“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Charles Dickens’ 1859 words still ring true. Many people believe they control their lives: With luck or power, they soar and grow in stature. Others navigate the tightrope of survival, fearing a fall from grace.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh lived through the best of times, marrying wisely, raising five children, learning to fly, and becoming a best-selling author. Then, the times shifted, destiny intervened, and the sky fell.
THE BEST OF TIMES
Born in 1906, Anne Morrow was raised in a New Jersey mansion, the daughter of a successful diplomat and a feminist pioneer. At age 18, she declared her wish: “To marry a hero.”
And she did. In 1927, she met Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. The 25-year-old daredevil barnstorming pilot had made history at Roosevelt Field airfield (now the Source Mall), when his Spirit of St. Louis made the first nonstop solo transAtlantic flight. His subsequent tour in his plane popularized flight and bolstered the Golden Age of Aviation.
The first date for the “Lone Eagle” and the Smith College senior was in an airplane over LI. Their 1929 marriage catapulted Anne into celebrity. She became the first woman to earn a glider pilot’s license, then practiced for her pilot’s license in a “Bird” at the Hicksville Long Island Aviation Country Club, the haven for the society and aviation elite.
She went “round and round the field alone…making one hideously bumpy landing after another.”
Anne often flew from Uniondale’s Mitchel Field in a Weaver Aircraft Company biplane, as “Willie K” Vanderbilt’s Motor Parkway snaked past potato fields below.
She was Charles’ co-pilot, navigator, and radio operator on global route surveys. When Charles set a transcontinental speed record, she was the seven-months-pregnant navigator.
Internationally adored, the handsome adventurer and the shy, attractive author/pilot could do no wrong.
THE WORST OF TIMES
The Lindberghs moved to a secluded New Jersey mansion in 1932 to avoid the press. Shortly after, their firstborn infant son was kidnapped. Ransom was paid, but after several months his dead body was found nearby. Newspapers dubbed it the “Crime of the Century.”
It was later revealed that Charles had locked the 18-month-old baby outside, encouraging independence. He forbade Anne to cry after the kidnapping and murder. He was lonely and stoic, perhaps because his parents had separated when he was 7 years old.
After the murder, the Lindberghs rejected the relentless media and fled to England. Anne’s first book was published in 1935, and a German carpenter was convicted of the murder and executed.
In 1936, the U.S. government asked Charles to tour German aircraft factories. Impressed by Hitler’s airpower, Charles deemed a war unwinnable. As the leading spokesman for the isolationist anti-Semitic, America First movement, Charles wrote in Reader’s Digest that Western countries should band together to preserve their inheritance of European blood.
Supporting Charles, in 1940 Anne published The Wave of the Future, advising America to reject foreign wars. Its defeatist tone was despised; she later labeled her work naive.
Furious Americans, having endured the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression, rejected their Golden Pair as Nazi apologists. In early 1940, the Lindberghs moved to Lloyds Neck; by late 1940, Charles was labeled a traitor.
In her diary, Anne wrote, “I am now the bubonic plague among writers and C. is the anti-Christ!” … “My marriage has stretched me out of my world, changed me so it is no longer possible to change back.”
In the early 1950s, Anne sought psychotherapy; Charles, displeased, vacated their bedroom. She later had an affair with her therapist. In 1955, her feminist manifesto Gift of the Sea was published.
CONTRADICTIONS AND COMPLIANCE
Charles died in 1974, Anne in 2001. Family skeletons surfaced: Charles had controlled his family with tedious checklists, lectures, and banned holiday celebrations. Anne kept quiet, valiantly keeping up with her husband’s travels.
One diary entry read, “Damn, damn, damn! I am sick of being this ‘handmaiden to the Lord.’”
In 2003, the news broke: From 1957 until his death, Charles had fathered seven children with three mistresses in Germany. Anne’s relatives said Anne had suspected something, but didn’t know what. Her stalwart silence preserved the myth till the end — because they had, after all, the best of times.