Preserving Shenandoah’s History

Nestled in Noble County is a piece of United States history.  

Back in 1925, the USS Shenandoah crashed in Ava. The crash’s history lives on at the Shenandoah Air Disaster Museum 

The museum is in a camper and is packed with artifacts detailing life aboard the airship. Theresa Rayner opened the museum with her late husband Bryan, which opened in 1995 on the 70th anniversary of the crash. 

“When you think about the impact this had on Noble County back in 1925, it’s probably the equivalent of when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded,” Pastor and Noble County historian John Powell says. “Noble County was thrust into the spotlight.”  

The museum includes various pictures and models of the airship as well as newspaper clippings about the crash. There are also items from the USS Shenandoah, including flattened soup cans and spoons. A collection of DVDs and VHS tapes that reference the airship is also on display.  

The Navy built the USS Shenandoah for scouting purposes to help protect its surface ships from enemy submarines. The USS Shenandoah, however, never went on any official scouting missions.  

Growing up, Bryan would follow around his grandfather and listened to all the stories about the airship crash. Theresa, on the other hand, didn’t always share her husband’s fascination. It wasn’t until the couple got married that his interest rubbed off on her.  

“Once we actually met some of the people whose lives were actually totally changed because of this piece of history, then that’s when I have to say I really got hooked,” Rayner says.  

Family members of those who were killed in the airship disaster have visited the museum, including the family of airship Lieutenant Commander Zachary Lansdowne, who died in the crash.  

Before the museum opened, the Rayners acquired totes full of items relating to the crash which they would drag out every time someone would visit. They decided they needed a place to put the items on display, and the idea for the museum was born.  

Visitors from all over the world have visited the museum including people from New Zealand, Canada and Germany.  

“It’s exposed a very small rural country area to a lot of different cultures and a lot of different people from all walks of life,” Rayner says.  

One of the schools in the area, Shenandoah High School, is named after the crash of the USS Shenandoah.  

The mascot for Shenandoah High School is a Zeppelin because the USS Shenandoah was a Zeppelin ship, Shenandoah High School Principal Justin Denius says. A Zeppelin is a type of rigid airship named after the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. 

A few years ago, the Shenandoah Zeps were named the most unique mascot in Ohio, Denius says. 

 “Having a Zeppelin as a mascot, it’s not like you can dress up as a blimp and run around like a tiger, but we’ve been just recently tying our mascot onto our football scoreboard in terms of the Navy star that was on the side of the USS Shenandoah,” Denius says.  

One time, when Rayner was in a store in Marietta, her oldest daughter was wearing a shirt and someone in line asked about their Zeppelin mascot.   

“I go in to this great big long explanation of the airship and how it crossed here in the county, and that’s our school’s mascot,” Rayner says.  

People sometimes ask Theresa why the airship crash remains relevant after so many years.  

“We can see all these pioneers in lots and lots of different fields,” Rayner says. “The first men who flew into space were pioneers. Well these were the first men that dealt with a lighter than air craft.” 

Fast facts:  

  • The USS Shenandoah carried 43 men.  
  • 14 men died flew  
  • The airship crashed in Ava on Sept. 3, 1925.


Southeast Ohio strives to spotlight the culture and community within our 21-county region and aims to inform, entertain and inspire readers with stories that hit close to home. Southeast Ohio is the first student-produced regional magazine in the country. Every semester, approximately 25 students enrolled in Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism produce an issue of the magazine, which is published in print twice a year. The staff generates story ideas, conducts interviews, writes stories and designs the magazine in only 15 weeks. The magazine has won several Regional Mark of Excellence Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.