I am currently reading The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin. It is about Charles Lindbergh, written from his wife, Anne’s point of view. A few years back I took a trip to Little Falls, Minnesota, where Charles Lindbergh grew up. Charles lived in Little Falls until he went to the University of Wisconsin in 1920. The original house was a three-story mansion built by the river just outside of town. It burned to the ground and was replaced with the more modest two-story building we see today. Charles lived with his mother since his parents were not on the best of terms, his father had a place in town. In 1931 the 110 acres and the house were donated to the State of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society took over the house and 17 acres. The remaining 93 acres are now the Charles A. Lindbergh State Park.
In 1927, Lindbergh was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In December of that same year he met Ann Morrow in Mexico City and married her two years later. She was the daughter of the US Ambassador to Mexico. Their first-born child, Charles A. Lindbergh Jr. was kidnapped and killed in 1932. Lindbergh ended up having 13 children, many were illegitimate. Apparently he was not the greatest guy in the world. Not only did he carry on several simultaneous relationships but also was a Nazi sympathizer.
He did know a lot about airplanes, though. In later years he was a consultant to Pan American Airways and helped design the Boeing 747. He did some writing and in 1953, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his book about his transatlantic flight. In the late 1960’s, he campaigned for the protection of endangered species and became concerned about what the effects of supersonic transport planes might have on the atmosphere. At the end of his life he lived on Maui in Hawaii and died of cancer in 1974.
We visited a small museum on the grounds of his former home in Little Falls. It was full of newspaper clippings, news reels, and artifacts pertaining to Lindbergh’s life. The plane he flew across the Atlantic, the Spirit of St Louis, is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
Down the road from the Lindbergh house, there was a small county museum, the Charles A Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum. Frederick Weyerhaeuser was a German immigrant who started a lumber business in Rock Island, Illinois in 1858. From there he moved to St Paul, Minnesota where he ended up in a joint venture with James J Hill, owner of the Great Northern Railway Company who expanded the railway out to the Pacific Ocean. The Weyerhaeuser Timber Company was incorporated in Tacoma, Washington in 1900.
John, Frederick’s oldest son, followed him to become president of the company. In 1935, John’s 8 year old son George, was kidnapped but luckily it ended happily with the child being returned unharmed, and the kidnappers apprehended, unlike the Lindbergh affair. George grew up to be the president of the company. Today Weyerhaeuser is an international public company and per its website is “one of the largest sustainable forest products companies in the world.”
Charles was another son of Frederick’s who was also in the lumber business. He headed the Pine Tree Lumber Company in Little Falls, Minnesota with his business partner Richard Drew Musser. It quickly became the second largest mill in the Northwest. In 1920 the mill closed and all the timber was gone. Charles moved to St Paul and died in 1930. His mansion in Little Falls is now open to the public. The county museum named in his honor does genealogy research.
However, because of Charles and his lumber company, in the 1930’s, the federal and state governments surveyed the area full of his stumps. New regulations were implemented restricting cutting and demanding re-planting. Most of the trees in Northern Minnesota are now back but the white pine is rare today.
Jessica Lange, the actor, also lived in Little Falls when she was about eight years old. You could drive by her school and house if you were so inclined.
At some point, the Dakota peoples were pushed out of the area by the Ojibwe, and then they were pushed out by the Europeans who settled in the area in the early 1800’s. The town was named for a series of rapids on the Mississippi that ran through the middle of town. Today a dam converts the rapids into a powerful waterfall.
About a ten mile drive north of Little Falls is Camp Ripley, a National Guard, 53,000-acre training center. It is named for Fort Ripley, a frontier Army post occupied from 1849-1877 that once sat on the property. The new training site opened in 1931.
We visited the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley. We drove through big solid gates and showed our ID’s at the gatehouse in order to enter. The museum was very well done and quite extensive, I recommend it to anybody interested in history. There were also exhibits on the grounds surrounding the museum and smaller buildings that housed jeeps and other military vehicles. Part of it was interactive. I tried on a couple of helmets (they are heavy).
On the way back to Little Falls we decided to make a circle and swing by the Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. We figured we would just jump out of the car, take a quick walk, take some pictures and be on our way. The Refuge was established in 1992 to preserve a large natural wetland. It is basically a marshland that is home to many species of birds including the Sandhill Cranes.
Our idea had one small flaw. Mosquitoes. Of course there would be mosquitoes in a marshland and we did know that but we had no idea just how many mosquitoes there would be. Within two minutes we were under full attack and had to run for cover. I was still swatting them in the car when we got back to town.
We consoled ourselves with pizza and beer at Charlie’s Pizza in Little Falls.