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Why Lindbergh's spirit endures, 75 years on

As his grandson re-creates his historic flight 75 years later, Charles Lindbergh's legacy still enthralls America.

By Craig SavoyeSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / April 30, 2002



CHESTERFIELD, MO.

The crowd at Spirit of St. Louis airport roared as the young Lindbergh, flying solo in a single engine plane, lifted off the runway into a misty, leaden sky.

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The noisy crowd here on a recent weekend didn't seem to mind that the pilot's first name was Erik, not Charles.

Dubbed "Young Lindy," Erik Lindbergh has been recreating the journey of his grandfather from San Diego, where he took delivery of the Spirit of St. Louis in April 1927, to Missouri, where his financial backers were located, then on to New York, where he departed on a flight nonstop to Paris – and to eternal fame.

Tomorrow, 20 days shy of the 75th anniversary of that flight, Erik Linbergh will retrace the epic transatlantic flight which remains one of America's most enduring cultural touchstones, echoing in history alongside the moon landing and the Mayflower.

The frenzied public response when Charles Lindbergh stepped out of his plane after doing, in 33- 1/2 hours, what no pilot had done before was a media milestone – a harbinger of the superstardom that was to follow for the likes of the Beatles, Marilyn Monroe, and Muhammad Ali.

The flight also helped mark the divide between America's agrarian past and its technological future. Lindbergh's aerial skills, after all, had been honed as a mechanized pony- express rider over the cornfields of St. Louis to Chicago.

But more than anything else, Lindbergh captured instant and enduring fascination by fulfilling that most primal of American ideals: the singular, lone conquest over incalculable odds.

The last great solo first

Given the roster of accomplishments and firsts that cover the past century, many are at a loss to explain why Lindbergh's feat endures as a feat that still captures imaginations.

"Even my father never quite understood it," says Reeve Lindbergh, the daughter of Charles and Anne Morrow and president of their namesake foundation. "His achievement seemingly spoke to something in all Americans."

As the 75th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's solo flight on May 20 approaches, "the Lone Eagle's" lasting fame is showing a similar ability to stay aloft.

The occasion will be marked by TV specials, new books, and a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis which will make appearances around the country (the original is still one of the most popular exhibits at the Smithsonian.)

In St. Louis, spirit of celebration

Interest in the anniversary is particularly acute in St. Louis, where a new museum exhibit of Lindbergh artifacts will open, a gala dinner is planned, and even a new opera based on the lives of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh will première. It was here that Lindbergh, fresh out of flight school in Texas, decided to drop in on St. Louis. He stayed on as an airmail pilot, went on to survive two plane crashes by parachuting to safety, and soon met the men who would finance his transatlantic dare.

In a city still smarting from the recent loss of TWA and the swallowing of famed McDonnell-Douglas by Boeing several years ago, the Lindbergh anniversary is a balm, a reminder of St. Louis's glorious role in aviation history. The local media has followed Erik Lindbergh's every move.

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