May 21, 2008
250 I shall keep singing!
I shall keep singing!
Birds will pass me
On their way to Yellower Climes—
Each-with a Robin's expectation—
I—with my Redbreast—
And my Rhymes—
Late—when I take my place in summer—
But—I shall bring a fuller tune—
Vespers—are sweeter than Matins-Signor—
Morning—only the seed of Noon—
It was on this day in 1927 that Charles Lindbergh landed his plane in Paris, completing the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight. Lindbergh grew up in Little Falls, Minnesota, and first wanted to become a pilot when he saw planes passing over his town as a boy. He eventually got a job as an airmail pilot, flying between St. Louis and Chicago. It was an incredibly dangerous job at the time. Of the first 40 pilots hired, 31 died in crashes. But in his first four years on the job, Lindbergh flew 7,189 flights without a serious incident.
A man named Raymond Orteig was offering a $25,000 award for anyone who could successfully fly nonstop from New York to Paris. Several pilots had tried to win the prize and died in their effort. Lindbergh decided that the way to win it was to fly alone, saving on weight. He got financial backing from St. Louis businessmen and bought a single-engine plane with a large gas tank, which he called the Spirit of St. Louis.
In order to keep the plane as light as possible, he redesigned it himself to make it lighter. He didn't take a radio, a parachute, or any navigational equipment. He started down the runway at 7:51 a.m. on May 20, 1927. The gasoline tank was so heavy that he had trouble getting the plane into the air, and only cleared the telephone lines by 20 feet.
From the take-off in New York, he flew north over Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, navigating by checking maps against the landmarks he could see on the ground. He reached Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and then flew in toward the city of St. John's because he wanted people to know he'd gotten at least that far. People who saw his plane said they could almost read the serial number on the underside of the wing. It was the last land Lindbergh would see until he reached Ireland.
He turned east toward Europe just as night was falling. For the next 15 hours, no one would know if he was alive or dead. People across America would later say that they stayed up thinking about Lindbergh that night, praying for his safety. The humorist Will Rogers wrote in his column, "No attempt at jokes today. A ... slim, tall, bashful, smiling American boy is somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where no lone human being has ever ventured before."
After reaching the halfway point of his journey, Lindbergh began to hallucinate, and even saw a coastline before his calculations said that he should. When he flew toward it, the coastline vanished. After more than 24 hours, Lindbergh spotted fishing boats on the water. He reached Ireland a few hours later, and turned south toward Paris.
As he approached the airfield where he was supposed to land he was confused by the strange array of lights. He had to circle around awhile before he realized that the lights were cars stuck in traffic, people trying to get to the airfield to see the landing.
Lindbergh touched down at 10:24 p.m. on this day in 1927, 33½ hours after he'd taken off. About 150,000 people mobbed the landing strip in Paris, shouting, "Vive Lindbergh!" When he got out of his plane, the crowd picked him up and passed him over their heads, before he even had a chance to step on the ground.
He became one of the most famous men in the world overnight. Several songs were written about him and a dance called "The Lindy" was named after him. New York City gave him the largest ticker-tape parade of all time, and he received the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Flying Cross. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "In the late spring of 1927, something bright and alien flashed across the sky. A young Minnesotan who seemed to have nothing to do with his generation did a heroic thing, and for a moment people set down their glasses in country clubs and speakeasies and thought of their old best dreams." Lindbergh went on to write two books about the flight: We (1927) and The Spirit of St. Louis (1953), which won a Pulitzer Prize for biography.
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