LITTLE FALLS, Minnesota
When the old timers of Little Falls get together at their favorite local haunt, the West Side Café, they remember aviator icon Charles Lindbergh with laughs, stories, and a gleam of pride in their eye.
Charles Lindbergh was the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean, traveling from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York to Le Bourget Field in Paris in a single wicker seat, single engine monoplane titled the Spirit of St. Louis. The instantaneous world-wide fame that followed was unprecedented. Upon touchdown onto Le Bourget Field the Spirit of St. Louis as well as Lindbergh himself were virtually torn apart by a mob of over-enthusiastic fans while upon his return to America on June 13, 1927 “Lindbergh Day” was celebrated in New York City “as city offices, schools, and stock markets closed for the day [as] over 4 million spectators lined the streets to cheer the aviator.”
But as the fact of the world’s first Atlantic monoplane crossing becomes legend and the legend of Lindbergh becomes myth – it’s not the man himself the stories revolve around so much as the message he was able to convey. “I think Lindbergh inspired a lot of young men to do things they didn’t think they could do or would be able to do,” stated Little Falls resident Marie Langdeau, some eighty years young. Asked if she had seen examples of that in her lifetime, Marie was quick to reply – “Oh yes, I have.”
Before the man there was a boy – a boy who would spend a good deal of his youth here along the banks of the Mississippi River, swimming, fishing and flying around with his arms outstretched like an airplane, simulating the plane he saw one day from the rafters of his Little Falls home. “He’d sneak out at night and sleep on the porch – he loved the stars,” explained Lee Ann Douchette, a local writer and former radio newsroom presenter. “When he saw his first plane go overhead he just went nuts.”
As the aviator who got the job done and later as an environmentalist who strove for a balance between technology and wildness, it is interesting to see the living legacy left behind in Lindbergh’s boyhood hometown.
One example of a successful local business inspired by Lindbergh is Joe Berg of DJ Products, an innovative local manufacturer specializing “in [robotics and] moving around anything on wheels.” Joe showed me his latest product – dubbed the Aircraft Caddy – having “develop[ed] it based on Lindberg’s name and with official use of the Spirit of St. Louis airplane logo. Joe is striving to keep local jobs local. “It’s so important … our town relies on every job we have … whatever we can do to try to keep jobs helps our community.”
On the other side of town, Ty Gangelhoff, Park Manager of Charles Lindbergh State Park (from original land deeded over by the Lindbergh’s in 1931), brought out his record books to show that to date this year alone, over four thousand campers have come to enjoy the park’s five hundred and seventy acres, inhabiting protected “bald eagles and the three major biomes of the area – the prairie biome, the hardwood biome and the pines biome.”
For the education take I went over to Charles Lindbergh Elementary School where Principle Jill Griffith-McRaith explained, “His work here [on the environment] helps our students remember and continue their work with conservation and keeping the world a better place,” going on to say, “part of his legacy is through the Lindbergh Foundation which provides scholarships [and] grants to teachers who continue that environmental work.”
And from the environment to hope, Little Falls Mayor Catherine VanRisseghem summed up the effects of Lindbergh’s living legacy as such: “[Back then] at that point, times were really tough – people without jobs, without hope – and Charles Lindbergh was that spark of hope for them … and I believe that the same goes for now a-days – times are tough, people are losing jobs and their lives are being impacted greatly, but there still is hope … that dream, that ability to dream and to accomplish those dreams is still within us as people here locally and .. that true spirit is still there in the Spirit of America.”