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Fiction

The Story That Refuses to Die

by T Cooper

From GAY AVIATION TODAY, January 2004
(Reprinted with permission, ©2004 GAT Media Inc.)

Over seventy-five years after making aviation history with the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927, Charles A. Lindbergh has sent shockwaves through the aviation world yet again. In December, a trio of siblings in Germany claimed that they are in fact the children of Charles Lindbergh—and they have the DNA test results to prove it. The aviation world has always feted Lindbergh as a quiet, traditional family man, happily married to one woman, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, until his death. The world-famous couple had six children (including Charles Jr., who was, as is well known, kidnapped and killed in 1932), and while subsequent books published by both husband and wife have revealed that the marriage was less than perfect, there were certainly never intimations of an indiscretion of this magnitude.

The three supposed German Lindbergh heirs—Dyrk Hesshaimer, David Hesshaimer, and Astrid Bouteuil—waited until the 2001 death of their own mother, a handicapped Munich hatmaker named Brigitte Hesshaimer, to go public with the news. The children, raised in the 1960s by what appeared to friends and neighbors to be a single mother, remember a tall, graying American man who came to visit them once or twice a year. According to one account, Dyrk remembered the man “cooking eggs, pancakes, and sausages,” and sitting with the children for long breakfasts when he was in town. He would tell of his travels across the world, but the children assumed he was a writer because he was always carrying papers and reading books. The man was introduced as the children’s father, but their mother told them his name was Careu Kent.

It was only after Lindbergh’s death in 1974 that the children began suspecting otherwise. The aviator’s familiar face was once again splashed across newspaper front pages all over the globe, and there was a striking resemblance to at least one of the two illegitimate sons. When cleaning out the attic after their mother’s death, the children discovered over a hundred letters from someone named “C,” consistent with a romantic relationship and referring to the three offspring as “our children.” Lindbergh biographer A. Scott Berg confirmed that the letters were probably written by Lindbergh, and that it was “chronologically and geographically possible” that Lindbergh fathered these children. But the Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer emphasized that he didn’t believe it consistent with what he knows of Mr. Lindbergh’s character—that he was by most accounts a fairly chilly, exacting man who eschewed all forms of physical intimacy.

Most of the Lindbergh family in America has not warmed to the news either. One Lindbergh grandchild, however, Morgan Lindbergh, reportedly visited with his alleged siblings in Munich recently. Upon his return, Morgan was quoted as saying, “There’s certainly a haunting resemblance there.” The German Lindberghs aren’t seeking any money. They are simply telling their story to a German journalist, who is expected to release a book in 2005 which will detail Lindbergh’s multiple affairs and children. The three children insist that all they want is to set the record straight, so to speak.

But will the many Lindbergh mysteries ever be set straight? Did Lindbergh have affairs, as well as multiple children out of wedlock? Was the wrong man, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, executed for the murder of the Lindbergh baby? Was this ultimate American icon gay, as some have suggested? Was there something wrong with the Lindbergh baby? Did the nursemaid have something to do with his kidnapping? Was Lindbergh a spy for the Nazis? To comment on some of these and many other unresolved Lindbergh questions, here, exclusively in Gay Aviation Today, we have secured an interview with one man who claims to be the famous Lindbergh baby, all grown up—not to mention alive and well.

Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. (as he is now legally named), says that he was indeed kidnapped, but clearly, never actually killed—and that through extensive hypnosis and other memory-recovery techniques, he was able to recall what happened to him on that fateful night of March 1, 1932, when he was stolen from his crib inside the plush Lindbergh estate in Hopewell, New Jersey.

Charles Lindbergh Jr. is joined by his longtime friend Mr. Donald Smith, who also has “family ties” to the Lindbergh saga—though in an admittedly very different manner from his friend Charles. Smith’s mother was one of a handful of women who wrote Charles and Anne Lindbergh during the days after their child’s 1932 kidnapping, offering their own children as a possible replacement for the one that had just been stolen.

The two men, both seventy-four, have struck up a lifelong friendship, grounded in their decidedly odd connections to the Lindbergh legacy. They co-own one of the world’s only two known working replicas of the Spirit of St. Louis, though only Smith still holds a valid pilot’s license to fly it. Lindbergh and Smith live in a residential retirement community located between Boca Raton and Delray Beach, Florida. “Above the Clouds,” as it is called, is the only aviation-themed retirement community in the country. Residents house their planes in hangars beside the development’s first-rate private airstrip, and staff pilots are on hand when residents are no longer able to fly their ships themselves.

I caught up with the two septuagenarians at Norm’s Coffee Shop in West Boca, just a few days before Christmas. As strings of multicolored lights twinkled and flashed in the palm trees outside the window beside our booth, Charles A. Lindbergh Jr., Donald Smith, and this inquisitive reporter chatted about past and present Lindbergh revelations—as well as their own unique perspectives on this still-captivating, world-famous aviator’s complicated history.

—T Cooper

GAY AVIATION TODAY: So where did you two meet?

CHARLES AUGUSTUS LINDBERGH JR: We met under the arch in St. Louis on the fifty-year anniversary.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Of?

DONALD SMITH: The flight. The transatlantic flight that started it all.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: So what happened that day under the arch?

DS: Well, I’d traveled to St. Louis for the fifty-year anniversary, hoping to see someone from the family, and after the ceremonies started, I noticed this gentleman who looked stunningly like Lindbergh. He was so handsome and stately, just sitting on a concrete barrier outside the tent where the festivities were taking place. I thought it strange that we were both outside, when everything was happening inside.

CAL JR: They wouldn’t let me in.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: What happened?

DS: Tell him.

CAL JR: Well, I sent letters and called for months before the celebration, but nobody would return my calls. I thought I should be allowed to be an official part of the celebration. You know, after all those years, and my father had just passed a few years before. I thought maybe it would be water under the bridge, but . . .

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Why do you think the family was so hostile?

CAL JR: They didn’t want me. They’d already dealt with me and moved on.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: “Dealt with” you how?

CAL JR: Well, the alleged kidnapping.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Could you explain?

CAL JR: Whole thing was a setup. My mother Anne didn’t want me. She was quite depressed—you know, the post-departum [sic] baby blues that some ladies get? Well, my mother had it real bad. And my father felt I was putting a cramp on their world-travel schedule. So they figured out a way to get rid of me.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: What about the “trial of the century,” the dead body of the baby found by the side of the road? The fact that Anne had another baby just a few months later?

CAL JR: All a setup. The FBI was in on it with my father. He was so popular then, people would do anything for him. Even resettle an unwanted baby.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Forgive me for asking, but why didn’t they just have you killed?

CAL JR: It’s okay, people ask this very question all the time. Well, the answer is that my father just couldn’t do it, although I know my mother wanted it done. But he just couldn’t bear to kill his first-born son, his namesake.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: How could the whole world be fooled?

CAL JR: How could they not?

DS: What he’s saying is that he knows Lindbergh like nobody knew Lindbergh.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: So let’s start from the beginning. When did you realize you were Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr.?

CAL JR: It’s really hard to pinpoint one single moment in time. I would say that from what I’ve read of the men who turn into ladies later in life . . . It’s sort of like that, where you always knew there was something wrong about your body, who you were. Like you were someone else. Only with me it was my name, not like wanting my penis to be lopped off or anything. No, that name just never felt right, even though I tried to ignore the haunting feeling, I tried to make it fit. I never could, because all these fragments of memories I couldn’t place kept tugging at me.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Can you remember what happened that night of the kidnapping?

CAL JR: The alleged kidnapping.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: The night of the alleged kidnapping?

CAL JR: Well, it was only after a well-known hypnotist, someone with a Ph.D., you know, a real expert, took me into his care for a couple of years. Three days a week, he would take me back, you know, just doing all these relaxing things—look at the watch, look at the pencil, look at my finger. Finally I started remembering what happened. Which was basically that Betty Gow, who I sort of felt closer to than my real mother, well, I didn’t know anything was wrong, because after she put me to bed, she came back a couple hours later and pulled me out of the crib and carried me down the back stairway and out to a car which was waiting at the bottom of the driveway with its lights turned off.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: There was no ladder, no climbing out the window from the nursery?

CAL JR: No, nothing like that. Just as normal as if we were going out for an late-evening stroll. I wasn’t feeling too good that night, and I remember the scent of Vicks VapoRub wafting in the air around my head as she carried me down the stairs and out to the car.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: So who was driving the car?

CAL JR: Well, all this will be revealed in the documentary I’m doing with a very well-respected young filmmaker from New York. But I guess I can say now. Basically, there were a couple of Capone’s gangsters in the front, and a pale lady with curly black hair in the back. Betty handed me to her, and off we went.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: How do you know they were Capone’s men?

CAL JR: I found out years later. I stayed with them in a tenement in South Chicago until the supposed Lindbergh baby’s body was found. That lady from the car had been caring for me the whole time. I don’t believe she was a very nice lady. She was just doing it for the money. I remember being hungry a lot. I missed my mother’s breast and the gentle touch of Betty, my nursemaid.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: So you stayed there in Chicago?

CAL JR: No. After the news died down a little after the police supposedly identified the dead body, the gangsters took me to Iowa, where I lived with a man named Jones. That’s how I got my original name—Jonathan James Jones II, which was the name that never felt right as I was growing up. I don’t even like saying it.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: So that was it, you never saw Lindbergh again, and this man became your father?

CAL JR: I grew up with Jones—I don’t call him my father. He was an awful man, treated me just horrible. He drank, and he put out lit cigars on my stomach. He hit me and the various ladies who lived with him in the house. He never worked, but he did always seem to have enough money. But one time when I was about six, I was going to buy a bottle of milk from the corner store for the lady who was living with us at the time, and all these men in black cars pulled up beside me and dragged me into one of the cars. I remember feeling dizzy and strange, and then everything went black. When I woke up, I was in a dark and dusty barn with horses kicking the dirt, and light coming in little strips through the wooden roof. I was sitting across from my father, who was looking very worried and nervous.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Jones was—it was Jones who took you here with these men?

CAL JR: No, my father, Lindbergh.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: So what happened?

CAL JR: Well, he didn’t touch me or come very close, but he stared at me a lot. I could tell that he wanted to embrace me, but he didn’t. The FBI men were all talking quietly to the side, and I was terrified. I think what was happening was that my father wanted to make sure I was being taken care of. But the state of my clothes and the fact that I hadn’t bathed in a week, I think this troubled my father, so the men were trying to figure out if I should be left with Jones or maybe resettled in another family, which was risky.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Did you go with him?

CAL JR: No, that was the last time I saw my father in person. He gave me a bag of marbles though. I still have them. I always carry one with me wherever I go. [Reaching into his pocket.] See? [Opens palm to reveal small black marble.]

DS: I’ve never seen him go anywhere without a marble.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: What happened next?

CAL JR: Well, the government men carried me to their car and took me back to town and deposited me in front of the same store I was about to go into. I remember turning to try to look at my father as they carried me. I swear I saw a tear fall from his blue eye, but the FBI men didn’t hesitate. And you know, they followed me all throughout my lifetime—it was only after the hypnosis that I realized it wasn’t normal for a boy to be constantly followed by a black car with two men sitting in the front seat. But this was my father’s way of watching over me. And I think these guys went and roughed up Mr. Jones a little after this incident, because he had a black eye when he got home later that night, and for a few months after he was nicer to me.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: So where does Hauptmann fit into all this?

CAL JR: They set him up.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Who?

CAL JR: All of them.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Who’s “all of them”?

CAL JR: Jafsie, Schwarzkopf, and the rest of the New Jersey police, the NYPD, the judge, all those lawyers. And of course my father—everyone was in on it.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Why Hauptmann?

CAL JR: Oh, he wasn’t completely an innocent guy, but I do know he had absolutely nothing to do with my abduction. I think they got him involved in some scheme where when he got the marked ransom bills, he thought it was for some racket he was running—so he knew he had to hide the dough in his attic, where the police discovered it later. With great fanfare, of course.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: And the ladder found at the Lindbergh home, that was planted too?

CAL JR: Sure was. The NYPD pulled that one unique piece of wood from Hauptmann’s attic and had a carpenter with skills like Hauptmann construct a ladder with it—one that would perfectly reach the second story window of my nursery. My father provided them the measurements so it would be conclusive that Hauptmann had made the ladder specifically for the kidnapping job. That’s why Hauptmann never confessed—even when they offered him a stay of execution in exchange for an admittance of guilt. He never admitted being involved. Because he just wasn’t. [Shaking his head.] That poor man didn’t know what had hit him. But that’s what happens when the entire U.S. government is stacked against you.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: So where’d they find Hauptmann?

CAL JR: They just wanted an anonymous German immigrant who didn’t speak English very well—someone with a few petty crimes on his record and living nearby in New York, just greedy and stupid enough to get himself involved in a scheme that sounded too good to be true. They were also taking advantage of the anti-German sentiments going around in those days.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: That’s interesting, considering Lindbergh’s stated admiration for all things German.

CAL JR: It’s one small sacrifice. Plus, it makes it all look even less suspicious when my father later sits up there on the witness stand in that courtroom in Flemington and testifies that Hauptmann’s voice is the one he heard in the Bronx cemetery when Jafsie was handing the ransom money over.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Do you think Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer?

CAL JR: He just said what he believed. Nothin’ wrong with that. [Looks at Donald.]

DS: Nope, nothin’.

CAL JR: He didn’t think entering into a foreign war was right for our country at the time, and he felt it was his duty to go public with his sentiments. I tend to agree with him—but I know it’s not a popular thing to say these days. [Silent for a few moments.] You know, everyone was so worked up over what my father said about the Jews, but he wasn’t anti-Semitic. He was a principled man. He spoke the truth. The Jews did control the movie industry and the banks. They still do. That’s why I can’t get my film made, besides this one art school fellow in New York who’s going to do it.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Well, a lot of people might take issue with those views.

CAL JR: But if they’re true, then they’re true.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: But that’s what I’m saying. Some don’t believe they’re true.

CAL JR: I don’t really know.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Don’t you think he might have at least apologized when he figured out what the Nazis were doing?

CAL JR: My father wrote in his journals that he was horrified when he first found out.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: But he never apologized publicly.

CAL JR: But when the time came, you know, after Pearl Harbor, he wanted to fight. Because he knew then it was time to get involved. He had a wisdom, you could say, that your average everyday people simply can’t and won’t ever understand. This is essentially the first man who traveled the world like that, hopping around from country to country in his plane. He saw things people at that time couldn’t imagine . . . He knew what he was talking about. This country might’ve been better off if we listened to him, but at the end of the day, I don’t know, it’s really the visionaries who get screwed because they’re the ones sticking their necks out for the world to hack away at.

DS: With a blunt blade.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Okay. Maybe we can move on to the present revelations. What do you two think of the news of this German family?

DS: Not entirely surprising.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Why?

DS: Well, given the guy’s track record with deception.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Charles?

CAL JR: Well, I’m a little less jaded than Donald, but then, it makes sense, because boys always idealize their fathers and don’t want to believe they’d do anything like that—fooling around on my mother and having three bastard children with this German lady. But I guess it technically makes sense, when you think of how he spent all those years of his life flying back and forth to Europe for long spells. No, no more! [Holds palm over coffee cup to indicate to waitress he doesn’t want a refill. Waitress turns on a heel and yells “Happy Hanukkah” to an elderly couple just about to leave through the jingling front door to the restaurant.]

DS: It’s Hanukkah?

CAL JR: It’s always Hanukkah around here. [Laughing.]

DS: That David Hesshaimer, he’s a dead ringer for Lindbergh.

CAL JR: Yeah, my brother David in Germany, he looks just like my father, same smile, same eyes. It’s uncanny.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Have you tried to contact the Hesshaimers since they announced the news?

CAL JR: I’ve had a friend send a couple e-mails, a fax. I called a newspaper in Germany to try to reach them. But they haven’t responded. Why would it be any different? No Lindberghs want to know the truth about me. They can’t handle it.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: So you tried to contact Charles and Anne?

CAL JR: You betcha. I spent the better part of my life trying. But nothing. They’d tell their guards to send me away.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Guards?

CAL JR: One time I did go to the Lindbergh home in Connecticut. This was after my father had passed, and I thought maybe now that he was gone, my mother might feel some sense of regret and want to see her first-born son again. So I went with my wife to—

GAY AVIATION TODAY: You’re married?

CAL JR: I was—just for a year or two, and then we parted. I met her at the annual New England Lindbergh Society Luncheon in Hartford—you know, every year on May 21 they hold it. [Sighs, looks at hands and rubs them together.] I think she was just, well, taken by me as soon as she figured out who I was. Chasing a star, as they say.

DS: That’s not exactly what they say.

CAL JR: [Whispers.] He doesn’t like me talking about those years.

DS: No, I just say, call a spade a spade. A star-f*cker a star-f*cker.

CAL JR: So Ann and I—my wife’s name was also coincidentally Ann, but without the e. Her mother supposedly was the lady who gave Lindbergh the mirror to put in the Spirit of St. Louis cockpit before he took off from Roosevelt Field. Anyway, so Ann and I go to Darien to try to see Anne Lindbergh, but the guards said they were expressly told not to allow us onto the property. Ann burst into tears.

DS: She thought you were her ticket inside.

CAL JR: She was just very worked up about the whole thing, like ladies get. She had also tried to make contact with Lindbergh after her mother died, but besides a couple local newspapers where she told her story of her mother giving him the makeup mirror and some gum to stick it onto the panel, there wasn’t much else.

DS: You still don’t see how she used you?

CAL JR: Not now, Donald.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Okay, can you guys tell me a little about your plane? I’m sure Gay Aviation Today readers will be interested in the specs.

CAL JR: I don’t want to talk about the plane.

DS: [Whispers.] It’s, you know, your typical nine-cylinder reciprocating radial—223 horsepower.

CAL JR: Shut your hole. You’re not even blood. [Looks hurt.]

DS: He’s still a little touchy about having his pilot’s license revoked. Aren’t you? [Pokes CAL JR. playfully. CAL JR. doesn’t respond.]

GAY AVIATION TODAY: So, Donald, can you tell me a little about your past, and how you came to feel so connected to the Lindbergh saga?

DS: Basically, on the morning of the third day after Charles was kidnapped, my mother went to the Western Union downtown and offered me to the Lindberghs as a replacement baby.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Really?

DS: Yeah, yeah. I was about Charles’s age, blond-haired and blue-eyed. We lived outside Birmingham, and my folks had eleven kids; I was the last of the lot. I guess my ma figured one less wouldn’t kill anyone, but it might help the Lindberghs a whole bunch. So she sent a telegram expressing condolences for the loss and offered that if they didn’t find their baby, she would bring them me.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: That’s quite a story. Did she ever hear back from the Lindberghs?

DS: No, but my ma sent a total of something like ten telegrams and letters. And we didn’t have that kind of money for postage and stuff like that. When my pa found out, well, let’s just say Ma wasn’t cooking the meat for a few days—she was putting it on her face.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Did anything else ever come of this?

DS: Just that as I grew up, all my siblings always teased me that I was the kid our ma wanted to get rid of. It happened, well, anytime Lindy was in the news—which was all the time up to the beginning of the war. So it was kind of like Charles—I grew up always knowing something was wrong. I guess you could say I wasn’t really loved. But who am I to complain? Everyone had it hard then. You know, that’s why it was such a brilliant scheme, with the kidnapping and ransom and stuff. Kidnappings happened all the damn time then—everyone was so desperate.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: What was it like growing up in the shadow of the Lindbergh kidnapping?

DS: I don’t really know. My ma shot herself through the jaw when I was about thirteen, and she died. Then I left town when Pa had to move out of the house and didn’t let me come with him. I’d always felt like New York was calling, so off I went with the money I earned working on a neighbor’s farm. I guess I started drinking like Pa . . . You know how it is, just a bunch of years go all hazy. Then you look up and you’re an old man, and you don’t know where it all went, all that sweat spent just trying to stay alive.

CAL JR: You got yourself into some trouble there, didn’t you? [DS doesn’t respond.]

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Care to explain?

DS: Naw.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: Sure?

DS: Just a little trouble with the law, is all. I was, well, you know—getting money any way I could.

CAL JR: Till he finally figured out he never quite got over the thing with his mom.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: You sort of hit rock bottom? [DS doesn’t respond.]

CAL JR: And then he met me at that fifty-year reunion, and all of it started making a little more sense, both of us being kind of, you know, orphaned because of the Lindberghs. It seemed at first like it was just me helping him. But he helps me too. He helped me.

DS: I would be dead if it wasn’t for this man. [Turns to face out the window, looking up at lights in palm trees.]

CAL JR: I don’t know where I’d be without him either.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: So you’ve been lovers ever since, what, 1977?

CAL JR: I didn’t say that.

DS: No, no, no. Nobody said anything about that.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: I’m sorry, I—

DS: We agreed to do this interview for the sake of aviation, for Lindy, but you can’t say that. Don’t say that. We’re not fairies.

GAY AVIATION TODAY: My editor—I thought . . . I’m sorry. Well, so you just live together there at “Above the Clouds,” and share the replica plane and—

CAL JR: We live in condos, next door to each other.

DS: They’re adjoining, we got a double door put in between them. But it’s two entirely different, totally separate places.

CAL JR: Yeah, you should see this guy’s housekeeping. Are you kidding me? [Jabs thumb toward DS, laughing heartily. Summons the waitress with the universal gesture for “Check, please.”] Sometimes I go into his condo and I think to myself, was this guy raised by wolves, or what? And then I remember, yeah, you know what? He kind of was.

T Cooper is a writer and aviation enthusiast who has a private pilot license with a single-engine rating. Cooper’s last review for Gay Aviation Today was with Linda St. John, President of GLBTIBHUNA, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Intersexed Baggage-Handlers Union of North America.
***



T Cooper' photo

T Cooper is the author of the novels Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes (Dutton, March 2006) and Some of the Parts (Akashic, 2002). T is also co-editor (with Adam Mansbach) of an anthology of original fiction, entitled A Fictional History of the United States With Huge Chunks Missing (Akashic, 2006), from which “The Story That Refuses to Die” is excerpted. T’s work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The New York Times Style Magazine, The Believer, and Poets & Writers, in addition to a handful of anthologies. T lives in New York City.

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