What Lindbergh Found in His Mail Bag (Oct, 1927)
What Lindbergh Found in His Mail Bag
Offers of Millions, Offers of Marriage and 14,000 Gifts in Packages Sent to Atlantic Flyer
By FITZHUGH GREEN
THROUGH the crowded events that followed the great flight to Paris, the author of this article was one of Col. Lindbergh’s chief aides. And in the swift preparation of Lindbergh’s book “We,” he wrote several chapters describing the welcoming receptions which the modest aviator did not wish to write himself. Commander Green also aided in handling Lindbergh’s huge mail.
Those two words, with variations, have been written more than three and a half million times in the last four months by people of all races, colors and climes.
No one man in history ever received such a mountain of mail as has Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh since that memorable May 21 when he completed his lone flight from New York to Paris by plane. Between that day and June 17, when he landed in St. Louis after an unprecedented welcome by mankind, there came to him, from every corner of the globe, more than 3,500,000 letters, 100,000 telegrams and cablegrams of congratulation and 14,000 parcel post packages containing gifts, samples, and articles for trade!
And even now, nearly four months after the world first went mad over his magnificent feat, scores of secretaries and postal clerks are still busy sorting and classifying the great piles of communications to the young aviator, whose daily mail continues to be greater than most of us receive in a month.
If we should suddenly find ourselves in Lindbergh’s place, the recipients of millions of messages, gifts and pleas from young and old, the fortunate and the miserable of almost every race and nationality, what should we do about it? How should we feel and act?
Because I have chanced to be one of many to assist in the gigantic task of doing at least something about the kindly millions who sent their congratulations and gifts, perhaps I can help you put yourself for a moment in Lindbergh’s place.
I know that when the first great bulk of cablegrams and letters arrived for “Slim” at the American Embassy in Paris, he was deeply touched and profoundly interested. He was thrilled that thousands upon thousands whose names were strange to him, and whose faces he had never seen, should thus shower him with personal tributes. And his first impulse was to read every letter, and answer each in turn with his own hand.
BUT that first impulse soon changed to something like bewilderment when, on the second day after his arrival in Paris, a large room had to be commandeered for the first of this mail, and Ambassador Herrick assigned eight of his own staff to handle the correspondence. By the second night another tidal wave of cables, sweeping in from America, swamped the secretarial force, which by that time had been trebled. Even while the secretaries toiled far into the night, they gave up all hope of answering each missive in the sea of white and yellow envelopes.
Not so Lindbergh. When, later, the deluge was repeated in varying degrees in Brussels, London and Cherbourg, he never quite gave up the idea of eventually completing the appalling task of answering unseen millions who spoke to him.
The simply worded messages from mothers who poured out their hearts in joy at his safe landingâ€”the letters in the trembling hand of old age, or in the faltering form of the very youngâ€”those other jubilant congratulations from rulers, presidents, scientists, educators, business men, soldiers, sailors, clerks, street cleaners, even tramps and beggarsâ€”all these voices seemed to hold him duty bound, the while they overwhelmed him.
Only when he reached America, and received the full volume of the welcome home, was he at last compelled to throw up his hands in despair. In Washington three mail trucks brought him letters that had collected during his passage home on the U. S. S. Memphis. A huge Western Union bus with ten messengers carried the telegrams for him. Ten one-ton trucks could not have transported all the parcel post intended for his hand! In New York scores of aides, clerks and stenographers struggled in vain to keep pace with the ever rising tide.
YET, withal, it required some argument to convince the boy that personal acknowledgment would be beyond the power of any man.
It was pointed out to him that a high speed business executive with a force of expert stenographers might average 200 replies a day. At that rate he might clean up Lindbergh’s stack of mail in about seventy years! Only, before he could finish two thirds of it, he’d be dead of old age!
Moreover, Lindbergh was reminded of the fact that he knows neither how to dictate nor to typewrite. He writes everythingâ€”even his bookâ€”in longhand. If he should work at top speed on the letters every day, he’d have the job done in about 150 years. The letterheads alone in this mail of his, if placed end to end, would stretch from New York to Denver. Stack all this mail in a single pile, and it would reach 10,000 feet into the sky, nearly to the height of Pikes Peak!
So, in the end, although in St. Louis a force of fifteen secretaries of the Chamber of Commerce did manage in six weeks to acknowledge 200,000 letters addressed to him there, Colonel Lindbergh has had for the most part to content himself with the hope that his unanswered friends will see his predicament and understand.
PERHAPS, after all, it is well that this is so. I have read hundreds of the letters which Lindbergh himself never has had opportunity to see. Many of them would tear at his heart strings. While some offer opportunities for wealth beyond the dreams of most men, others would tug at his purse strings. If he should respond to a small portion of the pitiful appeals for help contained he would soon be impoverished. While he would be gladdened by the sincere generosity of everyday people, he would be saddened, too, by the avarice, treachery and deceit which my eyes so often read between the lines.
What a revelation of human character there!
The largest number, of course, were letters of congratulation. Most of these were couched in the simple, kindly language of home folks. I pick up one at random and read: “Dear Colonel Lindbergh: Oh, we are so happy you got there. May God bless and keep you for your mother and for us.” Such was the gist of thousands upon thousands of messages from American fathers and mothers.
Not a few communications were amusing for the “five-dollar” words they contained. One began: “Fair-haired Apollo, your meteoric traverse of the sea, your transcendant victory over boundless space, shall thunder down the avenues of time!”â€”And so on for several resounding pages of closely written foolscap.
Requests for help came next. There were entreaties based on purported old friendship, on relationship, on past favors, and on the utter poverty of the writers.
I believe there was not a single man or woman of the hundreds that worked on Lindbergh’s mail who did not shed many tears. So plainly grievous were many cases that it shocked us, as I know it would have shocked Lindbergh, to realize there was such abject misery in this rich country of ours.
A widow wrote that she had been bedridden for eighteen years. “A little money will do,” she urged, “maybe ten or fifteen dollars. That will give me a chance to get new curtains for the room in which I have lain for so many years.”
Sick people, the financially down and out, struggling widows, orphans, a wife who had left her husband and was trying to earn an independent living, the discontented daughter who had sought her fortune in the city and found only discouragement and failureâ€”thousands of these unhappy people felt called upon to lay their cases before the young man who flew to Paris.
Some requests for help were more entertaining than heart-rending. The owner of a small-town garage wrote that he had been having trouble with valves and considered Lindbergh “just the fellow to help me out.”
I HAVE ground the valves with carborundum dust and on a stone,” he said, “but they seem to leak. I want to know what you think about this. You seem to know your engines pretty well. Or else you would have broken them down long ago. It may be that I am not doing the job thoroughly enough. You see I have had a good deal of trouble lately. We live with my wife’s mother. She bothers Minnie (my wife) a little, especially in the evenings. So next morning I haven’t got my mind on the job.
“Better write me direct to the shop, and don’t mention the mother-in-law. What I want is advice on valves.”
The letters were in every conceivable form. More were in longhand than in type; more in pencil than ink; more from small towns than from cities or country. More came from women than from men. Nearly as many came from youths as from adults. Girls wrote more than boys in ratio of about four to one. Most writers put in their addresses; many, their photographs.
One person out of five sent some sort of newspaper clipping. Nearly one letter in twenty contained a poem about Lindbergh or dedicated to him. More than 5,000 Lindbergh poems were written in all. About $10,000 of return postage was received, and there was also some cash. More than 400 Lindberghs had written to Slim by the time he reached New York, claiming close relationship and asking if he couldn’t do something for them now that he was the outstanding member of the family.
Next in number to the appeals for help came the business offers. I doubt if Lindbergh will ever know the extent of the promised fortunes of those offers. A conservative estimate by a well-known banker is $6,000,000.
MORE than half this amount was covered in perfectly feasible moving picture contracts. One company offered him about $500,-000 if he would put in a few days doing the star part in a picture that would represent American home life. Another wanted him to do an air thriller in twelve releases at $40,000 a release. Still another offered him $100,000 to appear in a film in which he would actually be married, the stipulation being that there be close-ups of his face when he first met the girl that appealed to him, and at the moment he was pronounced her husband. For this unique pictorial study of emotion it was said he would receive $1,000,000.
The most amazing offer he received in Europe was of $2,500,000 for a flight alone around the world. Perhaps the easiest money he could have made was a proposition which involved about forty minutes of his time. He was to get $240,000 if he would stand in front of a camera which registered both voice and picture and read his own first account of the flight across the Atlantic as published in the press. He could have made about $300,000 by letting a talking machine concern make a record of his story in his own voice, the reading to be bracketed by the Marseillaise and the Star Spangled Banner played by a big orchestra.
LINDBERGH knew of most of these enticing offers, but in every case he declined them graciously but firmly. He seemed determined not only to devote himself to his chosen calling of aviation, but jealously to guard against the danger of cheapening either himself or the achievement for which the world had honored him.
In his mail were countless smaller offers of which he never knew. Typical among them was an invitation to become a partner in the operation of a chain of small stores. As a special inducement the man who made the offer agreed to let Lindbergh use his name on the store windows! ” You will find me a good fellow to deal with,” the man wrote as an added attraction, “I don’t get angry very often, and when I do I usually go away, so will not fight.”
Next in order of their numbers came “mash notes.” These were to be expected. Lindbergh is young, and famous, and good looking. He doesn’t drink nor smoke nor dissipate. He is full of health. Though he resisted all business offers save his book and his story in the newspapers just after his arrival in Paris, this money with the $25,000 Orteig prize which he won, has given him a comfortable fortune.
Many has been the match made by a chance letter. Youth is full of romance. Why shouldn’t the girls have written Charlie how they felt? Most of us who had a chance to read the letters were impressed by their sincerity and decency. There wasn’t the cheapness about them that one might expect in the circumstances.
“I like your looks and believe you would like me”â€””We might hit it off; who can tell?” â€””I believe if you and I came to like one another we might be just suited”â€””Excuse me for writing, and I shall expect to hear from you when you reach town.” Frank and straightforward were most of the messages, written by wholesome girls to a wholesome young man.
HOW did Slim feel about them? How does he regard the flood of love notes and proposals of marriage? Well, he never has said. Whenever the letters have been mentioned, he always has smiled his famous smile â€” and changed the subject. I fear, though, that the thousands of lovely young womenâ€”and elderly ones, tooâ€”who lost their hearts to him, remain among the vast throng of unanswered admirers.
Of all the letters, however, the most interesting to meâ€”and I know they would have appealed to Lindberghâ€”were the ones that told about new inventions. True, many of them made wild claims that never could be substantiated; many were from obvious cranks; and many talked more about the millions of dollars promised in quick profits than about the practicability of the article. But the majority of them were of real and specific interest, and showed promise in those who wrote them.
I think these inventions thrilled many of us who were working on the Lindbergh mail, because they indicated what terrific and countrywide energy is daily devoted to mechanical development. If only one thousandth of the inventions proposed to Lindbergh ultimately turn out to be useful, transportation, communication, industry and hygiene in America will be revolutionized in the next five years!
Prominent among the creations which inventors described to Slim applied to aviation. Hundreds of young men proposed devices for stabilizing an airplane so that it could not upset in flight. Most of them had developed some new form of wing or automatic control to make an accident almost impossible. Surely this shows how intense is the effort to bring about safe flying. Many sketches for new kinds of parachutes were submitted; parachutes for the plane as well as for pilot and passengers.
ONE mechanical genius wrote: “When you come to my town I want to show you an engine I have built that will run for twenty-four hours on a gallon of fuel, and run strongly enough to pull your Spirit of St. Louis at twice the speed you made across the Atlantic.” He only hinted at the chemistry of his marvelous fuel and the mechanics of his super-engine.
Then there were inventions that had nothing remotely to do with Lindbergh or aviation. The fact that the flyer had been so resourceful and .successful seemed to indicate that his genius might be applied in almost any line. Slim is scarcely a horseman, yet a retired mariner wrote asking him to join forces in a device to prevent horses from running away by the simple method of fixing a boat davit to the car or carriage, by means of which the runaway animal could be hoisted off the ground during the period of his frenzy!
Innumerable letters contained proposals for improving radio. Chief among these were ideas for television, distant radio control, power transmission by radio, and airship guidance with radio waves. A large number contained requests for aid in perfecting “sure fire” perpetual motion machines. A college professor wrote that he thought Lindbergh might be interested in helping him perfect a gun which would sink any battleship in the world with one shot.
I read at least three proposals that Lindbergh join in an attempt to reach the moon by a rocket shot from the earth. There was one plan to communicate with Mars. Other plans outlined to the flyer were for making gold from sea water and diamonds from carbon, and for finding buried treasure.
A “biologist” very seriously solicited Lindbergh’s interest in a scheme for grafting wings on monkeys until the method was successful enough to try on a man. “And I know of no better person,” the writer earnestly went on, “than yourself for the first human experiment. If you will sit down and talk with me you will see that the idea is not nearly so fantastic as it sounds.”
I think that would appeal to Slim more than any of the others!
THERE were not a few vague but palpably dishonest schemes for getting rich quick. One was “a brand-new counterfeiting device which is absolutely secret, Colonel Lindbergh, and will turn out real ten-dollar bills quicker than the eye can follow!”
An extraordinary number of letters offered help to Lindbergh. Many people apparently believed he would at once settle down, build a house, get married and have children. This meant he would need furniture, bank accounts, groceries, clothing, cradles, carpets, books, medicines, and goodness knows what. Thousands offered to supply him these articles at reasonable prices, in some cases free, provided he would let his name be used as a client of the manufacturer or retailer.
Thus his mass of parcel post included every sort of article from safety razors to spare tires, most of which were sent with the hope he would endorse them. There were many gifts, too; such as cakes, hats, jewelry, handkerchiefs, ties and candy.
A number of private gymnasiums and physical instructors wrote eloquently about the strain he would be under and suggested courses of exercises, some free, some at varying costs.
It would take volumes to tell all that I saw in Lindbergh’s mail. The things I have outlined briefly here represent merely a cross, section of what will long be the greatest postal wonder in modern times, the finest example of mass appreciation of a great feat by a splendid youth.