That rushing sound, is it the crowd at Le Bourget,
Swarming past the barriers and lights
To scavenge my Spirit; to lift me up
Into the air that only heroes breathe?
Or is it the age-old sigh of sea on stones,
Known to those who pace the shingle
And the swirled black sands that wrap
These impossible islands in a shawl of waves?
excerpt from "At Lindbergh's Grave"
-Gerard Van der Leun
Lindbergh was into motorcycles and surely had his favorite coffee shops, pre-Starbucks, where he read the newspaper and shook his head at the blundering folly of humanity while his two-cylinder, air-cooled, nine horsepower machine ticked and clicked as it cooled in the hard scrabble parking lot.
When his eye caught the one column article on the Orteig Prize his life changed forever, although he did not know it at the time.
Think about that for a moment... A 24 year old, no-name, flat broke air mail pilot is reading the newspaper in a coffee shop after surviving another all-nighter hauling the U.S. Mail in a fabric covered bi-plane. The Orteig Prize... What the heck is this all about?
May 20, 1927... 0750 local
One of Lindy's ground crew, a pre-airline ramper, grabbed two handfuls of ham-stan (Hamilton-Standard) polished propeller and pulled it as hard as he could...
Cylinder number seven fired with a cough and a thick puff of blue smoke, followed by cylinder two, then five, then one-three-six-eight-nine-four... All nine Wright-Whirlwind cylinders fired in a rumbling staccato of blue smoke and an occasional backfire of yellow flame whirled away in the prop wash.
The Spirit's airframe was heavy with fuel... A lot of fuel. The moment of truth for the 25 year old air mail pilot; life or death in the next few seconds... A muddy runway and trees at the far end.
There had to be some Oh Lord, what have I done at that incredibly sweet moment of time so long ago.
Thirty-three hours later...
Le Bourget aerodrome is in sight, sort of... Lindbergh is so tired he cannot understand what is happening. There is a mass of humanity, estimated at 150,000 to 250,000 people, waiting in the dark for the Lone Eagle, as the newspapers were already calling him.
The Spirit, after crossing the North Atlantic, touched down on the grass runway with enough fuel to fly another two hours... Amazing!
The French police could not hold back the surging wave of admirers... Lucky for the first few that Lindy had the presence of mind to kill the fuel flow to the whirling ham-stan scythe. The mob ripped the young American air mail pilot out of the cockpit and carried him above their heads for twenty minutes before he was rescued... Unintended consequences.
Glory, sweet glory from a world wrapped in the arms of financial depression.
Who was this young American and who built this beautiful aircraft? Was this the light at the end of the dark tunnel?
Glory... Millions would see this handsome air mail pilot in the next few months. In the United States alone, one third of the population would see Lindbergh as he toured the country in the Spirit...
Glory... And fame for the rest of his life.
Glory... A newspaper, a motorcycle, and a cup of coffee.
Unintended consequences... Glory.