11 Things You Might Not Know About Charles Lindbergh

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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.

8 Things You Might Not Know About James A. Garfield

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iStock

Owing to his untimely demise at the hands of assassin Charles Guiteau in 1881, 20th U.S. president James Garfield served only seven months in office, the second-shortest tenure after William Henry Harrison. (The equally unfortunate Harrison famously succumbed to pneumonia—though it might have been typhoid—one month into his term.) Not quite 50 at the time of his passing, Garfield nonetheless managed to pack a lot of experience into his short but eventful life. Read on for some facts about his childhood, his election non-campaign, and why Alexander Graham Bell thought he could help save Garfield's life. (Spoiler: He couldn't.)

1. He originally wanted to sail the open seas.

Garfield was born in Orange, Ohio on November 19, 1831. He never had a chance to know his father, Abram, who died before James turned 2 years old. As a child, Garfield was enamored with adventure novels and imagined a career as a sailor. "Nautical novels did it," he once said. "My mother tried to turn my attention in other directions, but the books were considered bad and from that very fact were fascinating." As a teenager, he got a job towing barges, but that was about as far as his seafaring would get. He attended the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now called Hiram College) in Hiram, Ohio and Williams College in Massachusetts before settling in as a Greek and Latin teacher at Hiram, where he would later become president.

2. He was a Civil War veteran.

James Garfield in his military uniform
Mathew Brady/Hulton Archive, Getty Images

If Garfield longed for adventure, he eventually found it, though perhaps not quite in the way he anticipated as a child. After being elected to the Ohio senate in 1859, Garfield joined the Union army at age 29 during the outbreak of war against the Confederates in 1861. Garfield saw combat in several skirmishes, including the Battle of Shiloh and the Battle of Chickamauga, before then-president Abraham Lincoln convinced him to resign his military post so he could devote his time to advocating for Ohio in the House of Representatives in 1863. He became the leading Republican in the House before being elected to the Senate for the 1881 term.

3. He never pursued presidential office.

Garfield thought he was attending the 1880 Republican National Convention to stump for Treasury Secretary John Sherman as the party's presidential candidate. Instead, the convention came to an impasse over Sherman, James Blaine, and Ulysses S. Grant. To help unclog the stalemate, Wisconsin's delegation threw Garfield's name into the hat as a compromise candidate. Not only did he win the election (opposing Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock), but he became the only sitting House member elected president. The whole process took Garfield by surprise, as he once told friends that "this honor comes to me unsought. I have never had the presidential fever, not even for a day."

4. He got caught up in an immigration scandal.

Just weeks before the general presidential election in November 1880, Garfield's political opponents tried to deal a fatal blow to his campaign by circulating a letter Garfield had written to an associate named H.L. Morey addressing the matter of foreign workers. In it, Garfield supported the idea of Chinese laborers, a controversial point of view at a time the country was nervous about immigration affecting employment. Democrats handed out hundreds of thousands of copies of the letter in an effort to sour voters on his candidacy. In Denver, the prospect of foreign workers prompted a riot. At first, Garfield remained silent, but not because he was ashamed of the letter. He simply couldn't recall writing or signing it—it was dated just after he was elected to the Senate, and he had signed lots of letters that he and his friends wrote in reply to the congratulatory messages he had received. But after consulting with his friends he issued a denial, and after seeing a reproduction in a newspaper, Garfield announced it was a phony. Furthermore, "H.L. Morey" didn't seem to exist. Turns out, the letter was planted by the opposition to discredit Garfield's name. Journalist Kenward Philp, who published the letter, was put on trial for libel and forgery but acquitted. One witness who claimed they met Morey was jailed for eight years for perjury.

5. He defended civil rights.

Several presidents in or near Garfield's era—Andrew Johnson, Woodrow Wilson—had less than flattering views on Reconstruction and civil rights. But Garfield made his opinion abundantly clear. Speaking during his inauguration, Garfield celebrated the dissolution of slavery and called it "the most important political change" since the Constitution. Garfield also appointed four black men to his administration, including activist Frederick Douglass as recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia.

6. He didn't get particularly great medical care after being shot.

Illustration of Garfield's assassination.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

A former Garfield supporter, Charles Guiteau, was erroneously convinced that Garfield owed him a European ambassadorship. After his letters and drop-ins were ignored by the administration for months, he shot Garfield twice at a train station in Washington, D.C. The president was quickly tended to by a number of physicians in the hopes he could survive the bullet stuck in his abdomen, but the doctors didn't bother washing their hands before sticking their fingers in his wound. (At the time, the idea of an antiseptic medical environment was being promoted but not widely used.) For two weeks, Garfield languished in bed as his caregivers attempted to remove the projectile but succeeded only in worsening both the incision in his stomach and the accompanying infection. A heart attack, blood infection, and splenic artery rupture followed. He hung on for roughly 80 days before dying on September 19, 1881. Guiteau was hanged for the crime in 1882.

7. Alexander Graham Bell tried to save his life.

During Garfield's bedridden final days, the public at large tried their best to lend sympathies and possible solutions. One letter writer suggested that doctors simply turn him upside-down so the bullet would fall out. A slightly more reasonable—but no more effective—tactic was offered by Alexander Graham Bell. Inviting a large measure of respect for his invention of the telephone, Bell was allowed to use a makeshift metal detector over Garfield's body to see if the electromagnetic fields would be disrupted by the presence of the bullet, revealing its location in Garfield's abdomen. Bell was unsuccessful, though he reportedly did manage to detect the metal in the president's mattress.

8. A classical statue was erected in his honor soon after his death.

Despite his short and somewhat uneventful tenure, Garfield quickly (as in, within six years) received an honor equal to more renowned American presidents. Sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward, who is probably best known for his oversized bronze of George Washington that stands on the grounds of his inauguration at Federal Hall in New York, unveiled his Garfield monument in 1887 at the foot of the Capitol building. The statue, which depicts Garfield giving a speech, also sports three figures along its granite pedestal base: a student (representing Garfield's stint as a teacher), a warrior (for his military service), and a toga-sporting elder statesman (to signify his political career).

The 20 Best Christmas Movies of All Time

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iStock.com/Satyrenko

There’s a difference between a Christmas movie and a movie that happens to be set at Christmastime. One evokes the spirit of the holiday—the atmosphere, the charity, the awkward family meals—while the other shows snow falling and the occasional Santa hat to set the mood. This key difference is why the debate surrounding Die Hard being “a Christmas movie” is always so heated. Is it solely a matter of the calendar or does a true Christmas movie need to reflect the soul of the season?

It’s also a genre that’s oversaturated with new, harmless movies every year seeking to thaw icy hearts and let them grow three sizes after a tub of popcorn. Which makes the enduring legacies of the very best Christmas movies that much more impressive.

We all have our own lineup of movies, old and more recent, that instantly leaps to mind when you think of Christmas. Movies that you watch on repeat without fail this time of year. Movies that have achieved Christmas immortality.

Here are the 20 best movies that capture the heart of Christmas (in alphabetical order, as we love them all too much to play total favorites).

1. Babes In Toyland (1961)

There were more than a few adaptations of Victor Herbert’s operetta before this one, but the Disneyfication of the fairy tale mash-up created a Technicolor jolt of Christmas adventure. Mouseketeer Annette Funicello shines as the secret heir to a fortune, but the movie’s best weapon is Ed Wynn as the Toymaker, pouring pure delight on everything he touches. 

2. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

This may be the only romantic comedy where a handsome young man helps a beautiful woman stay with her slightly cranky husband. Of course, Cary Grant is actually a handsome young angel whose mission is to help a Bishop (David Niven) in the midst of raising money for a new cathedral. Sometimes you pray for help and God sends the hottest actor in Hollywood to take your wife ice skating in order to remind you that kindness isn’t about funding a fancy new building.

3. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

The shortest of the movies on this list, Charles M. Schulz’s holiday special left an indelible mark on pop culture in less than half an hour. The animated wonder simultaneously gave us the best Christmas monologue about the crappiest tree and a jazzy Christmas soundtrack courtesy of Vince Guaraldi.

4. A Christmas Story (1983)

There’s a reason TBS plays this on a loop for a full 24 hours heading into the big day. Endlessly quotable, the youthful memoir is stacked with iconic moments involving tongues on flagpoles, risqué leg lamps, a sadistic Santa, and a super safe BB gun. Go ahead and shout out all your favorite lines right now. Just don’t shoot your eye out.

5. The Christmas Toy (1986)

Long before Buzz and Woody, Jim Henson produced a movie about an overconfident toy tiger who puts a playroom full of toys at risk because he can’t handle being supplanted by a new favorite toy. They all come to life when people aren’t around, and flop down when the playroom door opens, but they get frozen forever if a human touches them out of their original place. It’s a funny, imaginative gem, and I wore out the VHS when I was a kid.

6. Christmas Vacation (1989)

The blessing! More outright embarrassing and less sardonic than A Christmas Story, the Griswold family’s suburban misadventures lovingly devolve into the kind of chaos that requires a SWAT team. If you’re hosting your whole family, a flaming, flying set of plastic reindeer may just be the best symbol for the season. Fun fact: Mae Questel (who stole scenes as Aunt Bethany) sounds familiar because she was the voice of Olive Oyl and Betty Boop.

7. Die Hard (1988)

Yup, it’s on the list. Not merely set during Christmastime, John McClane’s harrowing rescue of his wife’s office mates is a bit like an action version of Ebenezer Scrooge. He starts off cranky and hateful of the season but remembers the true value of love and kindness after being visited by multiple people with guns who teach him to share what he has with others and give selflessly to those in need.

8. Elf (2003)

There is no tamping down Buddy the Elf’s enthusiasm. Like a retelling of Big with yellow tights and a green, pointy hat, Will Ferrell navigates the big city world of cynics to help them locate their inner child and believe in Christmas again. The main gag is how ridiculous Ferrell is as a giant elf, but the movie turns to magic because of its refusal to be even slightly mean-spirited. It’s like taking a big bite out of spaghetti topped with M&Ms, marshmallows, sprinkles, and chocolate syrup.

9. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

It’s “The Gift of the Magi” with singing river otters. That’s an automatic win on the adorability scale, but Jim Henson’s tale of family togetherness glides by on sheer sweetness and joy, revealing that you don’t have to have expensive equipment (or even a good band name) to create beautiful harmonies.

10. Frosty The Snowman (1969)

The tip top of children’s Christmas movies is dominated by Walt Disney, Jim Henson, and Rankin/Bass, who stepped away from stop-motion animation for this story based on the wildly popular holiday tune. It’s wondrous, but it’s also more harrowing than you remember. As soon as Frosty is given life, he’s aware of his own melting mortality, and the entire plot of the story is about figuring out how he can survive. It’s also impressive for having a mediocre children’s party magician as the villain.

11. Home Alone (1990)

John Hughes must have suffered some kind of vacation-based trauma, because this and Christmas Vacation both focus on the hilarious worsts of time away from the office. For the Griswolds it’s living beyond their means and needing more lights. For Kevin McCallister, it’s about neglect that should demand a call to CPS. The lesson of every elementary schooler’s dream of independence is that it’s okay to order your own cheese pizza as long as you also buy more toothpaste and fight off violent robbers. And if you love seeing Home Alone on this list but bristle at Die Hard’s inclusion, think twice, because they’re essentially the same movie.

12. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

Why they keep trying to improve on perfection is beyond comprehension. Keep Jim Carrey. Keep Benedict Cumberbatch. Give me Chuck Jones’s animation team featuring Boris Karloff and the legendary voice talent June Foray. It’s a madcap comic masterpiece with a message of kindness served up piping hot next to the roast beast. Sadly, the sequel, Halloween is Grinch Night, never quite caught on.

13. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Like most of you, I often fantasize about what It’s a Wonderful Life would be like starring The Grinch. I mean, who’s The Grinch’s guardian angel? Obviously, Frank Capra’s classic tale of redemption is in the eternal top five of Christmas films thanks to Jimmy Stewart’s mournfully enthusiastic performance and its overall message that one life matters. It, more than just about any other movie, has come to represent Christmastime itself—a ubiquitous presence on TV screens everywhere throughout December.

14. Miracle On 34th Street (1947)

Not just one of the best Christmas movies, but one of the very best films of its release year, Miracle on 34th Street soars with a charismatic performance from Maureen O’Hara and precocious side eye from a young Natalie Wood. Is Santa real? And is he the old gentleman you helped get a job at the department store? Cynicism is incinerated by this infectiously warm movie—one of the only films in history where the US Postal Service acts as Deus Ex Machina.

15. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Undoubtedly controversial, everyone has their personal favorite version of Charles Dickens’s important treatise on humanity and self-inflicted loneliness. The 175-year-old story has been adapted more than 100 times counting movies, TV, radio, and graphic novels. Maybe 1951’s Scrooge is your favorite, maybe you like George C. Scott or Patrick Stewart best. The Muppets and Michael Caine, though, brought a fresh, playful flavor that allowed a rat to co-narrate.

16. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

What’s this? What’s this? It’s Henry Selick’s perfect stop-motion celebration of Christmas cheer through a Gothic lens. With so many Christmas movies, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd, but The Nightmare Before Christmas is defiantly different. Mostly because it has werewolves, a singing sack filled with bugs, and a ghost dog who saves the day. So many movies focus on Christmas getting canceled because Santa gets detained, so it’s nice to see a movie about the ghouls who detain him.

17. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

The epic story of a misfit caribou who finds purpose because of what makes him unique, this Rankin/Bass tale is the longest continuously aired Christmas special of all time. It’s shown up on screens every year since 1964, thrilling young and young-at-heart viewers alike with vibrant animation, fun songs, and, for some awesome reason, an abominable snowman.

18. The Santa Clause (1994)

So many great Christmas movies follow Dickens’s blueprint of transforming someone skeptical into a true believer, and this Tim Allen comedy goes one step further by converting the crank into Kris Kringle. It’s ostensibly an argument against growing up too soon (or at all), and it established the Highlander-esque rule that, if Santa dies from falling off your roof, you become Santa.

19. Scrooged (1988)

Another stellar adaptation of Dickens, Richard Donner’s manic spree recasts Scrooge as a power-hungry television president played by a breathless Bill Murray. Beyond its intrinsic entertainment value and Carol Kane’s national treasure status, it also gives us all a break from a season of sentimental stories. It’s also a reminder that we should petition to make “Robert Goulet’s Cajun Christmas” a real thing.

20. White Christmas (1954)

There’s just nothing better than opening those big stage doors to discover the snow you’ve waited months for has finally arrived on Christmas Eve while Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, and Danny Kaye croon about our days being merry and bright. The songs and dance routines are fantastic, the story is nostalgic and goofy, and the charm is on full blast. Even growing up in a place where it never snowed, this was the ideal.

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