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Charles Lindbergh: Aviator, Activist, And Cult Figure You Don't Know That Well

Icons | March 31, 2020

Charles Lindbergh after completing the first successful solo transatlantic flight. On 20-21 May 1927 he flew from New York to Paris in a single-engined single-seater monoplane. (Photo by Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Aviator Charles Lindbergh was an American hero, a sudden celebrity, a victim of a terrible tragedy, and possibly a Nazi sympathizer. That last idea has gained some traction thanks to the HBO series The Plot Against America, based on the book by Philip Roth. The daredevil captured the imagination of his countrymen with a 33 1/2-hour solo Transatlantic flight in 1927, but the facts and stories of his biography show a more a complex legacy.

The story of Charles Lindbergh was a complicated one (history)

Charles Lindbergh remains a blurry contradiction in the annals of history. His historic flight from New York to Paris was a monumental accomplishment that shocked the world and changed the course of history. A crowd of more than 100,000 people roared in approval upon his arrival in Paris, making Lindberg an international sensation. The tragic kidnapping and murder of his child that occurred just five years later captivated the nation and was dubbed “the crime of the century.” After those two significant events that fascinated the masses, Lindbergh’s legacy becomes much more nebulous. 

The Flight Heard Around The World

As a young man Lindbergh made America proud (antipodean)

Lindbergh signed up to fly across the Atlantic, after a few years of flying with the 1920s version of the Blue Angels. He also joined the military but at the time active pilots weren’t needed, so he returned home and worked as an airmail pilot. Then he heard that a $25,000 prize had been offered by French hotelier Raymond Orteig for a successful flight over the Atlantic. With the backing of several people and a customized plane by the Ryan Aeronautical Company, Lindbergh took to the skies for one of the most famous flights in history. 

An Instant Celebrity

A man known around the world (kenmorestamp)

During his exhausting flight, Lindbergh kept the window open so the freezing air would keep him awake. Later in life, he shared that during the flight, while incredibly sleep-deprived, he hallucinated about ghosts. Upon arrival in Paris, Lindbergh was met by a massive crowd of fans and gained instant and global fame. 

President Coolidge even awarded him the Medal of Honor, the highest military award and one usually bestowed for heroism in combat. He was also made Time magazine’s Man of the Year and received numerous other distinguishing awards. 

Tragedy Strikes

A tragedy that captured the nation (newengland)

Unfortunately, for Lindbergh, his amazing accomplishment brought the wrong sort of attention. Just five years later his son, Charles Lindbergh Jr. was kidnapped. Five days later, the Lindberghs received a note demanding $50,000. Days later another note was received this time asking for $75,000.

Months passed as authorities went through negotiations, trying to get the child home safely. Eventually, they delivered the money and were told the child could be found on a boat called the “Nellie.” The boat was never found and the body of the infant was found just four miles away from their home. The child had been dead for months.

The suspect was apprehended by tracking the bills used to pay the ransom and examining the ladder used to steal the child from a second-floor window. The perpetrator, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, was executed by electric chair. 

Was Lindbergh A Nazi Sympathizer?

The evidence says Lindbergh was at least partial to the Nazi ideology (smithsonianmag)

Here is where the story of Charles Lindbergh becomes muddled. Undoubtedly, he was against American involvement in World War II as well as a spokesman for the America First Committee.

However, the most damning evidence that Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer was his own words. Lindbergh wrote in Reader's Digest, “We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races.”

In his diary, he wrote that “A few Jews add strength and character to a country, but too many create chaos. And we are getting too many.” Friend and noted anti-semite Henry Ford said that “When Charles comes out here, we only discuss the Jews.” Lastly, and perhaps, the most incriminating information was the fact that Lindbergh received a medal from Adolf Hitler himself and refused to return it after Hitler had proven to be a genocidal maniac.  

Tags: Charles Lindbergh | Kidnapping | World War II

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!