From the Pen of Schenectady County Historian Ed Reilly: Charles Lindbergh in Schenectady County

Spirit of St. Louis

Charles Augustus Lindbergh (February 4, 1902 - August 26, 1974) was nicknamed Lucky Lindy, the Lone Eagle. At one time or another, he was an American aviator, a U.S. military officer, an author, an inventor, an explorer, and an early environmental activist. In 1927, at age 25, he went from obscurity as a U.S. Airmail pilot to instantaneous world fame by making a nonstop flight from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, to Paris, France. He covered the 33 12-hour, 3,600 statute miles (5,800 km) alone in a single-engine Ryan monoplane which he had named the Spirit of St. Louis. This was the first solo transatlantic flight and the first non-stop flight between North America and mainland Europe. At the time, Lindbergh was an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve, and he received the United States' highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for the feat. Additionally, he received the Orteig  Prize, a $25,000 reward (equivalent to at least $250,000 in 2018 coinage) offered on May 22, 1919, by New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig to the first aviator to fly non-stop from New York City to Paris or vice versa. Prior to Lindberg’s successful flight, several lives were lost by those who had competed to try and win the prize. The rules did not require a single pilot. Six died in three separate crashes, and another three were injured in a fourth. The Prize prompted considerable investment in aviation and advanced public interest in aviation and the level of aviation technology. Soon after his historic feat, Lindberg became well known to residents of the world and to Schenectadians in particular. The Spirit of St. Lewis arrived at our County Airport at least twice. On its first visit, on July 28, 1927, Lindbergh himself was his own pilot and the notice that he was coming drew an estimated 25 thousand people to meet and greet him. Two years later, in 1929, the Spirit was returned to our airport by friends of Lindberg but was immediately stored in a hanger, or “hangared” in aviation parlance, never again brought here for public exhibition of plane and owner. But what could have been Lindberg’s motive in having his friends do this?      Eventually, it was revealed that Lindberg planned to connect with his new wife, Anne Morrow, somewhere near our airport in order to begin their honeymoon. Where did they go, and when and how did they depart? Curious citizenry assumed that it would be via the pre-stored Spirit of St. Louis, but that turned out not to be so. But did any Lindbergh ever come here another time for public contact, in 1929 or even much later?

There were some clues in a local press clipping whose date was missing. It referred to “tonight’s talk” in which “Reeve Lindberg shows how, in many ways, her father was miscast for the larger than life role history wrote for him.” Reeve was the youngest of the six Lindberg children. She was a very accomplished writer as was her mother. The clipping also contained a cropped section of what appeared to be half of an aviator’s helmet with the partial word BERGH superimposed on the top of it. So I went online to Amazon.com and asked for a list of all of Reeve’s books, each illustrated via a full book jacket. Sure enough, the cover of her 1998 book Under a Wing was a perfect match. So did Reeve Lindbergh ever come to speak with us in Schenectady? I found a Times Union story that matched the clipping, and it said that “tonight” was December 2, 1999, just 19 years ago, and the venue was the Schenectady County Community College. I should have been there! Some of you reading this probably were.

When I checked out the book in question I found it a great read, a work of literature, but it did not shed light on the Schenectady airport question. The book that did help was the Pulitzer Prize winning “Lindbergh” by Andrew Scott Berg, published in 1998, the same year as Reeve’s book. The Berg biography does answer the question “Where did they go, and when did they depart?” a story told with humor and gusto.  After Lindbergh’s very private marriage to Anne Morrow at her parents’ home in Englewood, N.J. on May 27, 1929, the couple did not drive to any airport. Berg writes:  “At 4:30, everybody waved as the newlyweds slipped out the back of the house and into a car. Charles and Anne drove past the entourage of newsmen waiting at the bottom of the hill. The press corps pursued them, but the newlyweds gave them the slip, driving down a blind alley in which Henry Breckinridge was waiting in Lindbergh’s Franklin. They exchanged cars.  Donning caps and dark glasses, Charles and Anne started their long drive to Long Island. With their two hour jump on the press, Charles and Anne reached their destination on the Sound at ten o’clock, undetected. Earlier that day, Lindbergh's own plane, his Falcon Spirit, had landed at our Schenectady Airport piloted by Randy EnsIow, a personal friend of Lindy. Lindbergh was not in the plane and Enslow offered no clue to his whereabouts .Earlier In the Afternoon two unidentified young men landed another Falcon airplane at the Schenectady airport and disappeared immediately. Leaving the plane with Enslow was a man whose name was given as simply “Stevenson”. His first name was not revealed. Enslow and his companion took off from the airport in the Falcon left behind by the two other men, leaving the Spirit of St. Louis hangared at our airport. Now the task is to find out those who went back to retrieve it. Someone did, else it would not now be in the in Washington, it would have been left in our airport renamed the Spirit of Schenectady.

P.S. Is it conceivable that “Stevenson” was Lindberg’s friend Adlai Stevenson, just two years older than Lindy? And Lindberg biographer Scott Berg, who believes that it was, says that Adlai was one of only two Democratic Presidential candidates whom Lindbergh ever voted for. Could the other Democratic Presidential candidate for whom he voted have been Franklin Roosevelt? Not likely! Next to impossible, given the long time animosity between the two most admired men in America. The reason for the animosity is well described in the book THOSE ANGRY DAYS by Lynne Olson, Random House, NY, 2013.

But that’s a story for another day.  EDR