Ted Stillwell is a columnist for The Examiner.

I’ve always heard that Frank Sinatra’s first name was really Francis, and my friend, Frank Shimell of Sugar Creek, told me his first name was actually Francis also. To me that sounds like family, because we have generations of Francis in our bloodline. My great-great-grandfather was named Francis, as was his father before him. I have a second cousin, a lovely woman, named Frances Noland Lowe, and of course, my Uncle Francis Noland, my grandfather’s brother.

My Uncle Francis has since passed, but when he was about 90 years old, he and I were talking one day about some event that took place (the topic slips my mind at the moment), but I do remember telling him that event took place about 10 years ago! He pondered for a moment, and said “Yes, I guess it was 10 years ago.”

“I know it seems like yesterday,” I replied, “but, time sure seems to slip by in a hurry, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, Teddy,” he said, “and the older you get, the faster it goes.”

My Uncle Francis and his wife, Helen, had a colorful life. Following his retirement, they operated a Sinclair station on 40 Highway for a while, and managed a Western Auto Store up in Wyoming. But, earlier in his life, he was a civilian mechanic in the Air Force, and for a time was Charles Lindbergh’s airplane mechanic. Of course, that was before Lindbergh made his historic flight across the Atlantic. “Charlie,” he called him, “used to sit right there at that kitchen table and have lunch with us everyday. But, I’ve not seen him since he became a national hero.”

Lindbergh, of course, was the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1927. Charles Augustus Lindbergh was born the son of a U.S. Congressman in 1902 at Detroit, and was brought up in Little Falls, Minn. After two years at the University of Wisconsin, Charlie took a course in flying at Lincoln, Neb. He made his first solo flight in 1923 in a plane he had bought for $500.

The following year, he enrolled as a flying cadet in the United States Air Service Reserve at Brooks Field in San Antonio. In 1925, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Missouri National Guard and then became a U.S. Air Mail Service pilot between Chicago and St. Louis. Lindbergh made important friends while living in St. Louis, and it was those friends who bankrolled him when he decided to claim the prize offered to the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic. That is the reason his airplane was named the “Spirit of St. Louis.”

The story of Lindbergh as a national hero is probably familiar to all of us, but the tragedy that surrounded his family is not quite so familiar. Because of his celebrity and while living in Hopewell, N.J., on the evening of March 1, 1932, a German borne carpenter named Bruno Richard Hauptman placed a ladder up to the second-story bedroom window and kidnapped Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son.

Ransom notes followed for the next six weeks, which was finally paid by marked bills and “gold certificate” bills, which were no longer in circulation.

The infant son was found dead shortly thereafter, which shocked and outraged the country. It was this kidnapping that stimulated Congress to make kidnapping a federal offense, punishable by death.

After an extensive investigation of piecing together clues and following the trail of the marked bills as they appeared, the kidnapper was caught, convicted, and electrocuted nearly two years later


Reference: “Depression America,” published by Grolier Educational, Danbury, Conn.

In cooperation with The Examiner, Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior or school groups.