Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lucky Lindy - A Legendary Life

by Carla Stewart

In 1927, two men of humble beginnings rose to fame that surpassed even that of an American President. One was Babe Ruth, New York Yankees slugger, who led his team to seven lifetime American League Championships and four World Series Championships. In 1927, he hit a career-high 60 home runs and is still considered by many as the greatest baseball player in history. 

Earlier that year, though, another man rose to the forefront in a different arena - the world of aviation. Charles A. Lindbergh was born in Minnesota, a shy and rather dreamy boy with an uneventful childhood. An only child, he grew up in a comfortable household but one that lacked warmth and affection. In college, he was on the fringe of most everything and classmates were hard-pressed to recall any anecdotes about him when later he became the most talked-about man in America. 

America was in a state of flux following the Great War, but aviation was an area that showed great promise on the changing face of society. Formal training was not required to be a pilot and war-surplus planes (Curtiss Jennies in particular) could be purchased for two hundred dollars or less. Barnstorming with aerial stunts such as wing-walking were a great past-time that captured people's fancy in small towns across the country, and especially in the mid-West. Lindbergh was one of those who was smitten from his first flight in 1922 at a flying school in Lincoln, Nebraska. He obtained a plane and began barnstorming. Two years later he took a job as an airmail pilot flying long hours on the Chicago to St. Louis route. It was then he began to dream of being the first man to fly across the Atlantic. A New York businessman had offered the $25,000 Orteig prize in 1919, and as yet no one had claimed it, but a growing number of contenders were hoping to be the first. Lindbergh knew he had to at least try.

Charles Lindbergh - Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons

Even so, at age twenty-five, Lindbergh wasn't considered a front runner for the coveted feat and indeed, several men before him perished while trying to make the dangerous crossing. Lindbergh, though, persuaded a group of businessmen to build him a plane. The Spirit of St. Louis was built to Lindbergh's specifications but a lot of it was guesswork. The wood and tubular steel frame was covered in pima cotton painted with six coats of aluminum-pigmented dope (a type of varnish that made the cotton shrink to fit tight over the frame). Once completed, it was little more than a flying gas tank. 

Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons
Storms and flooding across America in the spring of 1927 made people question whether it was a good idea to attempt the flight at all with the unusual weather patterns, but on May 20, a determined Lindbergh took off from Long Island while onlookers held their breaths as the Spirit of St. Louis rose shakily, then came back to earth with a bump. It rose and fell again, and with scarcely five hundred feet left of the runway, the plane still hugged the earth. On the third try, it lifted. Very few spectators that day thought there was a chance that Lindbergh would make it to Paris. 

Much has been made of the flight itself, and I've always loved the Jimmy Stewart movie The Spirit of St. Louis that shows the agony that Lindbergh went through as he charted his course, alone above a dark and swirling sea, lost much of the time. The thoughts that must have swarmed through his mind boggle mine, but miraculously, thirty three and one-half hours later, the Spirit of St. Louis landed at Le Bourget Field in Paris. Lindbergh's obscure life would never be the same after this monumental achievement. 

A replica of The Spirit of St. Louis - Missouri History Museum

Fast facts about the flight: 
  • The plane was built in a mere two months and tested for less than a month before the triumphal flight. 
  • A slight drizzle fell from the sky during the night before take-off and the runway was a muddy mess.
  • The Spirit of St. Louis was sighted over Nova Scotia a few hours after take-off and not seen again until it arrived in Paris.
  • 450 gallons of fuel were burned during the flight.
  • The length of the flight was 3,600 miles. 
  • The only items Lindbergh carried with him were five sandwiches, water, and his charts and maps. He didn't even have a change of clothes for when he arrived in France. 
  • A crowd of 150,000 people met him at Le Bourget Field in Paris

Ticker-tape parades and thousands, if not millions of people welcomed him on his return to the States and on his Victory/Goodwill tour to cities across the country. He was the most sought-after man in America, if not the world, Newspapermen dubbed him "Lucky Lindy", a name he despised. He visited many cities in the following months all the while maintaining a reserve that was like the shy, bashful portrait of his childhood days. When asked why he attempted such a hazardous endeavor, Lindbergh said, "Life without risks is not worth living."

Medal of Honor bestowed on Lindbergh for his accomplishment. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Much has been written about Lindbergh and his eventful but sometimes tumultuous life after that glorious day in 1927. Two books that I enjoyed were One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson and The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin. Both were books which aided me in research for my own upcoming book, A Flying Affair, which begins a few weeks after Lindbergh's famous flight. I'll be talking more about that on this blog over the next few months and giving you a glimpse of this aviation pioneering time in history. 

Thanks for joining me today. I'd welcome your comments about your flying experiences or fascination with a particular era in history. What is the longest flight you've ever gone on? What risks have you taken in your life? Please share. 

Carla Stewart is the award-winning author of five novels. With a passion for times gone by, it is her desire to take readers back to that warm, familiar place in their hearts called “home.” Her newest release is The Hatmaker's Heart. In New York City’s Jazz Age, a na├»ve, but talented young hat designer must weigh the cost of success when the rekindled love with her childhood sweetheart is lost and her integrity in the cutthroat fashion world is tested. A Flying Affair releases this June. Daredevil Mittie Humphreys navigates her heart as well as the skies in this beguiling adventure of grit and determination during the rollicking Roaring Twenties. Learn more about Carla at


  1. Hi Carla, this was a facinating post! I've enjoyed my research about WW1 aviation and it's so interesting to read what came next. I can't wait to read A Flying Affair!

    1. Thank you, Carrie! WWI definitely ushered in the world of flight, but the twenties were a wild time in so many ways. I've loved researching all things Roaring 20s and Mittie's story is one of my favorites. I can't wait to hear your thoughts and read your "flying" story, too.

  2. The Aviator's Wife is on our BookClub list for this year. I enjoyed your post on Charles Lindbergh. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. Hi, Sharon! The Aviator's Wife puts a whole new spin on everything I'd ever known about Lindbergh but I loved reading about his fame from another perspective. Enjoy!

  3. Fascinating post! I'm looking forward to reading The Aviator's Wife.

    1. Thanks, Linda. Melanie Benjamin's THE AVIATOR'S WIFE is great and gave me insights into my female aviatrix in A FLYING AFFAIR. Most people don't know that Lindbergh's wife, Anne, was an accomplished pilot herself.

  4. Thank you for sharing this interesting history, Carla. I look forward to learning more and can't wait to read A Flying Affair!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

  5. Thanks, Britney. I really enjoyed the research and this era in history. I hope you enjoy A Flying Affair.

  6. Carla, What a very interesting article. I enjoyed it very much.
    My chorus teacher in high school, Mrs. Torke, was personal friends with Anne Morrow Lindberg and Helen Keller.
    Her uncle was the author, Victor Hugo.
    Of course, I didn't find out about all this until years later after she had died. I wish I had known when I was in her class.
    Janet E.

    1. Hi Library Lady - Janet?? What an interesting combination of connections! Doesn't it make you want to go back and have a "do over"? I wonder what/who we might know who might someday be an historical figure? I wonder if Victor Hugo was accepted as the literary great that he is in his lifetime? Thanks so much for sharing!