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See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the essay.

The Life Achievements and Tragedy of Charles A. Lindbergh

[1] The saga of Charles Augustus Lindberghs triumph and tragedy spans several of the most turbulent decades of modern American history. Lindbergh was catapulted into the public eye during the decade of the 1920s. The U.S. had emerged from World War I with a new sense of economic power, a taste for adventure, and a youthful frivolity that echoed both the nihilism of the war and the uncertainty of the modern world. The exploits of heroes and eccentrics alike were chronicled by the press and embraced by the public. It was an age of marathon dancers, of flagpole sitters, of flagrant wealth and high drama. One of the most successful journalists of the age, William Randolph Hearst was forthright with his assessment of the intellectual proclivities of the public. He understood that "the public wants entertainment not information." It was the beginning of the voyeurism in journalism that lead us to live TV coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial and the search for the remains of John F. Kennedy, Jr. No facet of human experience is exempt, no grief private, no failure immune from the examination, evaluation, and often exploitation of the press.

[2] Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. was born in Detroit in 1902. The son of a Minnesota congressman who served from 1907 to 1917, he was no stranger to the public arena. As a child he demonstrated unusual mechanical ability. Lindbergh entered the University of Wisconsin to study engineering, but the allure of the nascent field of aviation proved the stronger calling. After only two years of university study, Lindbergh left school to become a barnstormer, a performer of barrel rolls and daredevil stunts at county fairs. But there were other roads open that presented greater challenges. In 1924 Lindbergh enlisted in the United States Army and trained as an Air Service Reserve pilot. He proved to be the best pilot in his class and upon release from the service joined the Robertson Aircraft Corporation where he flew the mail between Chicago and St. Louis. Lindbergh saved $2000 as an airmail pilot and used this as seed money to finance his solo transatlantic flight.

[3] The Spirit of St. Louis propelled Lindbergh from the position of unknown contender to a world-renowned aviator and advocate for flight. The prize of $25,000 had been offered for eight years by Raymond Orteig, a wealthy financier, to the first aviator to fly non-stop from New York to Paris. Lindbergh had gone to San Diego to supervise the construction of his aircraft and train for the rigors of solo flight. Even before his transatlantic flight, the 25-year-old excited the imagination of the press by flying cross-country, San Diego to New York with an overnight stop in St. Louis to refuel. It took 20 hours and 21 minutes and set a transcontinental record. Lindy was ready to take to the skies, and the world was watching.

[4] The weather had delayed the beginning of the flight for eight days, but on May 20, 1927, provisioned with four sandwiches and a bottle of water, prepared to do his own navigation by dead reckoning, and armed with letters of introduction, Lindbergh put his single engine craft to the test. Skirting the north Atlantic, Charles Lindbergh often found himself dozing off only to awaken to the sight of the waves. Lindbergh knew he was safe when he spotted the southern coast of Ireland. He landed just outside Paris at Bourget Field at 10:21 PM, Paris time, on May 21, 1927. In the span of 33 hours and 29 minutes, Charles Augustus Lindbergh became the most famous person on earth. He did not need any letters of introduction, for the press had already telegraphed his progress, and Lindbergh was greeted by 100,000 cheering Parisians. The dashing young American aviator became the darling of the press.

[5] The public response was frenzy and unabashed patriotism. New York theatres interrupted their performances to play "the Star Spangled Banner" and "Marseillaise." The New York Times devoted the entire front page to articles relating to Lindbergh and his flight. Songs and poems were written and the Lindy Hop became the dance rage of the era. From South America to the subcontinent, Charles Augustus Lindbergh was hailed as a conqueror. Honors and degrees, ribbons and awards, contracts and business propositions were heaped upon him. Evangline Lindbergh was invited to the White House, the guest of Calvin and Grace Coolidge, where she waited the return of her son who was aboard the U.S. Memphis. Charles Lindbergh was a national asset and not one to be sent home aboard a stripped down one-engine airplane. The time spent aboard ship was the only time Lindbergh was to have for reflection for many years. His life as an adventurer, inventor, and private citizen vanished . . . forever.

[6] As America's official international ambassador, Charles Lindbergh's travels included a trip to Mexico, an excursion that sent him into the arms of his future wife, navigator, and partner in travel and travail. Anne Morrow was the younger daughter of Dwight Whitney Morrow, ambassador to Mexico in 1927. It was there that he was introduced to Anne, the shy younger daughter who was fascinated by the dashing and handsome aviator. In just two years she would become his bride and embark upon a lifetime of public celebrity tempered by private heartbreak (Berg).

[7] It is difficult to imagine an event that galvanized the public interest more than the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. The media coverage was rank with speculation and sophistry. On Tuesday, March 1, 1932, at 10:25 p.m., Lieutenant Daniel J. Dunn answered a phone call, "This is Charles Lindbergh, my son has just been kidnapped." By 11:00 p.m., statewide roadblocks were in place. Check points had been established at the Holland Tunnel, George Washington Bridge, and the ports along the Hudson River. Hospitals were alerted and H. Norman Schwarzkopf led the investigation. The crude three-section ladder, presumed to be the vehicle of entry to the child's room, was found within 100 feet of the house. The ransom note left on the windowsill was dusted for prints before it was opened. The admonition in the ransom note to keep the kidnapping quiet was moot. It was already a media event.

[8] The investigation hit the ground running, and the media swarmed to witness the events. Lindbergh insisted upon participating in the investigation and to accommodate him the headquarters of the investigation was established at the Hopewell estate. Lindbergh searched the grounds of the estate with the troopers. Muddy footprints were found leading to the woods were they joined another much smaller print, possibly that of a woman. The state of New Jersey was in virtual lockdown. New York City Commissioner Mulrooney assigned 19,000 police and 200 detectives to pursue the investigation. Hospitals, as well as farms and homes where children were boarded, were searched. There was some hope that the high profile case would discourage the abductors and they would abandon the child. Kidnapping was almost a cottage industry in the early 1930s. With over 2000 incidents, there was already federal legislation pending that would make the transportation of a kidnapped person from one state to another a federal crime punishable by death. But for the moment, the Lindberghs hoped to pay the ransom and have the child returned safely.

[9] The prospects seemed to brighten when on March 4, the kidnappers contacted the Lindberghs with a second ransom note. The lines of communication were open, and the negotiations began. The family took steps to protect other members. Constance Morrow, Anne's mother, was guarded by two plainclothesmen as was Dwight Morrow, Jr., her brother, a student at Amherst. Sometime after midnight on March 9, 1932, Dr. John Condon, a 71-year-old retired teacher and unknown to the Lindberghs prior to the kidnapping, called and volunteered to act as a courier and to do so at his own expense. The mission was begun with a personal advertisement stating that "The money is ready." It appeared in the American on March 10th. The phone call came, and Condon delivered the money to the Woodlawn Cemetery. What followed was the one of the world's most peculiar interviews. For over an hour the courier and the kidnapper talked. Condon tried to establish for certain the identity of the child. Condon tried to persuade the man who called himself "John" to send the child's sleeping suit as proof. The next three days were charged with anxiety until the package containing the suit was delivered. Lindbergh had J.P. Morgan and Company make up a packet of $5, $10, and $20 dollar bills totaling $50,000 and a separate packet of $20,000 in $50 bills. The money was delivered, and Condon was told to wait for 8 hours before he opened the envelope that contained information on the location of the child. Condon opened the letter immediately. It said the child was on Nelly, a boat off the New England coast. Lindbergh took off in an amphibian to search for the vessel from the air. In desperation, Lindbergh expanded his search to the Chesapeake Bay area following a report that John Hughes Curtis, a local boat builder, had been approached by the kidnappers and was, in fact, in direct contact with them. Lindbergh flew south to investigate. On the afternoon of May 12th, a truck loaded with lumber stopped along the road from Hopewell to Princeton. There William Allen walked into the woods to relieve himself, where he discovered a shallow ditch with the remains of a baby in it. Lindbergh was on the Cachelot with Curtis when the call came. May 13th, at the mortuary in Trenton accompanied by the Mercer County Attorney, Charles Augustus Lindbergh identified the body of his son.

[10] For the next three years there was nothing but speculation. But on September 18, 1934, a clerk at the Corn Exchange Bank in the Bronx checked the serial number of a ten-dollar gold certificate bill and found that it matched a Lindbergh ransom number. On the bill was the number 4U-13-14 N.Y. It was the license number recorded by the gas station attendant when a man with a thick German accent paid for gasoline. The man had said that the bill was good and that he had lots more like it at home. Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested. In a garage behind the Hauptmann residence, the police found two packages containing gold certificate notes with serial numbers from the Lindbergh master list. Hauptmann contended that the money was held for a friend, Isidor Fisch, who had returned to Leipzig to visit his family. Unfortunately, Fisch had died the previous winter. To compound the suspicion, the police discovered that Hauptmann was an illegal immigrant who had served time in a German prison. Hauptmann was indicted for murder in the first degree in October of 1934 and extradited to New Jersey to stand trial.

[11] The small town of Flemington, N.J., became the focus for the trial of the century. There was no way to escape the carnival atmosphere of these proceedings. The streets of Flemington were gorged with sightseers, souvenir vendors, pickpockets, and mendicants. But the press was the most conspicuous presence. Cameras and microphones were barred from the courtroom, but defense attorney Reilly courted the press with daily conferences during which he provided his interpretation of the day's events, speculated on the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses, and previewed the questions he planned to ask the next day. The backroom of the Union Hotel became the press bullpen, and the tattoo of ticker tapes sent the reports to newspapers nationwide. Anne Lindbergh made only two appearances at court, one for her own testimony and the second when she accompanied her mother who testified in defense of the servants. Lindbergh, however, traveled from Englewood to Flemington every day during the six weeks of the trial. He provided testimony that identified the voice of Bruno Richard Hauptmann as the voice of the man to whom Condon paid the ransom in the cemetery. The prosecution presented a strong case based on circumstantial evidence. Their weakest point was the "pure chance" by which the Lindberghs remained at Hopewell on that Tuesday night. A stronger, more determined defense attorney may have spared Hauptmann the electric chair, but it is unlikely that anyone could have won his release.

[12] The questions that surrounded and so often shrouded the Lindbergh kidnapping case remain the substance of a debate, which includes fame, crime, politics, the press, judicial ethics, and capital punishment. Hauptmann's ethnic background raises the issue of anti-German sentiment. That peviously in Germany he was convicted of a crime that had haunting similarities to the Lindbergh crime was an infringing sidebar but never a crucial argument in the trial. Bruno Richard Hauptmann's attorney, Edward J. Reilly, was a competent lawyer who pleaded both the original case and the appeal. Although his declining health may have been a factor in the ensuing years, it was not relevant at trial time. The evidence and testimony presented during the trial went largely unchallenged, and Hauptmann was never able to present a plausible explanation for possession of the ransom money. Physical evidence connected to the ladder and the linguistic singularities of the ransom notes were scientific verities of that period. The questions, which refuse to be put to rest, lie in the American public's continued discomfort with the finality of capital punishment.

[13] After the trial, Charles and Anne felt that the safety of their family, notably the recently born Jon, remained in jeopardy as long as they remained the center of media attention in the United States. The Lindberghs sought a sense of peace in England, but their tranquility was short lived. The whispers of war were abroad and, Charles was sent as observer and ambassador to the newly emerging Nazi government in Germany. Lindbergh was duly impressed with the industry, dedication, and resolve he witnessed. He was a realist who recognized that the war machine underway would be impossible for the rest of Europe to defend against. His return to America was a retreat, for he forecast the inevitable. Germany would expand and the crumbling British Empire would see her last days. Lindbergh remained an opponent of the United States participation in the war. He alienated many friends and supporters with his active participation in America First, an organized publicly opposed to Roosevelt's foreign policy. His political stance effectively blocked any truly active participation in the war when it did come. Lindbergh never recanted his position.

Print Resources

Berg, A. Scott. Lindbergh. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1998.
This text is the family-sanctioned biography of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. It is a formidable study with over 50 pages of notes, acknowledgments, permissions, and sources. Mr. Berg was given unrestricted access to over 2000 boxes of letters and documents from the family archives. These personal papers and unpublished letters do much to penetrate the veil of myth that surrounds the person who was deified and demonized by the tabloid press. Berg begins with detailing Lindbergh's life with the peculiar and isolated childhood, his rise to world renown and adulation, and his position as ambassador for America's emerging aviation industry. The fairy tale romance of Charles and Anne Morrow was not always so despite the media hype. Berg recounts the events of the kidnapping with dispassionate objectivity. He examines the laundry list of irregularities and the carnival of theories surrounding a crime that became fodder for the news mill for more than 60 years. Berg argues that the final proof of Hauptmann's guilt is the lack of evidence implicating anyone else. Finally, he provides details of the literary and public discourse that lead to Lindbergh's political imbroglio. Perhaps the most revealing portions of this book are about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a woman who endured public scrutiny and speculation only to become as compelling and complex as her famous husband. As the official family version, many of Mr. Berg's arguments may be suspect, but the bulk of private letters and documents to which he had access makes this a version of the Lindbergh myth that still commands serious consideration.
Gill, Brenden. Lindbergh Alone. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1977.
This intriguing text provides an unusual window to the character of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., son of two dynamically different people. Charles Augustus, Sr. lost his first wife to cancer in 1895, an event which reinforced the lessons in stoicism learned at his own father's knee. From the beginning he was a firm believer in merit, hard work, and personal integrity. Charles Augustus, Sr. was a lawyer and a successful investor who accumulated considerable wealth apparently without compromise.  This and his own isolationist sentiment played a large part in the rituals of family life for Charles, Jr.  When the senior Charles did remarry, it was to Evangeline Lodge Land, a college graduate, chemistry teacher, and offspring of a family of strong-headed iconoclasts.  An examination of these two personalities does much to explain the enigmatic hero who was their son.  As a child, Charles Jr. was granted "complete freedom at the price of responsibility" (68).  From his mother came the legacy of stubborn self-reliance and the spirit of adventure.  From his father Charles Jr. learned to maintain his outer composure and foreswear the easy path of compromise.  So, as an adult, Charles Augustus, Jr. was well centered, secure in his personal beliefs, and prepared to accept the consequences of his actions.  This text contains a gallery of extraordinary photographs from the Lindbergh family album and is full of lively anecdotes.  It is a balanced, entertaining insider's look at one of America's most famous and reclusive heroes.
Lindbergh, Charles A . The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1970.
It is fitting, perhaps almost chilling that we have 1000 pages of journal entries from Charles Lindbergh kept during the rise and fall of the thousand-year Reich. At no other time did Lindbergh keep such extensive diary entries. These are facts of history from which historians may draw their own conclusions. There is no question that prior to the U.S. entry into World War II, Charles Lindbergh was an admirer of the Nazi regime and an ardent isolationist who believed that Roosevelt had suborned the American political system to champion the European allies in their battle against Germany. Throughout the war Charles Lindbergh, the hero of the skies, was denied the opportunity to engage in active duty. He did maintain his interest in the machinery of warfare and the tactics of engagement. What is most revealing is his opinion of the relative culpability of the allies. Even after the death camps of eastern Europe were uncovered, Lindbergh remains philosophically unchanged. He dismisses the accounts of the German Jews, while he is quick to equate the POW camps to the German death camps. Might his perspective have been different had he been permitted to participate, or was Charles Lindbergh a man so disengaged from emotion that he could offer arguments to place Bergen-Belsen on a plateau of inhumanity . . . just another step in the history of atrocities. These journals were withheld from publication for twenty-five years at the direction of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. Whatever they may reveal of the soul of the man, they demand the attention of students of World War II.
Randolph, Blyth. Charles Lindbergh. New York: Watts, 1990.
The author's stated intent is to examine the forces that shaped the hero, Charles A. Lindbergh. This text provides an uncluttered rendering of his life and accomplishments. Unfortunately, there is less analysis of the impact of childhood events and more of the usual canon of feats. One important element of this book is the attention given to the celebrity that hounded Lindbergh after the 1927 flight. Brief mention is given to the kidnapping of his son, and there is some discussion of the political stance and speeches which lead to Lindbergh's fall from political favor.

See Also

Broderick, James F. Paging New Jersey: A Literary Guide to the Garden State. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2003.

Davis, Kenneth S. The Hero: Charles L. Lindbergh and the American Dream. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1959.

Lindbergh, Charles A. We. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1927.

Lindbergh, Reeve. Under a Wing: A Memoir. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Milton, Joyce. Loss of Eden: A Biography of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. New York: Harper and Collins, 1993.

Mosley, Leonard. The Lindbergh Biography. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1976.

Ross, Walter. The Last Hero: Charles A. Lindbergh. New York: Harper and Row, 1964.

Video/Audio Resources

Lindbergh: The Shocking and Turbulent Life of America's Lone Eagle. Dir.Stephen Ives. WGHB. 1990. 60 minutes.
This documentary, narrated by actor Stacy Keach, contains some amazing footage of Lindbergh both in the air and on the ground. The sweeping vistas of the earth, as seen from the cockpit of a barnstorming adventurer, evoke the feelings of those daring individuals who first undertook the new frontier of flight. Despite this dramatic backdrop, this video documentary does not hold back on either Lindbergh's great triumphs, or his fall from grace. There are no over-empathetic pleas to forgive the aviator for his pre-World War II anti-Semitism, or to hide it for that matter. This video tries and succeeds in showing a Lindbergh that took life as it was dealt and never apologized, not because he was a hardened man, but simply because that was the only way he knew how to handle what was laid before him. Lindbergh is demystified and also de-deified in a way that does not detract from his accomplishments, but rather paints a picture of a simple man who in any other time period would have remained safely anonymous.
Lucky: The Story of Charles Lindbergh. Videocassette. Dir. Robert W. Foster. A&E Home Video, 1994. 50 minutes.
This A&E biography runs like an early 20th century newsreel. The video narrator's dramatic voice-overs accompany some incredible film footage of both Lindbergh as aviator and as a key player in the "Crime of the Century." Perhaps melodramatic is a more fitting adjective, for this video documentary is decidedly slanted. Lindbergh is the untouchable hero who perseveres through personal tragedy and remains America's Hero until his death. Fascinating trial footage shows a calm, collected Bruno Hauptmann taking the stand and the damaging testimony of several witnesses to the jury. If you knew nothing about the case before watching this biography, you are definitely led to believe Hauptmann the guiltiest man on the planet. As for Lindbergh himself, little time is devoted to his personal life. What time is not spent on the kidnapping trial is focused on his transatlantic flight and subsequent flights from the hounding of the American press. As far as his unpopular opinions about war and Jews, the issues are skirted completely while instead emphasizing his support of the war in the Pacific. Harry Chase, A&E's signature Biography host, in the last words of the presentation, not in the video itself, offers the only mention of his anti-Semitic views, . It is a dangerous thing to name this "propaganda," and there is some wonderful file footage, however it falls short in telling the whole story.
The Story of Charles Lindbergh.
Although it seems to be the forerunner of the A&E Biography, this video presents a slightly different slant considering the time period in which it was produced. The 1950's frame of mind is clearly evident. Format, file footage, and in some place exact dialogue is recognizable from the more recent A&E presentation, and it is obvious that it was simply updated for a more modern audience. Lindbergh's role in the Pacific theatre of World War II is highlighted, and his opposition to the European war downplayed. His feelings about the Jews, as far as this video is concerned, is that they didn't exist.

Online Resources

The Lindbergh Case: The Trial of the Century
This site is a great starting point from which to launch a study of the complexities of the this case. It contains a timeline, comic book edition of the events, archives and links to other sites. The site is maintained by the Hunterdon County Democrat.

The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case. Videocassette. Dir. Buzz Kulik. Columbia. 1976. 150 Minutes.

The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax
This is the most complete site that questions the evidence.
Lindbergh Kidnapping Index.
This is an impressive collection of images, information, audio, biographical, and technical information connected to the life and exploits of Charles Lindbergh. The web designer is a professional who has an abiding enthusiasm for anything historical. The links take you to the best and most reliable material to be had. And it is current.
The Lindbergh Kidnapping Site: The Real Story
Open forum sites are often suspect, given to speculation and wild theories. This site has some of that, but the issues that provide debate regarding the trial are given an evenhanded airing. It is a place to visit to encourage discussion of topics that still raise questions about the crime and some of its principal players. See the associated discussion board at:

Lindbergh Kidnapping Trial. [Archived]

The Lindbergh Kidnapping.
This is the place for the inside scoop on the most spectacular cases investigated by the FBI. Here you will find facsimiles of the documents involved in the investigation. The interview with Dr. Condon after the delivery of the ransom money is worth the trip.
Lindbergh Kidnapping: The Story Breaks.
Read the transcript of the appeal presented to New Jersey Court of Appeals. The arguments and case citations are there for your examination and appraisal.

Lindbergh's Transatlantic Flight: New York to Paris.

Lindbergh: The Crime Library
If you are looking for a coherent narrative of the crime, trial, and execution, this is an ideal site. The author's credentials are impressive, and the information goes beyond the bare bones of the case to include discussion of the issues which make this a particularly intriguing case study.

Milestone of Flight: "Spirit of St. Louis."

Two Legends of Aviation.