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.

13 Great Rockumentaries Every Music (and Movie) Fan Should See

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

More people are watching documentaries these days, which likely means that more people are rocking their faces off with nonfiction. Far from Ken Burns’s soothing tones, these music-filled films demand amplification and an unseemly amount of perspiration.

Rock documentaries are tricky beasts. Though they often have the built-in advantage of following around famous people, they aren’t immune to boredom and eye-rolling faux depth. Keeping it simple by showcasing the music can be good, but it’s no way to be great. The best of the best manage to deliver a stellar soundscape, offer a backstage pass to the real humans who make it, and hold our ears even if we aren’t already devoted fans. If a little history gets made in the process, even better.

Grab a seat next to Penny Lane on the bus. Here are 13 of the best documentaries that every music—and film—fan should add to their Must Watch list.

1. WHAT’S HAPPENING! THE BEATLES IN THE U.S.A. (1964)

A singular piece of filmmaking where nonfiction talent met transcendent musical genius on the threshold of gargantuan stardom, this is the best Beatles documentary ever produced. Directed by legendary documentarians Albert and David Maysles, the film captures the band’s first frivolous jaunt through America, where they raised the screaming decibel level in The Ed Sullivan Show theater and goofed off in hotel rooms. It’s an explosion of youth before they changed music forever.

2. DON’T LOOK BACK (1967)

Another marriage of style, skill, and subject, Don't Look Back helped shape how the rockumentary genre could provide insights into the people who shape our popular culture. That so many iconic moments emerged from D.A. Pennebaker’s watershed work, which strolled with Bob Dylan through England in 1965, is a testament to the legendary musician's infinite magnetism. The cue cards, singing with Joan Baez in a hotel room on the edge of breaking up, the Mississippi voter registration rally, and on and on. Since it portrayed fame’s effect on the artist, the art, and the audience, most every other rock doc has been chasing its brilliance.

3. GIMME SHELTER (1970)

The rockumentary has evolved to be as diverse as the sonic landscape itself, which is why Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping can send up the current scene just like This Is Spinal Tap! did in the 1980s. Still, 1970 feels like the year that defined the rockumentary. Another Maysles joint, this profound doc captured The Rolling Stones touring at a time when they were one of the biggest bands in the world and only getting bigger. The music is powerful and immediate, and the film closes with their appearance at the Altamont Free Concert, which turned deadly when—after a day of skirmishes between concertgoers and the Hell’s Angels acting as security—a fan with a gun was stabbed to death when he tried to get on stage during “Under My Thumb.”

4. WOODSTOCK (1970)

The other 1970 film that helped define the genre allowed thousands to claim they’d been to the biggest concert event of the generation without actually going. If rock ‘n’ roll emerged from unruly teenage years into conflicted young adulthood in the 1960s, nothing stamped that image in henna ink better than Woodstock and the documentary that accompanied it. The bands that appear are legendary: Crosby, Stills & Nash; The Who; Joe Cocker singing The Beatles; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and many more. It’s a fly-by of the three days of peace and music that you could play on repeat with summery ease.

5. ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1973)

Rock doc royalty D.A. Pennebaker captured David Bowie’s final performance in his red-domed sci-fi persona at London's Hammersmith Odeon with a flair that captures the frenetic energy of the room. The crowd is as much a part of the moment as the band is, as the camera places you in the middle of a transitional moment in music history. To see Bowie that close up now is a wonder. And, naturally, the music is out of this world.

6. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981)

Instead of following the famous, Penelope Spheeris’s debut dug its nails deep into the Los Angeles punk scene at the turn of the decade. Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and other bands your parents have never heard of perform mosh pit-sparking anthems and show off their living conditions like a grungy proto-version of MTV Cribs. There’s a purity here missing from most music docs—a chronicle of people whose passion far, far outweighs their paychecks, and a screening that led the LAPD to request that the movie never be shown in LA again.

7. SIGN "☮" THE TIMES (1987)

Having Prince at the center of your concert doc is a shortcut to ensuring it’s one of the best of all time. There’s the music, of course. Hits like “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look,” and Sheila E. beating the hell out of her drum kit. There’s also The Purple One's inexhaustible energy and stage presence. As a bonus, the film jumps between concert footage and (instead of candid hotel conversations) a sci-fi narrative where we get to go to Prince Planet. It’s a rocky, disorienting experience that could have only been held so tightly together by a master showman.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (1991)

It might be hard to explain to a younger audience just how dominant Madonna was as an artist coming out of the 1980s or the kind of landmark event this film represented because of her status. The travelogue of her Blonde Ambition Tour was like peeking into the insane world of the ultra-famous—not least because Madonna was dating Warren Beatty at the time and part of the film involves her hanging out with Al Pacino, Lionel Richie, and more. There are threats that the Canadian police will arrest her for simulating masturbation in her show, the Pope trying to get the tour canceled in Italy, and a slightly awkward return home to see family. All par for the course for someone whose personal life was carved up for public consumption.

9. RHYME & REASON (1997)

An unparalleled look into the lyricism and lifestyle of rap musicians from the genre’s rise through its global domination of the 1990s, the concert and party footage is fantastic, and the number of interviews is staggering. Peter Spirer spoke with more than 80 rap and hip-hop artists to craft a snapshot of what life was like for a group of musicians who discovered their voices could echo across the world as well as those who followed after to even greater success. Instead of going deep on one person behind the music, it’s a historical document of the culture itself as seen through the eyes of those at its very center.

10. THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (2005)

For those who don’t know Daniel Johnston’s music, this doc is a crash course not only in its stripped-down, anti-folk vibes but the head it all comes spilling out of. Instead of romanticizing or ignoring his bipolar disorder, Jeff Feuerzeig’s movie engages with it directly, drawing beautiful gems from a troubled mind. An absolute masterpiece, it’s less a vision of a musician giving glimpses into his real life than it is a vision of a human being who makes music.

11. AWESOME; I F*CKIN’ SHOT THAT! (2006)

Rockumentaries follow two major formats: the raw concert doc that’s like a ticket to a show you couldn’t attend, and the profile where artists drop quotables in between performances. They’re safe and familiar, which is probably why the Beastie Boys gave both styles the middle finger in favor of a grand experiment. A year before YouTube launched, the rap trio gave 50 fans in their Madison Square Garden audience camcorders to capture the concert. The result is a genuine, fans’-eye-view of the experience, and a chaotic mashup of perspectives.

12. THE PUNK SINGER (2013)

It’s astonishing how much time and ground Sini Anderson’s portrait of Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna covers. It’s so much that labeling her Bikini Kill’s leader is woefully reductive. Artist, pioneer, feminist, activist, and a dozen other titles swirl around Hanna’s sweat-covered brow as we get to know her both as an artist and as a person. It’s also a punk fever dream of riot grrrl greatness, featuring incendiary archival footage and excellent talks with members of Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, and Julie Ruin, as well as Carrie Brownstein and the Beastie Boys’s Adam Horovitz (who is also Hanna’s husband).

13. JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (2015)

A fairly recent addition to the pantheon, Amy J. Berg’s doc is a stirring tour of archival footage of the gravel-throated songstress. Narrated by musician Cat Power, instead of losing perspective to the fog of history, a blend of modern conversations and ghosts from the past offer fresh eyes and ears to create a heartsick celebration of one of music history's most beloved artists, whose career was cut woefully short.

20 Memorable Elvis Presley Quotes

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

More than 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley remains a rock ‘n' roll icon and has yet to be ousted from his position as “The King.” Yet the Tupelo, Mississippi-born, Memphis, Tennessee-raised superstar never took his fame for granted, nor did he forget his roots. Here are 20 memorable quotes about Elvis’s life and legacy.

ON AMBITION

“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”

ON MAINTAINING YOUR VALUES

“It's not how much you have that makes people look up to you, it's who you are.”

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do.”

ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

“I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend.”

“I've never written a song in my life. It's all a big hoax.”

“I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to.”

ON THE ARMY

“After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake.”

“The army teaches boys to think like men.”

ON TRUTH

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.”

ON THOSE LEGENDARY DANCE MOVES

“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I can't help it.”

“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do 'em all together, I guess.”

ON KEEPING POSITIVE

“When things go wrong, don't go with them.”

ON STARDOM

“If you let your head get too big, it'll break your neck.”

“I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.”

“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It's very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.”

“The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year.”

ON LOVE

“Sad thing is, you can still love someone and be wrong for them.”

ON THE PITFALLS OF HOLLYWOOD

“I sure lost my musical direction in Hollywood. My songs were the same conveyer belt mass production, just like most of my movies were.”

ON GETTING OLDER

“Every time I think that I'm getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.”

ON LEAVING A LEGACY

“Do something worth remembering.”

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