Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

The Price of Glory

In 1927, 25-year-old Charles LindberghChrissy Patterson

stood on the balcony of 15 Dupont

Circle and waved to the crowds who had

mobbed the area to catch a glimpse of

America's most celebrated hero. Lindbergh was

received by President Calvin Coolidge in this

private residence because Washington socialite

and newspaper editor Eleanor Medill "Cissy"

Patterson loaned the Coolidges her home while

the White House was undergoing renovations.

Though it's not clear that Cissy Patterson and

Charles Lindbergh were acquainted, their fates

intersected in many interesting ways. Lindbergh's

path to fame and fortune came when a French

hotelier from New York promised to pay $25,000

to the first person to fly from Paris to New York

or vice versa.

Lindbergh was the only serious contender

who planned to fly alone. In his 27-foot "Spirit

of St. Louis" plane, he flew 3,600 miles across the

Atlantic Ocean in 33.5 hours. Fighting fog, ice

and sleep deprivation, with four quarts of water

and a couple of sandwiches, he sometimes flew

only ten feet above the waves. When he landed

at night on the Le Bourget airstrip outside of

Paris, a crowd of cheering French citizens nearly

trampled him when he got out of the plane.

At the time Lindbergh walked through the

doors of the Stanford White-designed Dupont

mansion, Patterson was one of the most

powerful women in Washington. Cissy was

the first woman editor of The Washington

Times-Herald. She wore trousers in public

and hired women reporters, both unheard

of at the time. She had numerous love affairs,Patterson House Dupont Circle

three marriages and was known for her

lavish parties.

In a strange turn of events several years

earlier, Cissy's daughter had been kidnapped. Two-year-old Felicia was

snatched from her baby carriage by Cissy's

estranged husband, the child's father, who

hid the girl in Europe. This Polish-Russian

count, who had married Cissy for her money,

demanded a ransom of one million dollars.

After two years of negotiation, President Warren

Harding himself intervened, prevailing on Czar

Nicholas II of Russia to make the count give

the child back to her mother.

The Lindbergh kidnapping was very different.

When the young couple's beloved infant son was

taken from his nursery, the whole country waited

and prayed with the Lindberghs for the safe return

of the child and recoiled in horror when the baby's corpse was found. After the

highly publicized kidnapping trial, the Lindberghs moved to England.

It was in Europe that Charles Lindbergh developed his views on

isolationism, arguing that it would be foolish and dangerous for the U.S. to

get involved in Europe's war. Some of his speeches were tinged with anti-

Semitism, and when he came back I home to head up an isolationist group

called the America First Committee, public opinion in the U.S. had turned against him. Even

his home town in Minnesota had taken his name off its water tower. After Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh

changed his mind and flew 50 combat missions

in the Pacific, but he never regained his former

status in the eyes of the public.

Cissy also embraced isolationism in the early

1940s and became as unpopular as Lindbergh.

This former darling of society, whose home

had been the setting for the best dinner parties

in town, died of heart failure brought on by

alcohol abuse. Once surrounded by admirers,

Cissy died alone.

The writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once said,

"Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy."

Charles Lindbergh gave the world a new vision

of the possibilities of aviation and also a look

at the unprecedented heights of adulation a

hero could achieve. When we look at his 1927

photo, with the tall, slim youth squinting in the

sunlight next to an airplane the size of a toy,

we can imagine how people felt about the shy

young man's singular feat of astonishing bravery.

Perhaps that's why, in retrospect, his fall from

grace was so heartbreaking,



Home  |   Where To Find Us  |   Advertising  |   Privacy Policy  |   Site Map  |   Purchase Photos  |   About Us

Click here to go to the NEW Washington Life Magazine