LaSalle County Resident Recalls Lindbergh Visits By Mary G. Small
It was May 20, 1927 – the day after which nothing would ever be the same again. It was the day “Slim” Lindbergh alone, aboard the small over laden “Spirit of St. Louis” took his momentous flight – the nonstop transatlantic flight between New York and Paris.
The flight steered history onto a new track that influences our lives even today. Lindbergh launched the era of international aviation.
In the 1920s aviation was the realm of adventurers and romantics. America was preparing to become a nation of space, just as England had ruled the seas.
Lindbergh was among those daring young men who chased the wind and were the media darlings of the day. Popular among the aviators and the public were distance and endurance stunts, producing excitement and testing men and machines.
The idea of a nonstop flight between New York and Paris, which had never been done before, sparked intense interest.
Hotel magnate Raymond Ortieg, offered $25,000 as a prize for the first nonstop flight between those two major cities. Many of the greatest names in aviation rushed to compete; it was open season for transatlantic flight. Competing were big planes and little planes with two and four engines and one with only one engine.
Among the formal entries filed for the Orteig purse was a relatively obscure aviator – Charles A. Lindbergh of St. Louis, who had entered a Ryan monoplane, which was a much smaller machine than any of the others.
An article from a New York newspaper said Lindbergh intended to fly with only one other pilot, when actually Lindbergh always intended to make the flight alone. Because such an idea was considered too preposterous to be taken seriously, it was a pure gamble against fate. Lindbergh believed that a single engine plane, with greater range than several engines and greater fuel capacity, had the very best chance of reaching Paris. He devised this plan while flying over the cornfields of Illinois on the Chicago to St. Louis airmail run in 1926.
LaSalle County has a link with Lindbergh and a unique artifact, a portion of a propeller, salvaged when Charles A. Lindbergh bailed out north of Ottawa on an airmail flight from St. Louis to Chicago.
On September 16, 1926, he took off from Lambert Field, St. Louis, making his scheduled stops in Springfield and Peoria. Night fell and a heavy blanket of fog blocked all view of the ground. His fuel was low, the engine sputtered and quit. He moved the plane up, stepped out on the cowling and over the right side of the cockpit, pulling the ripcord after a 100-foot fall.
Then he heard the sound of his plane’s engine. Apparently the plane nosed down and the residual gasoline drained into the carburetor, restarting the engine. Fortunately their paths separated and Lindbergh landed in a cornfield while his plane crashed two miles away.
The LaSalle County Historical Society has erected a black impala marble marker near the site where he came to earth. Rowland Hall, a World War II pilot, was the motivation for this project.
The late Louis L. Gleim lived in Grand Rapids Township, LaSalle County, and actually met Charles A. Lindberg when government officials were planning the air mail route between Chicago and St. Louis.
The government began awarding contracts for airmail routes in 1925, and Lindbergh, as the chief pilot, was present as they selected a site for the beacon lights near the Gleim farm. Navigation then was visual with the pilots following rivers, railroad tracks, and at night the glow of towns below and the beacon lights.
Louis Gleim, as related to his daughters Luceille Gleim Werner, and Mary Gleim Small, remembered Charles A. Lindbergh, called “Slim,” as staying somewhat in the background, quiet and reserved. But the officials deferred to him when the final decision was made for the location of the beacon light because he was the chief pilot.
Lindbergh was given the task of selecting the other two pilots who would share the route. He chose two comrades from the Army Air Service; Thomas R. “Nellie” Nelson and Philip R. “Red” Love. Lindbergh offered to share his room and rented with them at the Brayton house.
The Gleims became well acquainted with Philip R. “Red” Love, who found it necessary to land several times on their farm because the air mail route passed right over the Gleim farm. When the weather at night was inclement because of poor visibility with haze, snowstorms, and so forth, Louis Gleim lit his kerosene lantern, went outside and waved it, giving the pilots their bearings. “Red” Love, on one stormy night, just missed Greenford’s timber to the north when his flare failed to ignite. Love said it was a close call for him.
On those occasions when Love landed on the Gleim farm, Mr. Gleim went out to the plane and helped him with the canvas mailbags because they were the precious cargo. Mrs. Gleim then placed them behind the cook stove in the kitchen. She then prepared food for their guest. Because the Gleims had just butchered a steer, she cooked steak, eggs, and coffee. Love said it was the best meal he had ever eaten.
On another night when Love was forced to land, he was wearing a flight suit with a tear in it and a white scarf. This suit happened to be the one Lindbergh wore on the night of September 16, 1926, when he bailed out north of Ottawa. The suit was ripped on a barbed wire fence. Love forgot his scarf when he returned to his plane, but the next time he landed the Gleims returned it. Love explained that the three pilots (since they roomed together) would just grab anyone’s suit when they left on their flight.
“Pilots Love and Nelson sometimes swooped down low over our house so that the tops of our pine trees bent over. Love told my parents that he and Nelson were reluctant to fly when it was particularly stormy (This airmail route was considered one of the most perilous runs in the country because of the changeable weather.) Lindbergh always volunteered. He was preparing for the transatlantic flight,” Mary Gleim Small said.
These planes were open cockpit bi-planes. Lindbergh, as chief pilot, insisted that each pilot have a new seat type silk parachute. He said if they needed it and didn’t have it, they would never need it again. He had occasion to use his parachute several times. In 1926 he was the nation’s only full-time “caterpillar.”
Lindbergh often displayed grace under pressure. He was determined, daring, confident, and he had a dream.
After the memorable New York to Paris flight on May 20, 1927, there were numerous celebrations, including an 82-city round of visits. The Gleims received a picture postcard from Lindberg standing by his beloved “Spirit of St. Louis.” He had remembered his farm friends in Grand Rapids Township. Perhaps he was grateful for those dark, stormy nights when the farmers took their kerosene lanterns out to be seen by the pilots through the dark storm clouds and fog.
Lindbergh was hailed all across America and the world. Pilot Love wrote to the Gleims telling them that once again the three pilots would be flying the old air mail route from St. Louis to Chicago as part of the 82-city visits.
On that particular day, the threshing was being done at the Gleim farm. Love told them that he would be in the lead plane, Lindbergh in the “Spirit of St. Louis” would follow 15 minutes later, and Nelson would fly last.
First came Love and the government officials. He circled the threshers several times and dipped his wings. All the children, men and women (two were the Cooks) had gathered in anticipation.
“Fifteen minutes later we saw the silver-gray “Spirit of St. Louis” approaching. He swooped down over us as everyone was waving enthusiastically. My mother said she could see Lindbergh very plainly – dipping his wings and a salute – and then on he went. What a moment to remember,” Mary Small added.