Friday, November 28, 2003

The Spirit of Lucky Lindy

DNA analysis confirms secret 2nd family
in Germany.
Fans of the pioneering American aviator Charles Lindbergh have had to swallow a few uncomfortable facts about their hero over the years, such as his sympathy for the Nazis, his campaigning against the involvement of the United States in the Second World War and his anti-Semitism.

Now comes a new, seemingly incontrovertible bit of awkward news: DNA evidence confirming that Mr Lindbergh, who made the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, had a secret, second family in Germany with a Munich hatmaker, Brigitte Hesshaimer. Anton Schwenk, a spokesman for the family, announced yesterday that DNA tests, conducted by the LMU Institute in Munich, had established a 99.9 per cent likelihood that the most famous US airman of the 20th century was the father of Dyrk Hesshaimer, David Hesshaimer and Astrid Bouteuil.


The three children of Ms Hesshaimer stood out in the relatively conservative atmosphere of post-war Bavaria because their mother was a single parent. They have strong memories of a tall, greying American who would drop in once or twice a year, cook big breakfasts of sausages and pancakes and tell tales of his travels around the world.

Ms Bouteuil explained in a series of interviews over the summer that she and her brothers knew this man was their father, but were otherwise clueless about his identity. It was only after Mr Lindbergh's death in 1974 that they began to realise who he was.

In the early 1980s Ms Bouteuil found a stash of 100 love letters to her mother, signed with the initial "C", along with a magazine article about Mr Lindbergh. The letters were stuffed into a black bin bag and sealed with a red ribbon.

At that point Ms Bouteuil confronted her mother, who acknowledged Mr Lindbergh was the father, but begged her children not to make the fact public while she was still alive. Ms Hesshaimer died in 2001, at the age of 74.


It helps that the German family is interested only in setting the historical record straight. It is not asking for money ­ Lindbergh apparently provided generously for them as they were growing up ­ and deliberately waited until after the death of their mother before making the issue public.


Now that the secret is out, it has led to a media feeding-frenzy, especially in Germany. The news magazine Focus reported in the summer that Mr Lindbergh may have also had an affair with Ms Hesshaimer's sister, Marietta, fathering her two sons, who were brought up in Switzerland.

Marietta Hesshaimer, who is still alive, has refused to have anything to do with the investigation. She and her two children have refused to undergo DNA testing.

None of this takes away from Mr Lindbergh's reputation as the quintessential expression of American derring-do in the early days of aviation.He braved the skies repeatedly in planes nicknamed "flying coffins" and having a series of narrow escapes in the test flights leading up to his legendary crossing from Long Island, New York, to Le Bourget, near Paris, on 21 May 1927.

But it does put a considerable dent in Mr Lindbergh's image as a wholesome family man. He and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, had six children together during a 45-year marriage.
What can you say...


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