“I Was Very Fond of Both of Them”: Kristina Lindbergh on Her Grandparents
By Anne Levin
During the summer of Kristina Lindbergh’s 14th year, she spent a week with her famous grandparents, Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, at their home in Switzerland. While she has pleasant recollections of the visit, the eldest of the famous couple’s grandchildren distinctly remembers being captive for at least one of her grandfather’s lectures.
“I once got trapped in front of the fire with him for one of his downfall-of-civilization speeches,” Ms. Lindbergh recalls with a chuckle. “I argued with him, but he had the facts to back him up. I think I’m not the only one in the family who got that speech.”
Stern orations aside, Ms. Lindbergh, 61, has fond memories of both her grandparents — the controversial aviator who was the first to cross the Atlantic in 1927, and his wife, who became an accomplished author. They are the subject of a talk she will give Friday at an afternoon tea being held at The Present Day Club, across Stockton Street from Morven, where the exhibit “Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Couple of an Age” is on view through October.
Ms. Lindbergh lives in Yorktown, New York, with her husband. The daughter of the Lindberghs’ son, Jon, she grew up with her siblings on the west coast. Her grandparents lived across the country and traveled constantly, so she didn’t see them often. “But they would visit whenever they were headed somewhere else and could stop and spend some time with us,” she said. “I was very fond of both of them.”
It makes sense that Ms. Lindbergh was closest to her grandmother, who outlived her husband by 27 years. Anne Morrow Lindbergh was also an easier person to know. “She was the most wonderful sort of comfortable person you could possibly meet,” Ms. Lindbergh said. “Incredibly humble, always wanting to help with the dishes, that sort of thing. But they both seemed very interested in all of us, and loved to know what we were doing.”
Ms. Lindbergh describes her grandfather as “extremely focused,” she said. “When I first heard about Aspberger Syndrome, I thought, hmmm … I knew someone who had that. He was always working on a book or something, and he’d go straight to the kitchen table and open up his book and start working. He wasn’t ignoring you, but that was his focus. On the other hand, he would play with us, and whirl us around. He was incredibly strong. My father was always planting trees and he would jump right in to help him, digging holes and chopping wood.”
By the time Ms. Lindbergh knew her grandfather, he was obsessed with environmental issues. “He wanted to preserve wildlife, primitive cultures, and the landscape,” she said. “I think a lot of his understanding of what was happening came from looking down on the earth from airplanes. After his Paris flight, he flew all over the U.S., so he knew what it looked like. Then, he and my grandmother made survey flights and did speed trials, so they spent a lot of time in the air and had a good look from above. As time passed, he saw that massive pieces of land were being cleared, and rivers were being fouled. He turned a kind of about-face, saying that the air technology he had been so enthusiastic about might have done more damage. He was also shocked by the ravages of war. He was one of the first witnesses to visit Europe right after World War II, and he was horrified.”
The exhibit at Morven is focused more on the Lindberghs’ relationship than his record-making flight across the Atlantic, the kidnapping of the couple’s toddler son, and the aviator’s Nazi-era controversies.
Lindbergh’s exalted hero status suffered a major blow in the early years of World War II, due to his associations with members of the Third Reich. Asked to assess the strength of the German air fleet, he made numerous trips to Berlin and began to admire certain aspects of German life. “He became an advocate for isolationism and the face of the America First Committee,” reads the program guide for the Morven exhibit. “He resigned from the Air Force, dramatically. And at an infamous rally in Des Moines in 1941, he was exposed as
“To me, it’s inconceivable that he was anti-semitic,” said Ms. Lindbergh, who hasn’t seen the exhibit. “I don’t think he saw human beings in those kinds of terms. But he did make speeches before World War II in an effort to keep the U.S. out of it. I think clearly, in hindsight, he was wrong, but for very good reasons. His terrible error was to blame Jewish people, the British, and the Roosevelt administration for pushing the country to get into the war.”
Ms. Lindbergh has read the Des Moines speech several times, and feels it is not anti-semitic. “It was unwise to pick out the Jewish people as pro-war people, and inaccurate,” she said. “But he went on to say he didn’t blame the Jewish people for wanting the overthrow of the Nazis. Apparently FDR felt my grandfather was the biggest impediment for getting us into the war, and he intentionally launched a defamation campaign against him and said he was absolutely convinced he was a Nazi.
“It’s so interesting for me to hear that, and weigh it against the kind of things we hear today, how the public will grab onto something and vilify,” she continued. “I think maybe FDR had to do that. But the consequences for our family were considerable. To hear Scott Simon on NPR compare Donald Trump to my grandfather …. All I can say is that if my grandfather uttered an ill-considered word or phrase, I never heard it. I don’t think what he said had anything to do with his feeling for Jewish people apart for his extraordinary effort to keep us out of the war. It was out of extreme patriotism.”
It has been 13 years since the news emerged that Lindbergh had three extra-marital affairs that produced seven children, who live in Germany. This extraordinary development “still boggles my mind,” Ms. Lindbergh said. “I cannot imagine why that happened. All the
children of these other families are younger than I am. We could have used some of that attention he gave them. But who knows? Someone said maybe he wanted to experience an un-famous family life. I know that I raised two children and found that exhausting. And he had five living children in his first family, all of whom were wonderful, but it was not easy.”
Ms. Lindbergh and other family members have met their European half-siblings. “We love them,” she said. “So it’s really nice, actually. They look like us. They have similar interests. It’s sort of wild.”
Did her grandmother know? “I don’t think so,” Ms. Lindbergh said. “However, when I was working on a last book of her letters, I found a diary entry in which she had just come back from a dinner with the director of the movie The Spirit of St. Louis, and had a long conversation with the wives of several brilliant men. She said it seemed clear to her that a genius needs more than just one wife … a satellite of supportive women who can buoy him up and give him comfort when he needs it. So I thought, maybe she told him to go out and get more wives. I’m not sure we’ll ever know.”