The confusion of travelers to the Minneapolis airport gives the Metropolitan Airport Commission an ideal opportunity to eliminate the Lindbergh name from all prominently displayed signs. (A MAC committee voted July 8 to fund new signage directing traffic to Terminal 1 and Terminal 2; on July 20 the full commission will vote on the plan.) For many people, seeing the name “Lindbergh” on public signs makes them cringe. Though admittedly bland, the new directional signs will not elicit a negative first impression of our fine city.
Despite his contributions to aviation and land conservation, many Americans can’t forget what he didn’t do: recant the anti-Semitic language he spewed prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. His diatribes were common knowledge when the airport commissioners decided to honor him in 1958. Although Lindbergh published numerous books, articles and diaries, not once, in any of these published works, does he express regret or remorse for his actions.
In Scott Berg’s biography, “Lindbergh,” we learn that Lindbergh “shared the repulsion that democratic peoples felt in viewing the demagoguery of Hitler, the controlled elections, the secret police.” But yet he felt “that I was seeing in Germany, despite the crudeness of its form, the inevitable alternative to decline — a challenge based more on the drive to achieve success despite established ‘right’ and law.”
His cold, isolationist views led President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, to suggest he have a heart transplant, and earned him the nicknames Lone Eagle and Lone Ostrich. Lindbergh contended that all parties behaved despicably during World War II and proclaimed, “Judge not that ye be not judged. … We who claimed that the German was defiling humanity in his treatment of the Jew, were doing the same thing in our treatment of the Jap.”
A fascination with eugenics
The airport commissioners were also aware of Lindbergh’s creepy fascination with eugenics. Scott Berg noted Lindbergh was “obsessed with improving the quality of life for future generations” and never tired of discussing the topic of reproduction. Lindbergh stressed the “critical importance of genetic inheritance” in a 1966 letter to his daughter: “If I had to choose but one thing I could impress on my children from whatever wisdom I have gained in life it would be the importance of genetics in mating.”
What the airport commissioners didn’t know when deciding to honor Lindbergh was that the Lone Ostrich wasn’t so lonely after all. In 2003 came the shocking details that Lindbergh had two mistresses in Germany — conveniently sisters — and DNA testing proved he fathered three with Brigitte Hesshaimer. A 2005 book — “The Secret Life of Charles A. Lindbergh,” written in conjunction with Brigitte’s offspring — said he had also fathered two children with Brigitte’s sister, Marietta, and two more with his German personal secretary, who lived with the sisters.
The three descendents waited until their mother’s death (and that of Mrs. Lindbergh) before coming forward with the hidden correspondence between Lindbergh and Brigitte Hesshaimer. It’s uncertain whether Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who built a career writing about her unsatisfying marriage, would have viewed the withholding of this information as a gift. Lonely and depressed, when she sought psychiatric care in an attempt to understand her marriage, her husband chastised her. Charles Lindbergh held the conviction that those seeking psychiatric care exhibited a weakness of character and believed “mental discipline” was the answer to extinguishing any negative thoughts from the mind.
Knowledge may have been preferable
Perhaps knowledge of his mistresses and illegitimate children would have made her feel less like a crazy person. Her psychiatrist certainly was suspicious that something was amiss when he told her “compulsive outward orderliness was a compensation for inward disorderliness.” At her husband’s urging, Anne Lindbergh discontinued her psychiatric treatment.
Less than two weeks before his death in 1974 of leukemia, Lindbergh called his publisher from his death bed, furnished him with materials and asked him to piece together an autobiography with a specific title, “An Autobiography of Values,” which was published in 1978.
Naming public spaces after human beings is always a risky endeavor, but remaining silent after learning the truth is perpetuating false hero worship. It’s time to take the halo off Charles Lindbergh and tell our children that a lying, polygamist hypocrite and Nazi sympathizer is not someone they should aspire to emulate. To those people complaining that by changing the signs to assist travelers, the airport commissioners would be succumbing to the “dumbing down” of society, I ask: Who exactly is the dummy?
Susan Gray is a mother, writer and urban explorer who lives in the East Harriet neighborhood of Minneapolis.