“The Lindbergh Mystery”, aviator and funny bird

The Lindbergh mystery, an aviator in turmoil

by Benoît Heimermann

Stock, 272 pages, €20.50

He had fallen from the sky, the first man to cross the Atlantic Ocean in the air, after thirty-three hours and twenty minutes of solo flight in a single engine. When Charles Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget on the night of May 21, 1927, in the light of the searchlights, surrounded by 150,000 onlookers who had flocked, it was difficult to extricate him from the cabin of the Spirit of St Louis.

→ ARCHIVE. May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh’s heroic crossing of the North Atlantic

At 28, a recruit of honors and awards, Charles Lindbergh suddenly became the most famous man in the world, escorted everywhere by ecstatic crowds. The United States mobilizes two airships, four destroyers, eighty-eight planes for the return of the hero. Four million New Yorkers flock to cheer him on. For months, Lindbergh submits to the demands of planetary glory, condemned to constantly relive his historic flight, to appear in gargantuan banquets. At the Commodore Hotel in New York, 3,700 guests unfold their napkins under the pretext of honoring him…

Strange, “neurotically rational” man

But this archangel of the clouds was not an angel, recalls Benoît Heimermann. strange man, “neurotically rational”impervious to pain, disease, grief, Lindbergh even chooses his future wife according to scientific and biological criteria. A breach in the armor will turn the planet upside down. The abduction of her son, on March 1, 1932, aged twenty months, found dead and mutilated. Murdered in silence, Charles and Anne Lindbergh flee as far as possible to the other end of the earth, “without managing to dry up the morbid curiosity around them”underlines the biographer.

The couple found refuge in Brittany. The episode, which remained unknown, intrigues Benoît Heimermann. The Lindberghs shut themselves up in a mansion on the small island of Illiec, with neighbor, friend and mentor, the sulphurous Alexis Carrel, Nobel Prize in medicine, whose claimed eugenics will seduce the Nazis. Lindbergh, who takes weakness for “an unbearable disease”, is drawn to the ideology of the Third Reich. Big stain on the coat of arms. His wife, Anne Morrow, a popular writer, followed suit. The biographer takes care to describe his slow emancipation and, with delicacy, his New York romance with Saint-Exupéry.

Nothing is ever simple with Lindbergh, insists Benoît Heimermann. Nationalist frenzied who will later denounce Philip Roth in an uchronia (The Plot Against America), a supporter of non-intervention against the Nazis and of turning in on oneself, the hero, vilified by the press, falls from his pedestal. After Pearl Harbor, spectacular turnaround. He enlisted and distinguished himself in aerial combat over the South Pacific with an impressive list of kills. His book (About flight and life)bestseller and Pulitzer Prize, then the Billy Wilder film (Charles Lindbergh’s Odyssey)with James Stewart crowned with his own feats of arms, contribute to rehabilitate him.

Towards the end of its life, a new turn on the wing. He puts all the weight of his celebrity to warn about the threatened future of the planet. On August 26, 1974, Charles Lindbergh passed away, draped in eclipsing glory.

The statue is cracked

Thirty years later, everything is falling apart. What do we discover? Outside the family home, Lindbergh maintained three parallel families. Considering his genetic capital above average, he was the father of twelve children, seven of whom were scattered and concealed. The statue is cracked. Lindbergh’s varying commitments and the posthumous revelation of his drawer life, piling up his secrets, contrast with his enigmatic insensitivity. Benoît Heimermann, who devotes himself to a meticulous evocation of the exploit of the aviator, of the rational madness of his attempt, then of the uncontrollable whirlwind with multiple consequences, seeks to restore the grandeur of the legend.

Quality of the writing, density of the investigation, precise care to restore the ambiguity of the character without condemning him, to give him a psychological thickness that too many hasty images had covered, contribute to this pleasure of reading.

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“The Lindbergh Mystery”, aviator and funny bird