quarters with an ex-lover who had just decided to return to his mentally unstable wife.
Whatever she may have felt behind the closed door of her private cabin, Lady Hay made for a cool and collected observer aboard the zeppelin.
TIME described her exploits, exploring the steel skeleton of the massive airship as it sailed through the sky.
“Lady Drummond Hay, in knickers and leather flying coat, “clambered squirrel-like” (Von Wiegand description) along the girders of the ship’s hull. She carried a Boston Bull pup, who was cold and, she decided, lonesome. Sir Hubert Wilkins clambered with her. Her cloth cat mascot remained in her cabin.”
Lady Hay’s airborne trip around world was only the first of her adventures. Her coverage of the zeppelin’s flight cemented her reputation as a correspondent. Over the following decade she travelled the world, reporting from war zones in Ethiopia and China.
Karl Von Wiegand remained her steadfast friend and they continued to travel and report together.
During World War Two they were both interned together in Japanese Camp in Manilla. Though she was released in 1945 Lady Hay’s health had deteriorated during her internment. She died of a heart attack during her stay in the Lexington Hotel in Manhattan on February 25, 1946.
Lady Grace Drummond Hay 1895-1946