“Lindbergh Lands in Paris”

By this time (about 1 pm CDT on May 21) eighty-five years ago, Charles A. Lindbergh was just a few hours away from landing in Paris on his historic nonstop, solo flight across the Atlantic.  He had been airborne (and awake) for more than 30 hours, and he had finally caught sight of land–the southwestern tip of Ireland–for the first time since passing over Newfoundland and out over the open ocean.

In The Spirit of St. Louis (1953), Lindbergh writes about flying over a little Irish village in nearly ecstatic terms.

People are running out into the streets, looking up and waving. This is earth again, the earth where I’ve lived and now will live once more.  Here are human beings.  Here’s a human welcome.  Not a single detail is wrong.  I’ve never seen such beauty before–fields so green, people so human, a village so attractive, mountains and rocks so mountainous and rocklike.  . . . I haven’t been far enough away to know the earth before.  For twenty-five years I’ve lived on it, and yet not seen it till this moment.  . . .  During my entire life I’ve accepted these gifts of God to man, and not known what was mine until this moment.  It’s like rain after drought; spring after a northern winter.  I’ve been to eternity and back. I know how the dead would feel to live again.

“America’s first real celebrity”

Gossip columnist Liz Smith knows a thing or two about celebrities, and in a column today from Huffington Post she writes:

I have a theory. Gossip and celebrity are the great luxuries of true democracy. They’re the tawdry jewel in the crown of free speech and expression. Gossip about the famous or infamous is for leisure, for fun, for entertainment, for relaxation — that has been true since the first real American celebrity, who was named Charles Lindbergh.

Of course, as soon as anyone makes a claim for somebody being the first “anything” there will be a chorus of voices nominating other, more worthy candidates for the title.  And the prize for “the first celebrity,” even with that vague qualifier (“real”) from Liz Smith, is no exception.   There is even a (small) academic field of “celebrity studies,” I’m told, and scholars there are reaching back to the 18th and 19th centuries in the quest for “firstness”– to the likes of Benjamin Franklin, or actress Fanny Kemble, or singer Jenny Lind, or opera superstar Adelina Patti.

But Lindbergh’s fame was certainly of historic, epic proportions, and it exploded in the midst of 20th-century mass culture; in fact, the staggering dimensions of his fame were made possible by the engines of modern mass culture– by photography and photographic reproduction, by newsreels and the movies, by newspapers and slick gossip magazines, by radio, especially during the infamous kidnapping case of 1932-36.  The height of his fame came especially in the period from 1927 (the year of his NY-Paris flight, the year he became “the most photographed man in history”) to 1941 (the year of his anti-interventionist “Des Moines speech,” after which he was called by one magazine “the most hated man in America”).

And even though television wasn’t around for any of this, that medium, too, eventually discovered Lindbergh, whose storied life became the basis of any number of documentaries, especially during the “memory boom” decade of the 1990s.

More on that another time.

Illustration: Theodore LeBonte, “Lindbergh on Top of the World,” 1928, Missouri Historical Society