Ticker-tape parade for NY Giants– and Lindbergh

The Super Bowl XLVI champion New York Giants will be greeted by a ticker-tape parade through what is invariably called the “canyons” of New York City.  These days, the “ticker-tape” is actually tons of confetti manufactured for the occasion (probably in China).

Charles Lindbergh, of course, received a famously extravagant New York welcome in June 1927, including a ticker-tape parade through the city, while sitting in an open convertible, accompanied by the city’s flashy major-domo, Grover Whalen.  The photo on the header of this blog is from that moment.

Lindbergh’s was not the first such parade– that honor belongs to General John Pershing and the US troops home from the Great War, who paraded in 1919.  Lindbergh’s parade was reputed to have attracted a million people (and quite a few horses, it appears)–far more, certainly, than the number who turned out the year before for English Channel swimmer Gertrude Ederle, or those who showed up in later decades for Albert Einstein or Van Cliburn.  

Here’s a clip from the Lindbergh parade:

Dale Evans, “Angel Unaware,” 1953

You’re probably wondering why this blog about Charles Lindbergh has a post with that headline up there.  Let me tell you:  In 1953, six of the top ten non-fiction bestsellers in the United States were books with an overtly religious or spiritual theme.  One of them was Angel Unaware, an enormous success for country singer, movie star, and TV cowgirl Dale Evans, then at the peak of her TV-land popularity, shared with her husband and co-star, Roy Rogers.  The presence of so much religious feeling in the popular literary sphere in 1953 provides one of the contexts for assessing the impact of Lindbergh’s thrilling memoir/adventure story, The Spirit of St. Louis, which was also on that list of top ten books that year.  The Spirit of St. Louis was, in its way, another book of popular spirituality, a successor volume, in fact, to Lindbergh’s intensely meditative bestseller, Of Flight and Life (1946).   More on both of those, and more on the 1953 religious book boom, another time.

But now, what about Dale Evans?  Her 1953 book was–and still is–widely hailed as a breakthrough in public acceptance and understanding of children with mental disabilities. The “angel” of the title is Robin, the only biological child of Roy and Dale, born in 1950 with Down syndrome (“Mongoloid” or “retarded” in the parlance of the day), who died after a bout with the mumps in 1952.  Evans states clearly at the outset:  “Both Roy and I are grateful to God for the privilege of learning some great lessons from his tiny messenger,” and the rest of the book is suffused with Christian devotion.

I, too, was born in 1950, and as long as I can remember– say, from about 1954 on– I knew about (and idolized) Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.  I vaguely remember hearing about the Rogers’ family tragedies, unspecified at the time, but now I know.

One more Lindbergh-Dale Evans connection, though it’s not with Charles.  Dale Evans Rogers and Anne Morrow Lindbergh died on the same day, February 7, 2001.  Obituaries for both ran side-by-side the next day.  William Powers, writing in The National Journal, called attention to the pairing:

Dale Evans and Anne Morrow Lindbergh met all the requirements for obit nirvana. Each had been a cultural deity, and each lived to such an advanced age—Evans was 88, Lindbergh 94—that younger readers had but a faint (if any) awareness of them. Evans was “the Queen of the West,” as most of the obits noted. And Lindbergh was, in a way, the Queen of the East—the embodiment of an ideal to which a certain kind of elite East Coast woman aspired during the 20th century. Her 1929 marriage to Charles Lindbergh was the lead story on the front page of The New York Times. Later, she wrote a presciently feminist book, Gift from the Sea, which spent 47 weeks at the top of The Times‘ nonfiction best-seller list. 

Both women’s stories had built-in dramatic tension. They owed their success partly to their marriages, yet both were so talented on their own that the marriages seemed to rob them of full credit. The Lindberghs were global celebrities who hated fame; the kidnapping and murder of their eldest child was the original media shark feast. Known as a singer and a cowgirl actress, Dale Evans wound up wishing she’d found her second career—Christian evangelism—before the first.

“A straight line from Lindbergh to ‘Israel-Firsters'”

Somehow, Lindbergh’s name keeps popping up, now in connection with Newt Gingrich and one of his campaign’s biggest bankrollers, Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas billionaire who has been called an “Israel-firster” by his critics.

On this date in 1941, Charles Lindbergh went before a US House committee to testify against US support of Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease Act that was supporting Great Britain in its hostilities with Nazi Germany.   Today, the website Real Clear Politics has a lengthy post by Carl Cannon, its Washington editor, connecting Lindbergh’s isolationism and anti-Semitism to contemporary criticism of what some pundits call “Israel-firsters”–politicians and moneyed interests who are supposedly blind supporters of Israeli politics.  Critics imply that “Israel-firsters” (echoing the name of the pre-war isolationist movement “America First”) are exhibiting disloyalty to America, as Lindbergh once accused American Jews of doing in their support for intervention in the European war.

Cannon’s post was picked up by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, who titled his post “A straight line from Lindbergh to ‘Israel-firsters.'”  

[Photo is from Corbis, and is dated Feb. 1, 1941, with Lindbergh testifying against Lend-Lease before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.]  

The “uses” of Charles Lindbergh, Part II

“Lucky Lindy flies again”

Lindbergh’s famous “Des Moines speech”–delivered at a 1941 America First rally in the Iowa capital on the not-yet-infamous date of September 11th–is continually being re-discovered and re-deployed: by anti-Semites, anti-anti-Semites, neo-isolationists, white supremacists, and on and on.  In Its most often quoted line, Lindbergh called out the “three groups” that he believed were impelling America into the European war: the Roosevelt administration, and “the British and Jewish races.”

Now the Des Moines speech is back– and the news item is coming out of Iowa, site of today’s Republican caucuses.  The Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen writes about what he sees as the dangerous isolationism of libertarian candidate, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas.  Cohen sees Paul as espousing a foreign policy “drained of morality.”

His total indifference to what happens overseas is chilling and reminiscent of the old isolationism, best articulated in Des Moines — a world capital this election season — by Charles Lindbergh back in 1941. In that speech, Lindbergh identified three groups that wanted to take America to war against Germany: the Brits, the Jews and the Roosevelt administration. They all had their reasons, he acknowledged, but, “We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.” I can almost hear these very words coming out of the mouth of Paul.

Cohen writes that President Ron Paul would oppose all military interventions, even those more morally justifiable than the disastrous adventure in Iraq:  

He cannot for the life of him summon government’s authority or military might to have the right thing done. Still, the man himself is immaterial. His message, though, is a different matter. It has struck a chord, and others, more polished and with better-fitting shirts, will pick it up. Lucky Lindy flies again.

 (The illustration here–with a gas-masked Lindbergh on top of a “stink-wagon”–is by Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, one of his many anti-Lindbergh cartoons, published in the leftist newspaper PM in 1940-48.  It is reprinted in Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel.)

The “uses” of Charles Lindbergh, part I

From "Click" Magazine, February 1939

The name and reputation of Charles A. Lindbergh have been put to myriad uses since 1927:  as a “boy hero” and role model for youth; as a symbol of American independence and boldness; as an emblem of family tragedy made gruesomely public.   For some time, however, the most frequent “use” of the Lindbergh name has been in connection with his anti-interventionist stance before World War II, especially his comments about the “Jewish race” being one of the forces pushing America into the European war in 1939-41.  Lindbergh–or perhaps more accurately, “Lindbergh” as a idea or a symbol or a “brand”–has been deployed in the rhetorical battles of right-wingers, white supremacists, and anti-Semitic groups, as well as ordinary conservative groups.  It’s remarkable, in fact, how often his name comes up in contemporary discourse, and this blog and my project will be examining some of them in the near future.

Today we have a rather complex news item about a war of words between liberal and conservative bloggers and organizations revolving around US policy toward Israel.  The Simon Wiesenthal Center responded to what they felt were attacks coming from the Center for American Progress and Media Matters–two progressive/liberal organizations:

When it comes to the charges of being ‘Israel Firsters’ and having ‘dual loyalty,’ we not only plead innocent but also counter-charge that these sponsored bloggers are guilty of dangerous political libels resonating with historic and toxic anti-Jewish prejudices.  These odious charges have been around since Henry Ford in 1920 said “wars are the Jews’ harvest,” Charles Lindbergh in 1940 condemned Jews for conspiring to plunge America into World War II, and “Jewish neocons” were charged with colluding with Israel to cause the 2003 Iraq War.

A writer for The Economist‘s Democracy in America blog
quotes the above, and writes:  “Dual-loyalty charges are indeed pretty dicey. Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh were anti-semites, and their claims that Jews caused the first and second world wars were baseless anti-semitic propaganda.”  But he goes on to take issue, sharply, with the Wiesenthal Center for conflating the Ford and Lindbergh statements with the last item, the support of neocons for the Iraq War, pointing out that there are, in fact, a lot of Jewish neo-cons who, along with (if not in collusion with) the Israeli government did indeed press for the United States to invade Iraq in 2003.

Lindbergh and the Apollo 8 astronauts, December 1968

It had to happen:  some kind of synchronicity between my former life (“The 1968 Exhibit”) and my current one– this project and this blog about Charles Lindbergh.

Lindbergh was an avid supporter of the U.S. space program since its inception in the late 1950s–and, of course, was still a major celebrity in the history of exploration and aeronautics.  So it was with a great deal of excitement on all sides that Charles and Anne Lindbergh met with the Apollo 8 astronauts–Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders–on December 20, 1968, while the crew was in living in their pre-launch quarters at the Kennedy Space Center.  Lindbergh reportedly told them about how he had used a piece of string to measure the distance on a globe from New York to Paris and how he had used that to calculate the amount of fuel needed for the flight.  The next day, the Lindberghs watched the launch of Apollo 8 from a nearby dune.   Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book  Earth Shine is about the Apollo program.

The Lindberghs would meet again with the Apollo 8 astronauts at a White House dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson in December 1968, where Lindbergh and the astronauts signed autographs together and posed for photographs.

Lindbergh, the kidnapping, and “J.Edgar”

Charles Lindbergh, the kidnapping, and J. Edgar

Charles Lindbergh makes an appearance–several of them, in fact–in the new biopic J. Edgar, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonard DiCaprio as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.  The movie is a huge, stately bore, beautifully filmed and embarrassingly written and acted.  The positive reviews are, I believe, more about the reviewers’ reverence for Clint Eastwood, as close a thing as we have now to a sacred cow in Hollywood.  I’m more in line with the negative reviews, like this one from Salon.com.

The sensational part of the Hoover life story–his supposed homosexuality and  long (though perhaps unconsummated) liaison with his assistant, Clyde Tolson–gets quite a bit of attention in the movie.  A friend of mine invented an “elevator pitch” for the movie:  “It’s kind of like Public Enemy meets Brokeback Mountain.”

The Lindbergh connection was, of course, the reason I went to the movie, and in fact the 1932 kidnapping is a major plotline– more so than any other in this historical-pageant-like film full of subplots and vignettes, with the exception of the first one, the Palmer Raids against “subversives” and anarchists in 1919.   However, one would not go to J. Edgar for a strictly documentary report on the kidnapping–not that such a thing is conceivable, given the rancorous disagreements out there on Exactly What Happened in March 1932.

The Lindbergh name is introduced in the movie by the Old-Guy Hoover (Leo in tons of creepy make-up), dictating his bogus memoirs, when he pops a quiz on the transcriber:  “Who was the most famous man in the world?”   There it is–Lindbergh and the muse of Fame, forever intertwined.   The flashbacks proceed to the kidnapping case, which the film presents in quite a number of episodes, some of them oddly out of sequence, some of them more-or-less right (the baby’s body being discovered accidentally by someone who had stopped to pee in the woods near the Lindbergh’s house).  “Jafsie”–the mysterious person who “helped” Lindbergh with the case–makes an appearance or two, including a few scenes in the Bronx cemetery, where ransom money was paid, supposedly to the person eventually apprehended and charged with the crime, Bruno Hauptmann.  The famous wood-products scientist, examining the ladder found at the crime scene and testifying about it later in court, is also a minor character here.   And so is Hauptmann, played by a scary and scared-looking actor who doesn’t look a thing like Hauptmann.

Josh Lucas, who plays Lindbergh, is a handsome and talented actor, but at 40 years of age, is a decade older than Lindbergh was at the time of the kidnapping.  If you want to see what he looks like and don’t want to bother with the movie, check out this softball interview with Josh Lucas from the WB channel:

Lindbergh and American culture–A new blog

Welcome to the first post in a new blog, “Lindbergh and American Culture.”

To an extent matched by few others in his time, Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-74) sought to be the teller of his own tale.  From 1927 to the last months of his life, he was constantly writing, eventually publishing six autobiographical works and leaving unpublished more than a thousand pages of memoir.  He was also the author of several scientific articles, a score or more of anti-interventionist speeches and articles, and a series of thoughtful commentaries about the environment and wilderness.

Lindbergh’s writings, and the way they collectively reveal–and conceal–the self that he meticulously constructed for nearly half of the twentieth century, are the starting points of my investigation.

My intent, however, is to go beyond the writings, indeed beyond the man himself, to understand how this fabled life was—and continues to be—narrated in the public arena.  Because of his fame and the complexities of his character, Lindbergh becomes a prismatic figure through whom is refracted the interplay between self and celebrity, between a private life and a public reputation, between history and memory.

What I hope to offer is not only an entirely new way of examining one of the most examined of 20th-century lives, but also a nuanced perspective on the broader cultural currents through which that life flowed.