11 Things You Might Not Know About Charles Lindbergh

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Before flying around the world was a daily occurrence, aviator Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974) made history by becoming the first person to complete a solo transatlantic flight in 1927. The feat made him a national hero, and then he became a tragic figure: The kidnapping of his infant son in 1932 remains one of the most indelible true-crime cases of the 20th century. Check out the following facts for more on Lindbergh’s life in and out of the cockpit.

1. HE GOT HIS START RIDING AIRPLANE WINGS.

Born in Detroit on February 4, 1902, Lindbergh spent his childhood in Washington, D.C., where his father, Charles August Lindbergh, was a congressman, as well as in Little Falls, Minnesota. While in Little Falls, he saw a “barnstormer,” or daredevil pilot, buzz into town. "Afterward, I remember lying in the grass and looking up at the clouds and thinking how much fun it would be to fly up there among those clouds," he later recalled.

The event was thought to have instilled a curiosity about air travel that lasted Lindbergh’s entire life. After dropping out of college at age 20, Lindbergh started working for the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation, which repaired and sold airplanes. While a fellow employee flew aircraft for publicity purposes, Lindbergh would step out onto the plane wing to attract even more attention. He later got his pilot’s license at the Army Air Service, graduating in 1925.

2. DELIVERING MAIL GAVE HIM NERVES OF STEEL.

In the early days of aviation, flying was considered a high-risk proposition. After serving as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Lindbergh took a job delivering airmail between St. Louis and Chicago. The expedited schedule meant Lindbergh and other pilots flew at night with poor visibility, had to push through inclement weather, and suffered from fatigue. Lindbergh learned to deal with many of the dangerous variables of piloting, which prepared him for an audacious goal: making a transatlantic flight solo.

While pilots John Alcock and Arthur Brown had made a nonstop transatlantic flight in June 1919 from Newfoundland to Ireland, it was only half the distance of Lindbergh's goal of flying from New York to Paris. A hotel owner named Raymond Orteig had offered a $25,000 prize to the first person to travel that route, but for several years, no one took him up on it—a testament to the fact that few believed it could be done.

3. HE COULDN’T SEE OUT OF HIS HISTORY-MAKING PLANE.


The Spirit of St. Louis displayed in the “Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall” in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Lindbergh's decision to mount the first transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927 required two elements: guts and technology. Lindbergh had developed the constitution for it, but still needed an aircraft that could make the 3600-mile flight. Financed by the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, Lindbergh commissioned a $15,000 plane, dubbed The Spirit of St. Louis, to be built by the Ryan Airlines Corporation of San Diego. Because the plane needed additional fuel storage, everything extraneous was removed to lessen its weight—no radio, gas gauge, or parachute. Lindbergh even had to dispense with a window in his cockpit: The gas tank took over his front field of vision. He used a periscope to see instead.

The sacrifices were worth it. Lindbergh made the flight, lifting off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island on May 20, 1927, and arriving in Paris after 33.5 hours of uninterrupted flying. The feat captured the public's attention for its boundary-breaking significance, with thousands of people greeting his plane upon landing. Back home, president Calvin Coolidge awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

4. HE STARTED HALLUCINATING, TOO.

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean demanded more of Lindbergh than just flying skill or customized aircraft. It required he stay awake for the duration of the solo flight and maintain concentration throughout. Halfway through, fatigue began to set in, and Lindbergh physically forced his eyes to remain open with his fingers. Shortly after that, he began hallucinating ghosts passing through his cockpit. Because he had slept so little the night before taking off, Lindbergh had actually been awake closer to 55 hours.

5. THE FLIGHT MADE HIM A MILLIONAIRE.

Although there was a $25,000 prize involved, Lindbergh’s real wealth came from the public’s mythologizing of the feat. City after city threw him celebratory parades, and he eventually made it to every state in the union to acknowledge their fascination with his achievement. Eager to understand both the pilot and the trip, they made his 1927 autobiography, We, a bestseller. Lindbergh also wrote articles about aviation for The New York Times. Together, the projects were said to have made him a millionaire.

6. PEOPLE MADE SOUVENIRS TO MARK HIS SON’S KIDNAPPING.

No abduction has captured the public’s attention quite like the 1932 taking of Charles Lindbergh III, whom press dubbed “Little Lindy.” The 20-month-old was seized from his second-floor bedroom in the Lindberghs’ home in Hopewell, New Jersey, on March 1. Ransom notes followed, and although Lindbergh paid, the child was never going to return: His body was found May 12, about 4.5 miles from the Lindbergh home. Police determined that he had been killed on the night of the kidnapping. During the trial of alleged perpetrator Bruno Hauptmann, one business decided to offer a morbid souvenir to the attending public: a tiny replica of the ladder Hauptmann used to climb into the baby's window. Author Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) later purchased one. Sendak had long been fascinated with the case, which dominated headlines during his childhood.

7. HE RECEIVED AN AWARD FROM THE NAZIS.

Lindbergh’s feat drew worldwide acclaim and he frequently took up invitations from foreign countries to evaluate their aircraft development. In the late 1930s, Lindbergh made several trips to Nazi Germany, where he was granted access to the Luftwaffe's fleet of combat planes. At one point, Luftwaffe commander-in-chief Hermann Goering presented Lindbergh with the Service Cross of the German Eagle to acknowledge his pioneering work in aviation. Lindbergh promptly reported his experiences to U.S. intelligence, which had encouraged Lindbergh to make the visits and inform the American military of German technology.

8. HE WAS OPPOSED TO THE U.S. ENTERING WORLD WAR II.

Charles Lindbergh giving a radio speech
Lindbergh gives a speech advocating neutrality in World War II.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Despite the continued public adoration, Lindbergh managed to find himself in one major media disaster. He repeatedly voiced concerns over U.S. participation in World War II, believing that his country was ill-prepared to hold its own in European territory. In his most controversial comments, he told a crowd during a speech in Iowa in 1941 that the Jewish population was "pro war" as a result of the atrocities committed by Germans. Though he was prohibited from serving in the military by an irate President Franklin Roosevelt, Lindbergh wound up flying 50 combat missions in the Pacific for a private airplane contractor. The accusations of being pro-German or anti-Semitic followed him for the remainder of his life. In the early 1940s, his idea of American isolationism was even the target of satirical political cartoons by Theodore Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss. On a “Lindbergh quarter,” Seuss imagined an ostrich with its head in the ground instead of an eagle.

9. HE REFUSED TO CELEBRATE MOTHER’S DAY.

According to his daughter, Reeve Lindbergh, her father was no fan of manufactured holidays. Both Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, he said, were commercially driven and insincere, and he refused to acknowledge either one in the Lindbergh household. While his children were forced to cede to his wishes while he was present, his frequent trips allowed them to celebrate Mother’s Day in secret if he was away from home.

10. HE INVENTED AN INFLUENTIAL MEDICAL DEVICE.

Lindbergh had an interest in biomechanics, and in 1935, he unveiled his design for a perfusion pump—a glass device that could ostensibly keep organs viable by delivering a blood supply to them while they were outside the body. With collaborator and Nobel Prize-winning scientist Alexis Carrel, he succeeded in perfusing the thyroid gland of a cat. Though his invention never made it to a practical application stage, Lindbergh’s work is credited with helping bridge the gap toward innovations that later allowed surgeons to stop a heart during operations.

11. HE HAD A SECRET FAMILY (OR THREE).

Lindbergh’s travels to Germany were more than just business. In 2003, DNA tests confirmed that he had fathered three children with Munich hat maker Brigitte Hesshaimer beginning in 1957. Neither Hesshaimer nor Lindbergh disclosed that lineage to the children, who knew the man who came to visit them a few times a year as a writer named “Careu Kent.” The trio waited until their mother’s passing in 2001 before pursuing their suspicion that Kent was actually Lindbergh. The aviator was also alleged to have fathered two children with Brigitte’s sister, Marietta, and two with his personal secretary, a woman named Valeska.

7 Ships That Disappeared Without a Trace

iStock/stock_colors
iStock/stock_colors

There’s something ghoulishly fascinating about a mysterious disappearance, and our vast oceans offer seemingly endless space in which to vanish. The true fate of many of these ships will never be known, but speculation suggests that storms, piracy, mutiny, accidental bombing, and even the attack of a giant squid could be responsible for their vanishings. Below are seven ships that have disappeared without leaving a trace.

1. The Patriot // The disappearance of Theodosia Burr Alston

Theodosia Burr Alston (1783–1813) was the daughter of American politician and third vice president of the United States Aaron Burr. Theodosia had a privileged upbringing and a good education, and in 1801 she married wealthy landowner Joseph Alston, who went on to become governor of South Carolina. Sadly, in 1812, Theodosia lost her only son to a fever and she became sick with grief. Desperate for a change of scene, on New Year’s Eve 1812 she boarded the schooner Patriot in South Carolina to visit her father in New York. It is known that the ship left dock and sailed north, but what happened after that is a mystery. It never arrived in New York, and no trace of the ship or crew was ever found. A number of theories and legends have sprung up around the fate of Theodosia—some claim the ship was attacked by pirates and that she was forced to walk the plank, while others suggest that the Patriot got caught up in the War of 1812 and was sunk accidentally by an enemy ship. Perhaps most fanciful of all is the story put forward by a Karankawa Indian chief, who claimed that he rescued a woman who had washed up on shore after a shipwreck, and that before she died she gifted him her locket—with the name Theodosia inscribed upon it. Whatever the story, it is likely that after more than 200 years we shall never know the real fate of the Patriot and Theodosia Burr Alston.

2. The Merchant Royal // One of the richest shipwrecks never found

The Merchant Royal was tasked with taking treasures from the New World to Spain under the command of one Captain John Limbrey. In 1641 the ship was loaded with 100,000 pounds of gold, 400 bars of Mexican silver and a huge amount of precious jewels. As the ship entered the English waters, the weather turned bad, but unfortunately the pumps on board the ship broke and it began to take on water. Its sister ship, the Dover Merchant, with whom it had been sailing in tandem, came to the rescue of the captain and crew but were unable to take any of the cargo. The ship disappeared beneath the waves, somewhere off the coast of Land’s End.

Of course, with such valuable cargo, countless people have attempted to find the wreck, which has become known as the “Eldorado of the seas.” In 2007, it was thought that Odyssey Marine Exploration may have found the wreck after it salvaged 500,000 pieces of gold and silver from a site off the southwestern tip of Great Britain. This was later identified as treasure from a Spanish vessel—meaning that the unimagined riches of the Merchant Royal still await discovery.

3. USS Cyclops // Victim of the Bermuda Triangle?

The USS Cyclops was a huge steel-hulled fuel ship, tasked with carrying coal and other useful supplies for the U.S. Navy in the 1910s. On her final journey, the Cyclops set sail from Rio de Janeiro, with a full load of 10,800 tons of manganese ore and over 300 people on board. On March 4, 1918 the ship was spotted for the last time as it left Barbados and sailed into what we now sometimes call the Bermuda Triangle. The ship seemingly disappeared without a trace, and the case has been seen as especially mysterious since no distress call was made and no bad weather was reported in the region. Theories began to surface (some more imaginative than others) that the ship had been sunk by the Germans, attacked by a giant squid or octopus, or been victim of a violent mutiny. A huge search for the Cyclops was launched with a number of boats and planes scouring the area for debris or survivors, but nothing of the enormous ship was ever seen again.

4. The Witchcraft // The “unsinkable” luxury yacht

On December 22, 1967, experienced yachtsman Dan Burack and his friend, Father Patrick Horgan, set sail in the 23-foot luxury yacht Witchcraft to see the holiday lights off the coast of Miami. Unfortunately after just one mile the pair experienced difficulty when it seemed as if the yacht had hit something. Burack calmly called the Miami Coast Guard to report the trouble and request assistance. The official who took the call later commented that Burack seemed unconcerned—perhaps because the yacht was fitted with a special flotation device that was supposed to make the vessel unsinkable. The Coast Guard arrived at the scene just 19 minutes after the call, and were surprised to find no trace of the large yacht, no debris, and no sign of Burack or Horgan. Over the next six days, hundreds of square miles of ocean were searched, but nothing was ever found, and the Witchcraft has been chalked up as another vessel mysteriously lost to the Bermuda Triangle.

5. Andrea Gail // Lost in the “perfect storm”

The Andrea Gail was a 72-foot-long-liner boat that fished in the North Atlantic for swordfish. In September 1991 the ship, along with several other fishing vessels, set sail from Gloucester, Massachusetts for the last fishing session of the season. By October, the Andrea Gail and its six-man crew was out off the coast of Newfoundland when the confluence of terrible weather fronts conspired to create what has been dubbed “the perfect storm.” The massively powerful winds were whipping waves as high as 100 feet, and any ship caught in their path faced being sucked into the wave and flipped over repeatedly. The devastating storm battered the coast of New England and Canada, and after the worst of it had passed and the Andrea Gail had failed to return to port, a number of rescue missions set out to find the ship—but nothing was ever found. The story of the storm and the imagined fate of the Andrea Gail and her crew was later told in the book The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, as well as a Hollywood movie of the same name.

6. The USS Porpoise // Caught in a typhoon

USS Porpoise was a brig involved in 19th century exploration and surveying missions, taking part in a voyage in 1838 that confirmed the existence of Antarctica and later circumnavigating the globe. In 1854 the ship set sail from Hong Kong carrying 69 men in order to carry out a survey of the South Sea Islands. Somewhere between China and Taiwan, the ship sailed into dense fog and was separated from its partner ship, the USS Vincennes, and never seen again. Many ships searched for the ill-fated brig for over a year, but no sign was ever found, and it's thought to have been wrecked in a typhoon with all hands lost.

7. HMS Sappho // Presumed Wrecked Off Australian Coast

Over the course of a 20-year career, the British Navy ship HMS Sappho worked to suppress the slave trade off the coast of West Africa, intercepting a number of ships loaded with slaves and freeing hundreds of people. In 1857, after wrongly chasing down and boarding an American ship—an event that caused something of a diplomatic crisis between America and Great Britain—the ship was ordered to set sail to Australia. The Sappho reached Cape Town without incident, and from there headed toward the Bass Strait, where it was last spotted by a passing brig on February 18, 1878. Bad weather was reported in the area, and it has been assumed that high winds caused the ship to founder and sink. No sign of the 147 crewmembers was ever found, but rumors abounded that the captain, Fairfax Moresby, had somehow escaped the wreck and made it to an island off Australia, where he was said to have lost his mind.

Bonus: Baychimo // Arctic ghost ship

The SS Baychimo somewhere in Canada
The SS Baychimo somewhere in Canada
Mysterious Disappearances, Wikimedia // Public Domain

The SS Baychimo started life as a German trading vessel before being given to Great Britain after World War I as part of reparations. The Baychimo came under the ownership of the Hudson Bay Company, and made many voyages across the Atlantic from Scotland to Canada to trade with local Inuit tribes. In 1931, while journeying to Vancouver with a cargo of furs, the Baychimo fell victim to an early winter, as ice floes surrounded the ship and locked it in an icy embrace. The crew escaped the stricken vessel and fled across the ice floes to safety, but some returned a few days later to try to rescue the ship and its valuable cargo.

After over a month of braving the treacherous weather in a flimsy camp, a huge blizzard hit and the remaining crew lost sight of the ship. Once the storm had cleared, the watching crew were surprised to find the Baychimo had disappeared. They assumed it had sunk without trace. A week later the ship was spotted by an Inuit hunter and the crew raced back on board to gather as much of the cargo as possible. The captain decided the ship was too badly damaged to be seaworthy and so abandoned it, thinking it would soon break apart. How wrong he was. Over the years, the Baychimo was sighted a number of times, sometimes caught fast in ice, other times floating ghost-like through the Arctic waters. The last confirmed sighting was in 1969—an astonishing 37 years after it had been abandoned to its fate.

This list was first published in 2016 and republished in 2019.

5 Terrifyingly Huge Spiders

iStock/clauselsted
iStock/clauselsted

This week, woman in Tasmania came upon a massive huntsman spider devouring a pygmy possum at a lodge in the island's Mount Field National Park. The alarmingly huge arachnid was at least the size of a grown man's hand, and it's not the only giant spider out there. The enormous spiders below can’t be dispatched by a shoe or a rolled-up newspaper. They're sure to give you nightmares—even if you're not an arachnophobe.

1. Poecilotheria rajaei

Poecilotheria rajaei, a huge spider native to Sri Lanka
Ranil Nanayakkara/British Tarantula Society, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

This species of tarantula, discovered in northern Sri Lanka in 2013, has a leg span of 8 inches. That's roughly the size of your face! It’s part of an arboreal group called tiger spiders, which are indigenous to India and Sri Lanka. A dead male specimen of P. rajaei—which is distinguished from other tiger spiders by the markings on its legs and abdomen—was first presented to scientists in October 2009 by a local villager; a survey of the area revealed enough females and juveniles that scientists are confident they've found a new species. “They are quite rare,” Ranil Nanayakkara, co-founder of Sri Lanka’s Biodiversity Education and Research, told WIRED. “They prefer well-established old trees, but due to deforestation the number have dwindled and due to lack of suitable habitat they enter old buildings.” P. rajaei was named after a police officer who helped scientists navigate the area where it was found.

2. Theraphosa blondi

A Goliath bird-eating spider
universoaracnido, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5

Though Theraphosa blondi is called the Goliath bird-eating spider, it doesn’t actually eat birds. Reportedly, it got its name when an explorer saw it eating a hummingbird, but like other tarantulas, its diet consists mainly of insects, frogs, and rodents. But we’ll forgive you if you’re not comforted by that fact. After all, this spider can have a leg span nearly a foot across—the size of a dinner plate—and weigh up to 6 ounces, making it the largest spider in the world by mass. Its fangs, up to an inch long, can break human skin. (Though venomous, its poison won't bring down a human.) Native to South America, the spider makes noise by rubbing the bristles on its legs together; the sound can be heard up to 15 feet away.

3. Heteropoda maxima

A Heteropoda maxima spider
Petra & Wilifried, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Yet another reason to avoid dark caverns: Discovered in a cave in Laos in 2011, the giant huntsman spider has a leg span of 12 inches. It’s just one of over 1000 species of huntsman spider. These speedy arachnids can chase down their prey with ease and have legs that extend forward, like a crab’s.

4. Golden silk orb-weavers

These arachnids, of the genus Nephila, have a fearsome relative: the largest fossilized spider ever found is an ancestor. Females of this group of spiders, which are found around the world, can have leg spans up to 6 inches (the males are smaller). Though these orb-weavers typically eat large insects, in Australia, some of these spiders have been snapped eating snakes and birds that got caught in their strong, 5-foot-diameter webs.

5. Phoneutria nigriventer

Sure, Phoneutria nigriventer's nearly 6-inch leg span is scary—but there's something else about this spider that makes it even more terrifying: its venom, a neurotoxin that can be fatal to humans. In fact, along with P. fera, this spider is the most toxic on Earth (thankfully, a good antivenom exists). Native to Central and South America, P. nigriventer is also called the Brazilian wandering spider, for its tendency to roam the forest at night, and the banana spider, both because it hides in banana plants during the day and sometimes stows away in shipments of the fruit. When threatened, the spider lifts its front two pairs of legs and sways side to side, as you can see in the video above.

This story originally appeared in 2013.

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