It’s been almost 90 years since Charles Lindbergh embarked on his 48-state tour of the United States, fresh off becoming the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. His 33-hour-plus trip from New York City to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis had captured the hearts and minds of a nation now excited to hear more about the future of flight.
The return stateside, and ensuing nationwide tour to promote aviation to the masses, included the Pacific Northwest, which treated the Detroit native like royalty during his brief stay.
In the decades after his Seattle stop in September 1927, all that remained were photographs, stories, and fading memories of Lucky Lindy’s appearances around town.
That is, until recently.
With a donation in late May — a reel of 16 millimeter film approximately seven minutes long — the most tangible record of Lindbergh’s visit is now in the care of the UW Libraries’ Special Collections.
“So far, from what we can tell, this is the only film, the only moving image that we have of his visit to Seattle,” said Hannah Palin, film archives specialist in Special Collections. “ … There might be photographs, there might be newspaper accounts, but this is actually Lindbergh moving, breathing, talking.”
The tape was gifted to the university by 82-year-old Beverly Hitt Akers in honor of her granddaughter Tara O’Neill’s graduation from the UW last month. Akers is herself the granddaughter of T.G. Hitt, founder of Hitt Fireworks Company, once the largest fireworks maker on the West Coast.
The short film shows Lindbergh circling and landing at the Sand Point Naval Air Station to a crowd of thousands before boarding the yacht Alarwee for a trip to Montlake. The clip then shows his arrival at Husky Stadium and an introduction by then-Seattle mayor Bertha Knight Landes at an event in which he spoke to an estimated 25,000 people. The film then jumps to the following morning and his visit of Volunteer Park, where he was greeted by tens of thousands of schoolchildren, before departing for Portland as the next stop on his trip.
In all, Lindbergh visited 82 cities and traveled over 22,000 miles in a four-month span, giving nearly 150 speeches.
At each location on his Emerald City visit, the national icon was met by scores of Seattleites itching for a chance to see the transcontinental flier first hand. His appearance also included a parade down Second Avenue, in which Lindbergh was given a ticker-tape tribute reserved for notable figures.
“People were massed along the streets,” read an article from the Seattle Daily Times (now The Seattle Times) on Sept. 14, 1927. “Heads bobbed out of office windows. Hundreds looked down from roofs. Lamp posts and poles were festooned with boys of assorted sizes. On 2nd Avenue Lindy was accorded a paper salute. Down from the windows came showers of white bits.”
For Palin, the significance of the footage goes beyond the presence of the famous flier.
“To my knowledge, I don’t know if there’s any other film of Bertha Knight Landes … and I find that fascinating,” Palin said of Seattle’s only female mayor to date.
Of course, that doesn’t make the focal point of the short film any less important.
“It’s great to have film with such an important historical figure at a very specific point in his career when he had such importance to the nation,” Palin said. “That’s really fun.”
While the reel wasn’t in pristine condition when it was donated — a result of decades upon decades of aging in a metal canister not suited for preservation — the library has taken steps to protect the film. In the short term, the movie has been taken off its old reel and out of the original can, and moved into archival plastic housing. It’s now stored in a stable, climate-controlled environment with other offerings from Special Collections.
For those looking to see the film, its access is currently limited, though interested aviation buffs can schedule an appointment with Palin to view it firsthand. However, the hope is to widely expand the movie’s distribution and accessibility in the coming months.
Palin said the library will soon start raising funds to make a new print of the film, and digitize it to make it more accessible. While that process is another six months to a year in the offing, Palin said she’ll be doing everything she can to keep the film preserved in the meantime.
“At this point, it’s still cumbersome, good old fashioned cellulose acetate, and it’s got a nasty tear at the end,” Palin said, “so I’m trying to keep it safe and happy as long as I can.”
Reach Development and Social Media Editor Joe Veyera at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JoeVeyera