He was, for years, the most revered man in the United States, considered to be a real-life superhero.
Famed for making history with his solo transatlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh became an aviation pioneer who changed the way air travel was regarded around the world.
He later went on to help invent a device that paved the way for saving many lives, and became a wildlife conservationist in the years before most people cared what happened to endangered animals.
When his 20-month-old son was kidnapped and murdered in 1932, it was dubbed ‘The Crime of the Century’, and there was a huge outpouring of sympathy for the beloved hero.
But Charles suffered a heavy fall from grace when he expressed pro-Nazi sympathies and shared his anti-Jewish sentiments. He was unapologetic for being in favour of eugenics – the practice of “improving” the human race by “breeding out” people with disabilities and “defects”.
And then, nearly 30 years after his death, it was revealed that for many years he led a double life, fathering seven children with three mistresses.
Writer A. Scott Berg, who spent two years researching and four years writing the biography Lindbergh, said he decided to do the book because of “the dramatic possibilities of the story of the great hero who became a great victim and a great villain” – and that at that stage, he had no clue about the secret children.
Charles Augustus Lindbergh was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1902. Young Charles had been interested in planes, an exciting new invention then, and learned to fly when he was 20. He worked as an airmail pilot and barn-stormer – performing tricks in his plane for entertainment.
In 1927, he decided to take up the challenge issued by New York hotelier Raymond Orteig, who offered $25,000 to the first person who could successfully fly non-stop between New York and Paris.
Sponsored by two businessmen, Charles designed a plane called The Spirit of St Louis. The flight from Long Island to Paris’ Le Bourget Aerodrome took 33 hours and was challenging.
In an effort to stay awake, Charles flew with the windows open and even “buzzed” the surface of the ocean in the hope that the chilly spray would prevent him from nodding off. He suffered from hallucinations for part of the flight but landed safely at Le Bourget, where he was mobbed by a crowd of 150,000 frenzied spectators.
He instantly became an international superstar, feted on both sides of the Atlantic. According to one report, people behaved “as though Lindbergh had walked on water, not flown over it”.
He received a ticker-tape parade when he returned to the US (via ship) and was awarded the Medal of Honour, even though it was only normally given for heroism in combat. He also became Time magazine’s first Man of the Year.
A leading aviator of the time, Elinor Smith Sullivan, later said, “People seemed to think aviators were from outer space. But after Charles Lindbergh’s flight, we could do no wrong. It’s hard to describe the impact he had on people. Even the first walk on the moon doesn’t come close.
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