Friday, May 18, 2012

Spirit of St. Louis on Tour

During one of the stops on the Guggenheim tour. Anyone want to take
a stab at figuring out the lettering on the ground?
Today's post is in honor of the 85th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's crossing of the Atlantic in the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis, which took place May 20-21, 1927. In the years since, Lindbergh's feat is credited with the popularization of air travel and the launching of the Golden Age of Aviation. But it wasn't just the record-setting flight that accomplished all of this, it is what was done after the flight, the way in which Lindbergh's accomplishment - and by virtue of that the viability of aviation - was brought to the doorsteps of much of America.

After landing in Paris at the end of his historic flight, Lindbergh went on to fly the Ryan NYP to Belgium and then England. There, it was loaded onto the Navy cruiser USS Memphis, dispatched by President Coolidge for this purpose, for the return trip to the U.S. On June 11, the ship with its cargo arrived in Washington, and was triumphantly escorted up the Potomac by a fleet of Navy ships and, overhead, squadrons of military aircraft.

Over the subsequent ten months, from July 20 to October 23, 1927, Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis went on a national goodwill tour, known as the "Guggenheim Tour" because it was sponsored by a fund established by Chicago multimillionaire Harry Guggenheim and his father Daniel. Lindbergh made a grand counter-clockwise tour around the continent, making 92 stops and visiting all 48 states (click here for a map). The tour also reached down into Latin America, with Lindbergh and the Spirit making the first non-stop flight between Washington D.C. and Mexico City.

It was on this tour that some excited amateur photographer snapped the above image, though I don't know where it was (sadly he or she mistakenly focused on the barbed wire instead of the plane, but that doesn't matter to me, though, it's still a magical moment in time).

After the tour, Spirit of St. Louis was retired in April 1928 and donated to the Smithsonian. Lindbergh took off in the plane one last time on April 30, flying from Lambert Field in St. Louis to Bolling Field in Washington D.C. To get the plane to its new home, it once again took to the waters of the Potomac, this time on a barge. The Archive is privileged to own both a print and the original large-format negative of this second photo. Hand-written on the back of it is the inscription, "Lindberg's 'Spirit of St. Louis' on the barge at 'Haines Point', Washington D.C. Spring, 1927." (Yes, the writer was off a year!) Hains Point is just north, across the Potomac from Bolling Field, so it was a fairly short trip.

The Spirit originally hung in the "Castle", the old Smithsonian building, before the Air & Space Museum was built, at which point it was moved and hung in the new museum's main gallery, where it remains today.

(As a small side note, which I can indulge in since this is my blog...the top photo is the one that started my passion for collecting vintage aviation images, when I found and bought it at an antique auction house in Sacramento in the late 1970s, where, while a teenager, I worked on the weekends. Little did I understand, when I shelled out the princely sum of $25, representing my entire evening's wages, what an adventure these photos would lead me on, and and that I would later go on to take history-recording photos myself as a flight test photographer. It's been quite a ride!)

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