Why Lindbergh Disliked the Press

By H. Schaefer. This commentary appeared in the Life Times, a publication by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, in September 1998.

picture of Charles LindbergI never will forget the time our American aviation hero, Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, was humiliated by a trick played by a photographer in the days of fierce competition among Chicago's newspapers. I don't think he trusted any newspapers after that, and you couldn't really blame him.

The incident occurred in March of 1925, long before he made his famous flight from New York to Paris, which was on May 20 and 21 in 1927. In his early years, Col. Lindbergh was a barnstormer and stunt pilot flying out of Lambert Field in St. Louis. Beginning in April of 1926, he also flew the mail between St. Louis and Chicago. I was working in Tribune Tower for Pacific and Atlantic Photos, Inc., a news photo agency owned by the Chicago Tribune and its sister paper, the Daily News tabloid, in New York City.

I came to work at 8 o'clock on the morning of March 19, 1925 and was surprised to find my boss, Henry Allison, our Chicago bureau chief, already on the job. He was trying to find a pilot for a special assignment.

The morning headlines told the story. The day before, more than 50 people had been killed and millions of dollars of damage had been done by a tornado in Southern Illinois. Murphysboro was reported to have been the hardest hit. The night before the Tribune had sent a photographer on a late night train to Murphysboro with instructions to take pictures as soon as possible after dawn and then call the office. That was before news photography film was available, and we all used the large Speed Graphic cameras with glass plates 4 inches by 5 inches in size.

My boss, Allison, finally arranged for a young stunt pilot known as Slim to rent a plane, fly to Murphysboro for the photos, and then bring them to Chicago. Slim turned out to be Col. Lindbergh, who was told to meet the Tribune photographer at the Western Union office in Murphysboro.

We learned later that when Col. Lindbergh asked for the Tribune photographer in the Western Union office, a man stepped forward immediately, handed him a package, and told him to fly to Chicago.

At the time, the Tribune's worst competitors were the morning Herald Examiner and the afternoon American, both published by William Randolph Hearst. There was hardly anything the papers wouldn't do to each other. The competition was so intense that the Tribune sent three bodyguards to meet Col. Lindbergh and escort him to Tribune Tower.

The photo plates were immediately given to our best developer in the darkroom. But he found the plates had been exposed. There were no pictures. Col. Lindbergh and the Tribune had been tricked.

Col. Lindbergh felt so bad that it seemed he might cry. Then, there was a question about whether he would be paid. At least, he must have finally been reimbursed for renting the plane, which cost $100.

Later, we learned that a Hearst photographer in Murphysboro had gotten wind of the Tribune's plan, and had gotten to Col. Lindbergh first with a package of unexposed plates at the Western Union office.

I have read as many as a half dozen biographies about Col. Lindbergh, and all of them mention his dislike for the press. In my mind, he never got over that early experience at Murphysboro. After that, he resented newspaper people. He never notified the papers about his take-offs, and he didn't like press conferences.

More information on Col. Lindbergh can be found in the book by Barry Denenberg, An American Hero: The True Story of Charles A. Lindbergh, March 1996.

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