Charles & Anne Morrow Lindbergh – Couple of An Age
By Linda Arntzenius
He was America’s most eligible bachelor. She was an ambassador’s daughter born to privilege. Tall, slim and boyishly handsome, he swept her off her feet and into the clouds. Literally. Before long they were flying together, exploring together. They were golden and the tabloids couldn’t get enough of them. But when tragedy struck and the paparazzi became an intrusive burden on their personal lives, they fled to Europe in search of peace. It was bad timing to say the least. Europe in the 1930s was readying for war. Almost inevitably, the expert aviator was drawn into a mire from which he would never fully emerge.
Anne Morrow met Charles Lindbergh just seven months after the young aviator had landed at Le Bourget airfield near Paris at the end of his astonishing 1927 non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic. He was the most famous person on the planet, the first modern superstar, an overnight celebrity welcomed into the most exalted of circles. She was a top Smith College student visiting her parents in Mexico, where her father, Dwight Whitney Morrow, a former partner at J.P. Morgan & Co., was U.S. Ambassador. Lindbergh was on a goodwill tour.
After just four dates they were engaged and, following their marriage on May 27, 1929, they took to the air together, Anne having quickly learned to fly and act as radio-operator. A formidable team, they opened up new routes for commercial airlines.
The bride was small, shy, sensitive, and bookish—an award-winning college graduate from a warm loving family. The groom was tall, deeply reserved, and independent—an outdoorsman from the mid-West whose parents had led separate lives; he grew up a lonely child and dropped out of college to become a pilot. “Unlike most brides-to-be, it was I who was congratulated, not he,” said Anne at the time of their engagement. “He opened the door to ‘real life’ and although it frightened me, it also beckoned. I had to go.”
Anne would develop into a bestselling author and one of the 20th century’s leading feminist voices. As a woman, wife and mother of five, she sought a philosophy that would embrace both new and traditional roles for women. Charles would go on to make contributions to medical research, rocketry, anthropology, and conservation.
In the heyday of tabloid journalism, crime syndicates, police corruption, poverty and desperation, their lives collided with their times to disastrous effect more than once and at great personal cost. Their story encompasses the highs and lows of 20th century history, from the early days of aviation to the first moon walk, from a time when the forward push of scientific progress was unquestioned to a time when technology’s impact on man and on the natural world was acknowledged as not all good.
The couple was hounded by the press, first for their accomplishments and then for the headline – capturing, kidnapping and death of their toddler son. The crime and subsequent trial kept them in the public eye. And even though they fled to Europe to escape media attention, Charles Lindbergh’s fascination with Hitler’s Germany and his role in the isolationist America First movement before the nation’s entry into World War II ensured their place on the front page.
COUPLE OF AN AGE
There have been numerous exhibitions, books, documentaries and magazine articles on Charles A. Lindbergh and his accomplishments. The Lindbergh kidnapping is a familiar trope in the cultural imagination. But while many biographers have been drawn to Charles A. Lindbergh and to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, few have focused on their lifelong partnership that survived tragedy, loss, and controversy.
Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Couple of an Age at Morven Museum & Garden tells their story anew in a year-long exhibition that not only relates the infamous kidnapping of their firstborn, Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. and the subsequent “Trial of the Century” in the Flemington, New Jersey, court house; it yields a portrait of the Lindbergh’s 45-year marriage.
The exhibition expands both of their received images beyond the early years to show them raising five more children and supporting each other as writers. Nor does the exhibition shy away from Lindbergh’s fascination with the Third Reich and the run-ins with President Franklin D. Roosevelt over his isolationist stance during the run up to the Second World War.
The story of the Spirit of St. Louis is present here, but so is Anne’s Gift from the Sea and Lindbergh as the “tree hugger” he became in later life. Anne’s affair with physician Dana W. Atchley, whom she first met in 1946 when she suffered a miscarriage, is acknowledged, as is the 2003 revelation of Lindbergh’s secret life in Germany and the three families he kept there.
CHARLES A. LINDBERGH
Born of independent Swedes, Charles Augustus Lindbergh (1902-1974) was raised with a frontier mentality, driven, stubborn, forthright and earnest. His father Charles August Lindbergh (1859-1924) was a lawyer known for his “straightforward, uncompromising honesty.” As Congressman for Minnesota (1907-1917), he strenuously campaigned against America’s entry into World War I, believing that “the trouble with war is that it kills off the best men a country has.” Lindbergh would express similar views with respect to World War II.
Lindbergh’s maternal grandfather, Charles H. Land (1847-1919), “the father of porcelain dentistry,” taught his grandson that “Science is the key to all mystery.” Lindbergh would later channel grandfather’s teachings into independent studies in biology and work with the pioneering French-born surgeon Alexis Carrel, the first surgeon to win a Nobel Prize (in 1912). With Carrel, Lindbergh developed the precursor to an artificial heart, The Lindbergh Pump, in 1935, and co-wrote the 1937 bestseller, The Culture of Organs. Their collaboration helped pave the way for later successful organ transplants.
ANNE MORROW LINDBERGH
After her marriage, Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906-2001) became the first women in America to earn a first-class glider pilot’s license. In 1934, she was the first woman to win the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal for serving as radio operator and copilot to her husband Charles on two flights totaling 40,000 miles and spanning five continents. Charles won the same medal in 1927 for his transatlantic flight.
She set a new long-distance wireless communications record of 3,000 miles, for which she received the female Harmon Trophy and the Veteran Wireless Operators Association Gold Medal, the first woman to do so. She was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1979 and the International Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame in 1999.
Anne was seven months pregnant with her first child in 1930 when she broke the transcontinental speed record by 3 hours, flying as co-pilot and radio-operator with Charles in a Lockheed Sirius low-wing monoplane from Los Angeles to New York in 14 hours and 45 minutes. She was pregnant with her second child at the time of their firstborn son’s kidnapping. After the loss of Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., the Lindberghs went on to have five more children: Jon, born in 1932, became a marine biologist; Land, born in 1937, became a cattle rancher; Scott, born in 1942, became a zoologist; Anne (1940-1993) and Reeve, born in 1945, became accomplished writers.
Originally overshadowed by her husband’s fame, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, found her voice as a poet and diarist. Her first book, North to the Orient, published in 1935, won a National Book Award and was the top New York Times 1936 nonfiction bestseller. Her second book, Listen! The Wind, won the same award in 1938; her War Without and War Within, the last of her published diaries, won the Christopher Award. Among her thirteen other titles: The Steep Ascent; The Unicorn and Other Poem; Earth Shine; Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead; and The Flower and the Nettle.
Anne struck a chord with women everywhere with a slim volume published in 1955 that became a classic of its genre. In Gift from the Sea, she wrote about youth, age, love, marriage, friendship and the need for women to carve out spiritually nourishing time for themselves. The book was on The New York Times bestseller list for two years; a fiftieth anniversary edition was published in 2005 with a foreword by the Lindberghs’ youngest daughter, Reeve.
By the time the kidnapper was found guilty and sent to the electric chair in 1935, the Lindberghs had been dogged by sensation-hungry reporters and besieged by public hysteria, demands for money and kidnapping threats. A photographer broke into the Trenton morgue and snapped a picture of the Lindbergh baby’s badly decomposed corpse; copies sold for five dollars each. And even though their son’s body was identified by family members and authorities, hundreds of individuals claiming to be the Lindbergh Baby contacted the Lindberghs over the decades.
To escape the barrage, the Lindberghs moved to Europe in late December 1935. They first rented Long Barn, a cottage in Kent, belonging to Dwight Morrow’s biographer Harold Nicolson and his wife Vita Sackville West and then moved to Illiec, a tiny island off the coast of Brittanny. The British press left them alone as they made their way into British society, attending dinners as Lady Astor’s guests at Cliveden, mingling with the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, and attending a ball at Buckingham Palace at the request of Queen Elizabeth II.
An invitation from the military attaché to the American Embassy in Berlin, to report on the state of Germany’s aviation, would ultimately shatter the Lindberghs’ quiet idyll. The world-famous aviator was given unprecedented opportunities to view Germany’s advances in technology and preparations for war. He was entranced by what he observed of Hitler’s Third Reich and warned the United States of Germany’s insuperable strength in an impending European war. What he saw fueled his view that America should stay out of it. On his return to the United States, he became the leading spokesman for the American isolationist movement and the controversial organization America First.
Lindbergh believed Nazi Germany to be less of a threat to world peace than Communist Russia. But in the run up to the War, with America divided between isolationists and interventionists, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was struggling to marshal support for Churchill’s Britain and did not appreciate America’s number one hero championing the isolationist cause. While her husband locked horns with Roosevelt, Anne, pregnant again, struggled to reconcile her husband’s views with those of her family and friends. In a small book, hurried into press in the fall of 1940, she stated her belief that Europe was undergoing a period of revolutionary change with totalitarian regimes such as Nazism appearing as a “scum” on top of an inexorable “wave of the future.” Her forty-one page volume of that title quickly became the most despised book in America. Seen as defeatist, it served to further erode the Lindbergh reputation.
“I am now the bubonic plague among writers and C. is the anti-Christ!” she confided to her diary. “My marriage has stretched me out of my world, changed me so it is no longer possible to change back.” By December 7, 1941, many Americans regarded their former hero as an anti-Semite, pro-Nazi traitor.
Anne later regretted writing The Wave of the Future. “I didn’t have the right to write that because I didn’t know enough,” she told one interviewer. Her husband, however, stubbornly refused to admit any mistake in judgment. In 1970, he published The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh, edited to remove anti-Semitic statements and claiming that he had championed non-interventionism to preserve civilization. He equated the Nazi’s calculated genocide with the warring activities of other nations, including the United States, on the ground that all war deaths are atrocities.
During his lifetime, Lindbergh saw the science and technology he worshipped in his youth contribute to the ruin of the natural world he loved; he came to deplore the march of technology and civilization. In later years, he turned from aviation and technology toward more philosophical inquiries about the nature of man. He spent time with the Masai tribe in Africa and battled to save whales off the coasts of Japan and Peru and other endangered species. “If I had to choose,” he said shortly before he died, “I’d rather have birds than airplanes.”
Lindbergh traveled constantly, often missing Christmas and other celebrations with Anne and the children. Those absences would take on a startling significance some thirty years after his death when it was revealed that he had other families besides his American one.
TRUTH WILL OUT
In 2003, just shy of thirty years after Lindbergh’s death and two years after Anne’s, it came to light that Lindbergh had led a double life from 1957 until his death in 1974. He fathered seven children by three German women, two of them sisters more than twenty years his junior (hatmaker Brigitte Hesshaimer and her younger sister Marietta; and Valeska, the private secretary who helped him with his business affairs in Germany and whose last name has never been revealed publicly).
He provided homes for his other families in Germany and Switzerland and visited them regularly, taking enormous care that his alter ego remain secret, his European children were told that their father was a famous American writer named Careu Kent who was on a secret mission they must never divulge. The children—two sons and a daugher by Brigitte, two sons by Marietta, and a son and a daughter by Valeska—were born between 1958 and 1967.
Brigitte’s children, Astrid, Dyrk and David, discovered their father’s true identity and made it public after their mother’s death. DNA analysis later confirmed their claims. They described Lindbergh’s visits about four times a year; he made them pancakes and took them to the park. “We were always very happy when he came,” said one son. “He really gave us the feeling he was there for us.”
The disclosure came as a shock to Lindbergh’s American children. “Being in my family is like a melodrama sometimes, with a storyline that is simultaneously powerfully compelling and utterly baffling,” noted Reeve Lindbergh.
In her 1999 memoir, Under a Wing, Reeve Lindbergh described her parents. “In some ways my parents were very different. But I have always believed it was their similarities rather than their differences that brought them together and kept them together for so many years: certain shared independencies of character and of spirit that each knew in himself or herself from earliest childhood, and recognized instinctively, immediately, in the other when they first met; certain qualities of solitude and stamina, of reflection and determination.”
Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Couple of an Age will run at Morven Museum & Garden through October 23, 2016.
For more information, visit www.morven.org.
Scott Berg, Lindbergh, Berkeley Books, 1998
Reeve Lindbergh, Under a Wing, Delta, 1999
Lynne Olson, Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941, Random House, New York, 2013