22 | JAN 2014 | pittsburghmagazine.com/sebak
When aviator Charles Lindbergh landed at West Mifflin’s Bettis Field around 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 1927, he was 25 years old. Lindbergh was one of the most famous
people on the planet, and thousands of Pittsburghers (The Pittsburgh Press
estimated 50,000; the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported 100,000) showed
up to see him and his silver plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. He was on a victory
tour of America; Pittsburgh was one of 75 stops he made in 48 states.
Roughly two months earlier, Lindbergh had delighted the world by flying
alone across the Atlantic Ocean, winning a $25,000 prize in the process. He
made his famous 33.5-hour flight from New York to Paris on May 20 and 21,
and he landed as a superstar.
Here in western Pennsylvania, he rode with Pittsburgh Mayor Charles H.
Kline from Bettis Field through the neighborhoods of Lincoln Place and Hays
to Carson Street. When the car crossed the Smithfield Street Bridge into
downtown, observers threw confetti from high windows. The streets were
full of admirers, including many who worked a half-day so they could holler
and wave at “Lucky Lindy.” The Post-Gazette reported, “Paper fell in clouds.”
The motorcade ended at Pitt Stadium in Oakland. Mayor Kline introduced
the aviator, saying, “He is not only the great American ace but the whole deck
of cards!” Lindbergh rarely smiled but told the crowd that filled the stadium:
“You in Pittsburgh already have an airport. That must be developed if you
are going to keep Pittsburgh on the air map. The people must get behind the
movement to develop aviation in the United States.”
At 4: 25 p.m., Lindbergh checked into a room on the 15th floor of the
William Penn Hotel and ordered a sandwich and a bottle of milk; his every
move was watched and reported in the newspapers. A thousand prominent
Pittsburghers later joined him for a banquet in the ballroom; every guest
received a medal bearing the likeness of Lindbergh and his mother. The
medals are still prized among Lindbergh collectors.
At the banquet, Lindbergh was reminded that Pittsburgh played a role
in his historic flight: The Spirit of St. Louis propeller was manufactured
here. Since then, other historians have pointed out that Alcoa in Pittsburgh
developed the aluminum alloys used in the body of the plane.
The next morning, Lindbergh returned to Bettis Field, where an even-larger crowd than the previous day’s gathering watched him depart. At 1: 30
p.m. he took off, heading west toward Langin Field at Moundsville, W.Va.
At least two later visits to Pittsburgh caught the attention of local
newspapers: in 1930, when bad weather forced Lindbergh to spend an
unexpected night here (again at the William Penn); and in 1933, when he
and his new wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were forced to pause at the new
Allegheny County Airport for about five hours because of fuel problems. They
dined there on hot dogs. PM
Thanks to the Omni William Penn Hotel and the Pennsylvania Department at
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for their assistance with this article.
Rick Sebak looks back at the day Charles Lindbergh
visited the Steel City on a whirlwind tour.
The Economist Intelligence Unit once again has ranked Pittsburgh as the most livable city in the
nation, after we narrowly fended off longtime livability foe Honolulu. It’s good to be back on top!
ALL ROADS LEAD TO PITTSBURGH
In our October issue, Rick Sebak profiled famed composer Philip Glass’ stint as a composer-in-residence for Pittsburgh Public
Schools (“Glass Goes to Class”). The story had an unintended consequence, as Louise Gray, a Shadyside resident and retired Pittsburgh
Public Schools music teacher, informed us. While working at Peabody High School, Gray discovered a forgotten, handwritten
score titled “Duos for Flute and Bassoon” — by Philip Glass. Gray rescued and preserved the score until the article prompted her
to investigate further. In November, she donated the score — a Glass rarity not usually listed among the composer’s works — to the
William R. Oliver Special Collections Room at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Oakland branch. — Sean Collier