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About this Episode
“In the case of my grandparents [Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh], there are the lovers and the haters. A lot of the hatred seems almost instinctive, and some of it is based in fact and some of it just isn’t”.
~Reeve Lindbergh, daughter of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Erik here: As a Lindbergh I am regularly reminded of the lovers and haters, but what exactly are they referring to? I ask, because in today’s culture many perceptions are spoken as absolutes with no room for nuance or context, when in reality, the truth is complex. It’s because of these Lindbergh legacy thorny topics that Lyn and I bring you his episode with two of the foremost experts on Lindbergh history. My Aunt Reeve, the daughter of Charles Lindbergh and Dr. Francis Levine the president and CEO of the Missouri historical society.
In this episode Dr. Francis Levine is deep and thoughtful when she speaks about these issues from a history museum director’s point of view, while her anthropologist training uncovers meaningful context. My dearest Aunty Reeve brings her childhood memories and the wisdom gained by her exposure to the thornier side of our family legacy. Together they bring clarity to many of the Lindbergh legacy topics that simply don’t fit into a Tweet.
Facts are often skewed in the eye of the beholder. One recent example of contorted Lindbergh mythology is Phillip Roth’s alternate history-novel The Plot Against America. In this work of fiction we imagine a different history with my Grandfather painted as the anti-hero. I jokingly refer to it as The Plot Against the Lindbergh’s. The book never claims to be based on facts, in fact the book and the HBO mini-series overtly call out that this isn’t real history or real facts, but unfortunately the work of fiction still results in magnifying criticism that stirs and deepens the hatred in the haters.
I find this magnificently ironic, as hatred and bigotry are exactly what the haters are purportedly railing against.
What can I do when faced with a hater?
I have found that the only reasonable response is to continue living my life with love and empathy. When I practice listening with an intention to learn, my hope is that people will see a human being who is enthusiastic, goofy, and sometimes awkward. A man who is terrified of failure but accustomed to it. An entrepreneur who has tasted just enough success to keep him driving forward in search of audacious goals. A grandson who is embarrassed by ancestral gaffs but willing to learn and grow from them. And an eternal optimist who respects the bright side of my grandfather’s legacy and is not afraid to use it to leverage a positive future for the planet.
I only hope that future generations will be able to see past the flaws in my character, priorities, and execution and know that at least I gave a damn and tried hard. I can live with that.
Our Favorite Quotes from this Episode
It's hard to be a historian or a scientist in these times when we don't seem to have a concept of the burden of evidence or even observation. It's all about gut reactions.
In the case of my parents, there are the lovers and there are the haters. A lot of the hatred seems almost instinctive and some of it is based on fact and some of it just isn't. and some of the things that happened to my dear brother, Eriks's father [Jon Lindbergh] who died very recently, when he was very, very, young, one would have thought that all sympathy would have been accorded to the the child, but they got hate mail, they got death threats. It was extraordinary. This is part of why they left the country for a while because the degree of attention and the polarized aspects of the attention was just too much to raise a family in. This lingers. The adoration and the hatred still continues today. You just have to flow with it.
This is the first time in history when humanity has had access to bits and pieces of information without any responsibility to considering the full picture. Add the fact that we as a culture do not know how to deal with imperfection, this is part of what causes cancel culture.
We are very quick to judge now.
Our lives our so quick, partly because of social media. [People] can quickly say "cancel this" but that isn't really the way history works.
We don't know what to do with the massive amount of information that comes to us every single day, and we've become enamored by our own points of views. It's the echo chamber. You hear something and then you love the sound of what you believe is true.
A good historian is also an anthropologist. You have to go back and visit the time and the culture of the time you are writing about.
Anne talks about the burden of celebrity, and she talked about it all of the time. She wished for solitude and wished for time to be alone. [This] was very difficult for her. The wild celebrity that came to her when she became Lindbergh's wife was something she was not prepared for.
Today, people have their 15 minutes of fame, Anne had years and years of this burden.
We [the Lindbergh children] were very trained to not talk to strangers, to never give our our phone number, and never talk with anyone who asked questions about our parents. This we knew absolutely.
Sometimes we'd be annoyed when we'd go to a restaurant and someone would come up and ask my father for an autograph and [Charles Lindbergh] would make us all get up and leave the restaurant. It was years before I was old enough to understand what this was about.
The writing that the [Lindbergh] family has done has helped me tremendously. It's a sense that no matter what the world says about my family, I know that my family were thinkers. They thought deeply about the problems of the world.
Frances: Do you think your mother was surprised by how immensely popular over such a long period of time her book [Gift from the Sea] was?
Reeve: Absolutely. She was astonished. She would say it was just a little book she wrote on the beach and I would say, "No it's a tremendous liberating book, and gently liberating book for women in this country and elsewhere."
I didn't see him [Charles Lindbergh] as a Nazi, and I didn't know him as an antisemite at all. I would say he was, as were may people in his time, somewhat racist without knowing it; racist as we think of it today. I know his Des Moines speech in which he was speaking as an anti-war activist at that time. He said the three groups who are pushing for war are the British, the Roosevelt administration, and the Jews. He [Charles Lindbergh] showed my mother [Anne Morrow Lindbergh] a draft of that speech and she said you mustn't give that speech because if you do you will be labeled antisemitic for the rest of your life; and what he said to her was, "But I'm not." And she said it doesn't matter that's what people will believe, and she was right. But he didn't see it that way. I think he had no knowledge that to categorize a group of people as a group, I don't think he understood what it meant.
I'm not a big believer in heroes and I like to look at what their pedestals are made of.
That's part of the hindsight of history. We get to take everything in retrospect and say "why didn't somebody know this or that." But often I'm reminded in my life that I don't know what I don't know. This was even more true in the past.
Today we have so many sources of news and information and we still don't know which ones have a political axe to grind, which ones have facts, which ones know what we don't know. In the future it will probably be even harder to write history because so much of what we have today is in rapid-fading media. We used to say the news media was the first source for writing history. This is changing.
You can't battle with the trolls, you've got to love them because they are facing their own demons.
We can disagree and it's still a safe place. Having a conversation from this point of view helps bring meaningful dialogue alive.
I want people to not judge harshly but to read broadly and understand the context of our times and that the times they are looking at are so different. History is crucially important. We need History teachings and history museums more than ever. We need the perspective of the long view that history gives us to get away from this rush to judgement and this instant claim of understanding.
If people are listening because they are interested in the family legacy and history, God bless you. It's hard for people to do that and to approach my parents history with an open mind and an open heart. But one thing my mother taught is that life is more open and no matter what happens it's better to live your life with your heart and mind open. The openness to life is the most important thing that I received from my mother especially.
Look in the mirror and then have empathy for that person in the mirror. If you can see your own vulnerability then you can see it in other people and that is going to make you a much better human.
Mentioned in this Episode
About Reeve Lindbergh
Daughter of aviator-authors Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, was born in 1945 and grew up in Connecticut. After graduating from Radcliffe College in 1968 she moved to Vermont, where she lives on an old farm near St. Johnsbury, Vermont, with her husband, writer Nat Tripp.
Reeve is the author of more than two dozen books for children and adults. Her work has also appeared in magazines and periodicals including the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker, and the Washington Post. She is active with libraries and other non-profit organizations in Vermont and nationally.
See Reeve Lindbergh's website: https://www.reevelindbergh.com/
Buy Reeve's new book titled Two Lives: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938406702
About Dr. Frances Levine
Frances joined the Missouri Historical Society (MHS) as president and chief executive officer in 2014. During her time as president MHS has seen unprecedented growth in attendance and community outreach, and has received numerous awards and national recognition for its exhibits and programs. Dr. Levine is the first woman to serve as the chief executive officer of a St. Louis Zoo-Museum District institution and was recently selected for the St. Louis Business Journal’s Most Influential Women in Business class of 2019.
Previously served as director of the New Mexico History Museum from 2002 to 2014.
Levine has authored, co-edited, or contributed to several award-winning books:
Doña Teresa Confronts the Spanish Inquisition: A Seventeenth-Century New Mexican Drama (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016), winner of a Southwest Book Award from the Border Regional Library Association
Battles and Massacres on the Southwestern Frontier: Historical and Archaeological Perspectives, with Ronald K. Wetherington (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014)
All Trails Lead to Santa Fe, with Gerald Gonzalez (Santa Fe: Sunstone Press, 2010)
Telling New Mexico: A New History, with Marta Weigle and Louise Stiver (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2009)
Through the Lens: Creating Santa Fe, with Mary Anne Redding and Krista Elrick (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2008)
Our Prayers Are in This Place: Pecos Pueblo Identity Over the Centuries (Santa Fe: University of New Mexico Press, 1999)
Levine received her BA in anthropology from the University of Colorado–Boulder and her MA and PhD in anthropology from Southern Methodist University. She attended the prestigious Getty Museum Leadership Institute, the foremost international source of continuing professional development for museum leaders, in 2009. Levine is a member of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the American Society for Ethnohistory, and the Santa Fe Trail Association. She has also served as an AAM accreditation evaluator for museums in the US and Mexico.
(Bio courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society)
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