Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1221
Berg starts Lindbergh with a brief chapter about the high point of the aviator’s life, his arrival in Paris on May 21, 1927, using this moment in his story to summarize many of the important events that are to come. The statement that Lindbergh believed that this flight had started long before its takeoff thirty-three hours earlier, that it began generations earlier ‘‘with some Norsemen—infused with the Viking spirit—’’ is used to catapult the story back to the time of Lindbergh’s grandfather and to follow, thereafter, chronologically from Norway in 1859. Lindbergh’s grandfather was a swindler named Ola Månsson who, when it was time to flee Sweden, offered to take his wife and children. When they refused, he took his mistress and their illegitimate son. During their passage to America, he changed his name to August Lindbergh and the baby’s name to Charles.
Lindbergh’s father, Charles, grew up on a farm in Minnesota, earned a law degree, lost his first wife while she was giving birth to a daughter, and married a woman from the wealthy, aristocratic Lodge family. Their son, also named Charles, is born in February of 1902. Lindbergh’s father becomes a politician, is elected to Congress, and leaves the family with his wife’s relatives in Detroit while he takes off for Washington, D.C., an event that leaves Charles feeling abandoned and embittered. Though politics is what first creates a rift in his family, Lindbergh’s father proves spectacularly unsuccessful at it, losing several elections, including one for governor of Minnesota and one for his old house seat before leaving politics to invest in real estate.
Charles, who had been involved with his father in several of his campaigns and schemes, graduates high school and enrolls in the engineering college at the University of Wisconsin. He finds himself failing, unable to concentrate on his studies, and drops out to attend aviation school. The country is in the middle of an aviation boom, with hundreds of biplanes available that were originally commissioned for use during World War I and were later sold to private companies to put on stunt shows and spray pesticides on crops. By 1923, Charles is able to buy his first plane, and after a few years as a stunt pilot he moves to St. Louis, where opportunities have recently opened for flyers to deliver the U.S. Mail. His success increases public interest in airmail delivery—his handsome face appears on posters, and he speaks at business luncheons on the topic—but he finds the work too confining. Thinking about the full abilities of the new Wright- Bellanca aircraft, he comes across a contest offering $25,000 to the first aviator to cross the Atlantic alone.
He leaves Roosevelt Field in New York on the morning of May 20, 1927, in a small, open plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. Alone, over the dark ocean, with no contact with any person, he conserves the food he has brought and, throughout the thirty-three hour flight, only allows himself a few sips of water. Arriving in Paris, he finds the streets mobbed, as 150,000 people have come out to see the man who single-handedly made the world smaller.
As news of his feat travels around the globe, Lindbergh becomes an international hero. He is mobbed by reporters wanting interviews and invited to visit with the world’s greatest leaders and royalty. He finds his personal life slipping away from him, as he has become, the moment the plane’s wheels landed on French soil, one of the most famous people in the world. There are huge ticker-tape parades for him wherever he goes, and songs and dances are named after him. Within a month of returning to New York, he receives five million dollars worth of endorsement opportunities.
After some of the excitement dies down, Lindbergh expresses interest in helping commercial aviation, which at the time is just beginning. He becomes an advisor to the army and a partner with Henry Ford and some railroad officials in a commercial airline. He marries Anne Morrow, the daughter of the ambassador to Mexico. The couple travels the world for more than a year before having a house built just outside of Princeton, New Jersey. It is there that, on the night of March 1, 1932, their twoyear- old son disappears from his nursery on the second floor of the Lindbergh house. Once again, the world’s attention centers on the aviator as ransom notes are delivered, leads to the kidnappers’ identities are released, and negotiations go on with strangers who may or may not know those involved. On May 10, the boy’s body is found buried in the woods near the house, having apparently been put there the night he disappeared.
A suspect, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, is arrested two years later, and his trial brings international attention. He is convicted and sentenced to death although many people, including famous celebrities of the time, object that he is being framed by the authorities. In time, the public comes to distrust Hauptmann’s conviction, and some of their anger at the judicial system extends to include Lindbergh.
To escape the public’s curiosity, the Lindberghs move to England, where they end up renting a house and staying for years. While in England, Lindbergh is a guest in other countries. At the invitation of the American Embassy in Berlin, he goes to Germany, inspecting the German air force and offering advice. While not many people anticipated the Second World War in 1936, his friendliness toward Germany raises some concern, especially among American relatives of persecuted Jews. The situation is made worse when, as war in Europe approaches, Lindbergh makes public statements discouraging American involvement, even if that means leaving Germany to overthrow Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Russia. As German aggression against its Jewish citizens and neighboring countries grows, newspapers and politicians denounce Lindbergh. When war actually begins in Europe, Lindbergh is writing articles for American magazines, urging the country to stay uninvolved. He becomes a spokesman for a grassroots movement, America First, giving speeches on behalf of nonintervention, even as the country is heading toward war.
Lindbergh is called a Nazi sympathizer and becomes one of the most hated men in America. His reputation is somewhat rehabilitated by his working for the United States Air Force during the war, testing experimental jets and helping design assaults in the Pacific.
After the war, Lindbergh’s work for the government in developing aerial defense systems continues. His noninterventionist attitude toward Germany is reversed because of the spread of communism, which he feels will almost certainly lead to nuclear war. As he spends more and more time away from home, he becomes estranged from his wife. He becomes a best-selling author, and the United States government, which had shunned him during the war, gives him the honorary title of general. A movie about his life is made, starring James Stewart. He becomes a board member for several airlines and is involved with several wildlife conservation groups. In 1969, he has a house built on Maui. When he becomes deathly ill in New York in 1974, he has friends in the airline industry arrange a flight for him so that he can return one last time to his Hawaiian home, where he dies on August 26.