Saturday, April 26, 2014

Visit to the Lindbergh Home

Fans of Melanie Benjamin's "The Aviator's Wife" (as well as readers of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's "Gift from Sea," among other works) will appreciate this... Yesterday I had the unique opportunity to tour the estate of Charles and Anne Lindbergh on the outskirts of Hopewell, NJ--the house from which their 20 month old baby was kidnapped in 1932.  I had long wanted to view the house, but it is usually closed to the public.  The state of New Jersey owns the estate (Lindbergh gave it to the state in 1940), and the house currently serves as a juvenile justice live-in facility for young women.  The Hunterdon County Tricentennial Commission is operating a few organized tours of the estate this year, along  with other events related to the kidnapping and sensational trial of Bruno Hauptmann, held in Flemington, and called the "Trial of the Century" at the time.

The estate was surprising to me for several reasons.  First of all, I was struck by what an isolated location the Lindbergs chose for their home...they picked a hilltop piece of land, 400 acres, in the Sourland Mountains, accessible at the time only by narrow dirt roads.  In the early 1930s, the depths of the Great Depression, there was a shantytown of shacks nearby, and no other house on the hill had electricity.  It doesn't seem like the most obvious place for the most famous man in the world at the time to have chosen for his family home.  Of course, we know now that Lindbergh felt hounded by fans and the press, and I suppose he thought this remote location would keep his family safe.  As it turned out, since the house was the only one nearby with electricity, the lights from the home at night clearly indicated its location for anyone searching.

I also was intrigued that to find that the house itself is rather modestly sized and not at all ostentatious. It has the feel of a rustic, country retreat... Not quite what I expected, given that Lindbergh had become enormously rich from his famous flights and Anne Morrow herself came from a background of wealth and privilege.  The house was newly built at the time of the kidnapping, and decoration, landscaping, etc, was not complete.  It is hard now to be certain what more the Lindberghs might have done with the house or exterior.  No furniture remains in the home from the Lindberghs' time, although there is a fair amount of original woodwork, particularly in the study and living room.  

The most poignant moment for me came inside the bedroom of the baby, Charles Lindbergh, Jr.  The baby's room now serves as a computer room for the juvenile justice facility; it is painted light blue, although at the time of the kidnapping, it had a cheerful wallpaper.  What I found so poignant--the lovely, blue and white Delft tiles on the fireplace, each depicting a child, toy, or animal.  I couldn't help but feel the presence of the mother who carefully chose those for her first baby's room.

I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to tour the estate.  I hope that one day the state of New Jersey will make the home a historic site open to the general public.

3 comments:

  1. It was very interesting. I'm glad I went with! Indeed, it was sad being in the baby's room. You just want to go back in time and scream at these people to get their act together and hold a proper investigation, but you know, the advantage of the historical perpective and all...

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  2. Yes, it's maddening to hear about the investigation, isn't it? What a terrible mess. Thank you for coming with me on the "field trip!"

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  3. I don't know how people survive such a terrible loss. I read the Aviator's Wife so it's very interesting to see the photos of the home and know about its current use.

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