Several obituaries this week for children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak have revealed a connection between Sendak and Charles Lindbergh. According to the obituary in the Washington Post, “Sendak was shaped foremost by a sickly and homebound childhood in Depression-era Brooklyn, the deaths of family members in the Holocaust and vivid memories as a youngster reading about the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s infant son.
Sendak’s book Outside Over There, about a girl named Ida who tries to rescue an infant sister who has been stolen by goblins, was based on the Lindbergh kidnapping.
But other children in Sendak’s books also face danger. Not just Ida, but also Max in Where the Wild Things Are and Mickey in In the Night Kitchen together represent the fearful idea that parents are unaware of the crises their children face. The Lindbergh kidnapping–which happened when Sendak was not quite 4 years old–was to him “the fullest expression of the danger that children live in — the fear that we could be taken away.”
Spike Jonze’s 2003 interviews with Sendak for an HBO documentary revealed “Sendak’s strange obsession with death, that he feels that death has always been a part of his life, and talked about the profound effect seeing a picture of the corpse of the Lindbergh baby had on him as a young child.” (The baby’s body was found about 6 weeks after the March 1, 1932, kidnapping. Some newspaper reporters and photographers bribed their way into the morgue where the baby’s decomposed body was taken, and shot some gruesome photographs.)