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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Lindbergh's Visit to Memphis in 1927

Posted By on Wed, May 6, 2009 at 10:37 AM

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Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927 certainly captured the hearts of people around the world. Honors and awards were heaped on the young pilot, and every city in the country wanted to meet "America's Greatest Hero," as newspapers called him. And even though he was an aw-shucks-it-was-nothing kind of fellow (much like myself), the "Lone Eagle" saw that his fame gave him an opportunity to promote the commercial possibilities of flying. So, just weeks after returning from Europe (aboard the Navy cruiser Memphis, by the way), he clambered in his famous plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, and soared across America.

His journey finally brought him to Memphis on October 5, 1927 — the 62nd city on his itinerary, with 14 more to go. Even before he arrived, local businesses hopped on the Lindbergh bandwagon. His photo and name were dropped into all sorts of advertisements for such diverse products as fountain pens, candy, furniture, automobiles, and things like the card shown above, printed above for the Memphis Engraving Company, and now in the Lauderdale Library. (This is a neat little piece. According to the instructions, you stare at the image for 30-40 seconds, and then look at the sky or a blank wall, and a perfect image of Lindbergh will appear. Try it for yourself. It works!)

Copywriters, it seemed, worked overtime to come up with ways (often bizarre) to link his name with products. "Just as Lindbergh won the heart of the world with his daring deed," proclaimed an ad in The Commercial Appeal, "so has White Rose Laundry won the approval of all Memphis with their scientific method of dry cleaning." Oh, sure. And A.R. Taylor ran an ad that said, "Two Winners: Charles Lindbergh and Our Genuine Walnut Desks."

Precisely at 2 o'clock in the afternoon on October 5th, Lindbergh landed at Armstrong Field, a little airfield just east of Highway 51 North, close to Millington, and was quickly driven to Overton Park. Along the way, newspapers reported that "one hundred thousand people cheered him as he drove through the streets ... all Memphis fawned at his feet." Surely they were wrong about that 100,000 figure, since that would have amounted to half the population of our entire city at the time. Even so, I bet there were lots of people.

In Overton Park, the Rotary Club Boys Band played several patriotic selections, and then Lindbergh stepped onto a small platform by the new Doughboy Statue to read a short speech about air travel. With everyone shouting and cheering, one reporter griped, "Lindbergh could not make himself heard very well, despite the fact that a loudspeaker had been installed. His voice seemed weak and had little carrying power."

After the speech, the band played "America" and Lindbergh clambered into a convertible for the drive to The Peabody, where he would stay the night. He almost didn't make it. "The crowd," according to a newspaper report, "which had been so well-behaved at the start, now was ready for one grand rush, and suddenly there was a great turmoil, with everybody pressing forward." But police soon pushed the rowdy fans back and the car sped away.

That evening, at a reception at the hotel, Lindbergh was the guest of honor at a special ceremony presenting a silver tea service to the captain of the Memphis — you know, the boat that had brought him back from France. Aren't you paying attention? Lindbergh himself didn't get the silver; he just stood there while they gave it to somebody else, which seems rather awkward to me. I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The next morning, he was driven back to Armstrong Field, where he gave a St. Louis businessman named Earl Thompson, who had helped fund his Atlantic jaunt, a short ride in the Spirit of St. Louis. Apparently no Memphians got to enjoy similar hops. At 5:30 p.m., he climbed into his plane and flew off into the skies.

During his brief stay here, photographers and reporters followed his every move. Two "movie machines" documented his visit here, and one newspaper said that the cameramen "seemed not to know when they had enough views, keeping up their snapping of the Colonel from every angle." So what I want to know is: WHERE ARE THOSE PICTURES? Nobody I know has ever encountered any images of Lindbergh's visit here. If you have any, let me know.

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