Aviator Erik Lindbergh, grandson of aviation pioneer Charles A. Lindbergh, is coming to Peoria April 27 to speak at the Peoria Historical Society’s 69th annual dinner. Last year Erik repeated his grandfather’s historic feat, flying solo in a single-engine monoplane from San Diego, through St. Louis, to New York, and then to Paris.
Peoria features prominently in the development of Charles Lindbergh’s successful achievement. At the start of his 1953 Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography, The Spirit of St. Louis, he mentions a momentous day. On April 15, 1926, he inaugurated airmail service between St. Louis and Chicago, including regular stops at Springfield and Peoria.
“There were photographs, city officials, and handshaking all along the route that day,” he wrote. “For was it not a milestone in a city’s history, this carrying of the mail by air? We … all felt that we were taking part in an event which pointed the way toward a new and marvelous era.”
Today a small park on High Point Road at High Point Lane holds a commemorative marker. Placed by the Peoria Historical Society, the plaque denotes the edge of Peoria’s first airport, once known as Kellar Field. “Near this marker, Charles A. Lindbergh landed his De Havilland Biplane on the St. Louis-Chicago mail run 1926-1927, prior to his trans-Atlantic flight,” it reads, beneath a raised rendering of the plane.
One moonlit night, as “Slim” Lindbergh flew from Peoria later in 1926, he thought of “flying on forever through space, past the mail field at Chicago, beyond the state of Illinois, over mountains, over oceans, independent of the world below.” And so began his dream. He was 24 years old when this vision, “born of a night and altitude and moonlight,” came upon him. He would take up the challenge of the Orteig prize, a $25,000 award that would go to the first to fly between New York and France.
Also called “Lucky Lindy,” he was four times a member of the Caterpillar Club. The award refers to silkworms, rather than tractors. Anyone who’d “hit the silk” to save his life was eligible. Twice Lindy parachuted from crashes on flights north of Peoria—on September 16 and November 3, 1926. He persevered.
Erik Lindbergh’s successful recreation of his grandfather’s solo trip was a triumph over personal adversity, as well as a memorial to his grandfather. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as a young adult, Erik was severely disabled. Medical technology and a new drug enabled him to persevere and achieve. He also used his flight to promote space travel.
As a trustee and vice president of the St. Louis-based X Prize Foundation, he’s involved in challenging today’s aviators to conquer space. The foundation is offering a $10 million prize patterned after the Orteig Prize that spurred his grandfather’s 1927 flight. Currently, 24 teams are working to build and launch a spaceship able to carry three people 62.5 miles (100 km) above the earth, return safely, and repeat with the same ship within two weeks.
Erik also honors the memory of his grandparents by serving as a director of the Lindbergh Foundation. This non-profit organization promotes balance between technological advancement and environmental preservation, a vision shared by both Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
Erik’s time in Peoria will include a visit to Lindbergh School April 27, where he will visit with children celebrating the first test flight of the Spirit of St. Louis April 28, 1927, and Erik’s successful flight just one year ago.
The Historical Society dinner, which is open to the public, takes place that evening, with cocktails at 5:30 and dinner at 6:30 at Peoria’s Hotel Père Marquette. Reservations, at $100 apiece, must be made by April 21. More information is available from the Society at 674-1921.
Charles Lindbergh’s success brought the U.S. and France together. His honors and awards came from around the world. Time magazine named him its first Man of the Year in 1927. He was 25.
In the late 1930s, Lindbergh saw Germany’s military buildup and argued against the U.S. becoming involved in war. His controversial views on appeasement, race, and anti-Semitism tarnished his hero status. History proved him wrong. After Pearl Harbor, he provided expert assistance in bomber design and flew combat missions.
“Lindbergh Lands in Paris”—a headline true on May 21, 1927 and 75 years later, on May 2, 2002.
And now, following his grandfather, Erik Lindbergh will finally reach Peoria, to help preserve and celebrate his story…and Peoria’s. AA!