This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived
As freezing persons recollect
The snow –
First chill, then stupor, then
The letting go.
Research is good for me. It’s leading me to books I would never even look at normally and Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead is one of these. In this case I feel like I’ve found a treasure, or rather, met an extraordinary person.
First: why this book? I’ve got a character in a novel whose wife is kidnapped and killed about ten years before the book starts. I wanted to find out what it is like for the survivors of such a tragedy, and checked out of the library a variety of crime books, most of which were too violent for me to read. Then I had a brain storm. The famous kidnapping of the Lindbergh’s baby in 1932 is the kind of event I’m interested in, and also a story that isn’t too horrific for me to deal with. I found out that Anne Morrow Lindbergh published her letters and diaries in a series of books that included the key years – leading up to the kidnapping, covering the kidnapping and discovery of her son’s body, and the prosecution and conviction of the criminal. So I started with Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead, which covers the years 1929-1932. I wanted to have a sense of who this woman was before I got to the events I am interested in, so I started at the beginning of the book. Am I ever glad I did.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh was a charming young woman who lived an extraordinary life. She traveled with her husband, the famous pilot Charles Lindbergh, all over the world, mapping potential flight routes and promoting commerical air travel when it was in its infancy. Anne loved flying. She was both a pilot and a radio operator. She was also enchanted by the many places they visited on their long tours; included in this book are descriptions of a tour of South America and another of the Orient.
Not everything was wonderful, however. The Lindberghs were news, big news, and the American press hounded them constantly. They could not go out into public without being accosted and the press would often follow them to the retreats they had hoped would stay private. Charles schooled Anne in how to evade questions and give noncommital answers, and she complained more than once of having to be reserved even in her writing for secrecy’s sake. This fame would lead to the kidnapping of their baby.
In 1930, Anne bore their first son. Charles, Jr. was often on Anne’s mind, even when they were on opposite sides of the world from each other. Knowing that her son was taken from her, I was sensitive to her concerns about him. More than once, she begged a trusted relative to stay with Charles, Jr., because she was afraid the press would take advantage of the Lindberghs’ absence and of their staff’s inexperience with reporters. Six months before her son disappeared, Anne quoted a poem she heard in China, written by a mother about her dead son. If thus was fiction, these little touches would seem like artistic foreshadowing. Unfortunately, they are real, and they make the reader aware just how much Anne loved her son and feared for him. When tragedy finally strikes, her tortured hopes and loss of faith in the world are all the more poignant to the reader.
Anne’s diary entries and letters from the disappearance of her baby on March 1, 1932 to the end of that year expose the full range of emotions she experienced, and the many conflicting thoughts. Their second son, Jon, was born on August 15th and Anne experienced a wonderful, though brief, return of her faith in the world. She realized even before his birth that Jon could never erase her memories of Charlie, but that he would give her new experiences as a mother. She respected Jon as an individual even in his earliest days. Whenever memories of Charlie caused Anne to panic about keeping Jon safe, she always reminded herself she must not let her terror negatively affect Jon’s life.
The next book is Locked Rooms and Open Doors (1933-35) which will include the capture and trial of the man who killed Charlie Lindbergh, which is the rest of the reading I need to do for my novel. I’ve decided to go back and read Bring Me a Unicorn (1922-28) as well. My interest in Anne is now much more than academic and I can’t wait to read her observations and thoughts about meeting and falling in love with Charles Lindbergh. It’s not on my official list of topics to research, but she is too special to abandon without hearing her whole story.