Lindbergh spirit lives on at Hartness Airport

By Terri J. Huck

Hartness Airport hosted a celebration of Charles Lindbergh’s flight to the town 90 years ago, and the guests of honor included three people who had been there in 1927 and Lindbergh’s daughter Reeve Lindbergh Tripp.

Former Vermont Gov. James Hartness and Charles Lindbergh posed in front of Lindbergh’s airplane, “The Spirit of St. Louis,” in July 1927.

Tripp, who lives near St. Johnsbury, Vt., took a short flight with local pilot Walter Striedieck in his glider, named “The Spirit of Anne Morrow Lindbergh” in honor of Tripp’s mother.

The event last week took place 90 years to the day after Lindbergh’s arrival at the Springfield airport on July 26, 1927, as part of an effort to promote aviation. A few months earlier, Lindbergh had made his historic trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris in his plane “The Spirit of St. Louis.” He was the first pilot to make the flight on his own, and he did it with instrumentation that is crude by modern standards.

From July to October 1927, Lindbergh, now a celebrity, flew to all 48 continental states and visited nearly 100 cities in an endeavor funded by millionaire Harry Guggenheim and his father Daniel. People came out by the thousands to see him and his famous plane.

Bruce Johnson, a member of the Springfield Airport Commission, said that when former Gov. James Hartness, who was himself a pilot, “heard Lindbergh was not landing in Vermont, he pulled some strings.”

Lindbergh arrived at the airport Hartness had built around 2:00 on July 26. Marion Harlow, who was seven years old at the time, remembers the day as hot and the airfield as crowded. Indeed, 30,000 people showed up, and a panoramic photo hanging in the airport’s terminal shows the scale of the crowd.

Donald Whitney was five at the time and remembers “bumper-to-bumper Model T Fords all the way.” His family had a large farm in Spencer Hollow but took a break to go to the airport. Unfortunately, he had to leave early to milk the cows.

Donald Whitney chats with Reeve Lindbergh Tripp on the 90th anniversary of the visit her father, Charles Lindbergh, made to Springfield, Vt.

He remembers the excitement of seeing the plane land, and when a newsman ran across the landing strip with a camera held above his head, Whitney thought he must be Lindbergh. One of the grownups set him straight, but Whitney said he often wonders if that photographer is the one who took the famous photograph of Lindbergh and Hartness in front of his plane.

At every other stop on his trip, Lindbergh stayed at top-notch hotels, but Johnson said “there wasn’t a nice hotel in Springfield at the time, so Hartness invited him to stay at his house.” That house is now the Hartness House Inn, and guests have the option of staying in the room where Lindbergh slept.

Bob Beardsley, a grandson of Hartness,was about four years old at the time. He rode in the plane as it was towed into the hangar, and Lindbergh even let him wear his leather jacket. Beardsley said he doesn’t remember trying to keep the jacket, but the next morning as Lindbergh prepared to take off from the airport, he realized it was missing and someone had to race back to Hartness’ home to get it.

Lindbergh met his future wife, Anne Morrow, later that year through her father, who was the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. After she returned to college in the East, Lindbergh called her and asked her to go for an airplane ride. “She did, and she absolutely loved it,” Tripp said. “And the rest is quite a history.”

Morrow Lindbergh became the first licensed woman glider pilot in the United States. “She really felt that was the best kind of flying of all,” said Tripp, who had never been in a glider until Striedieck invited her to the Hartness Airport’s 85th anniversary celebration five years ago and offered to take her up in his glider.

Tripp said she has inevitably thought of her mother during both her flights with Striedieck. “I could see my beloved Vermont, I could feel the wind and…I thought, ‘Oh, this is why she loved it so much.’”

She added that her father had a strong connection to the state. “Every time I come back here I think about that first time and how wonderful it was for him to have this whole little town in Vermont come to see him,” she said, adding that his last flights as a pilot were out of an airport near Barre.

Tripp had the opportunity to go with him on some of those flights. “It was such a joy and an honor to be with my father in an airplane over Vermont, and every time I come to Springfield,…I think this is part of my history and feel the presence of both my parents. And I’m very grateful to you all for giving that to me.”

This article originally appeared in the Vermont Journal and Shopper.