<< Return to Article Index

Novelist Sketches the Trial Scene

January 3, 1935 By KATHLEEN NORRIS

Flemington, N. J., Jan. 2.--Somehow this typical Revolutionary American country town of Flemington, with Christmas snows still lingering on the roofs of the high hipped old brick houses, and Winter sunshine streaming in at the long old-fashioned court house windows, seems a fitting place for the trial that will go down in our national history forever as "the Lindbergh case."

For if ever we needed the finest, the most balanced and honest traditions of our courts, we need them now. If ever our boast of sane and unbiased dealing with our fellow man is to be put to the test, it will be put to the test in the next few weeks, when the case of the State--and the nation, and the world--against the man who is suspected of the most hideous of all the crimes in the calendar is to be brought out into the open, and heard, and weighed, and judged.

It is twenty minutes to 10 o'clock on a fine, sharp January morning. Already the court is buzzing with newspaper folk, who find their places at the long plank tables by the help of the jealously sought red tickets.

A disappointed throng fills the steps outside and stands packed patiently in the snow-streaked street. Flemington's one small hotel, directly opposite, boils with unwonted excitement. The town is rather like a gentle old New England spinster who awakens suddenly to find herself in a madhouse.

Barred Windows.

Just behind the judge's big seat, on the dais, is a triple casement giving on a narrow area. Ten feet away, across the shaft, is a wall of dramatically perfect fitted gray stones pierced with barred windows. And behind those windows, again awaiting his summons, is Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the German-born, quiet-appearing young carpenter about whom all this dreadful ceremony and ritual move.

Not all, no. There is another young man in the case, not by his own will, but because fate has drawn him into this coil of agony and will not let him go. At about ten minutes past 10 o'clock Charles A. Lindbergh comes in quietly through the court door and takes his seat only a few feet away from the accused man. Not our steadiest watching from the press gallery can detect them in so much as a glance at each other. Hauptmann sits staring steadily ahead of him; Lindbergh rests an elbow on the table at which he sits with the State attorneys, and leans his cheek on his hand.

Bruno Richard Hauptmann in the flesh was a surprise to me; his entrance into the court was a surprise. Somehow one expects the suspected man still to be dragged into court, in the medieval manner; haggard, protesting, even in chains. It was surprising to see Hauptmann walk in quietly and sit down in the very row of chairs--only three chairs away, in fact, from Lindbergh himself.

An Impassive Face.

Hauptmann's companion is a deputy sheriff; on either side of them sit State troopers in army blue. Of Hauptmann we in the court see only a slender back with fine wide shoulders, a sleek head, a gray-brown suit. During the session he never stirs, never moves in his chair. But when he comes into the court or leaves it, we have a chance to study the impassive face--not heavy or bestial, as so many of the pictures have made it; rather thin, with deep-set eyes, wide forehead, and, to my thinking at least, a stupid expression.

A German carpenter, his finer sensibilities perhaps hardened and coarsened when he was plunged too young into the horrors of the great war; an outsider, not possessing in his make-up any of the yeast that is America, not understanding.

Our judge here looks a fine, old man, gray, grandfatherly, wise, perhaps a little sad and disillusioned in expression, but pictorially at least true to the finest of our judicial ideals. He presides patiently as the endless stupidities of impaneling the jury begin; the long list is read; the selection of names commences.

"You don't believe in capital punishment?" the judge asks Lula B. Johnson. "If you were making the law you wouldn't make it that way?" He leans forward in his black robes, and again we see behind him the gray strip of area and the stones marked in angles like a Hollywood prison set, and the barred windows.

Like a Movie.

Hollywood. We have been regaled by so many prison pictures, so many crime and detective and district attorney pictures, that as the day dawdles on and one would-be juror after another is questioned, challenged, rejected, it begins to seem like a picture. Presently the reel will end, and Minnie Mouse and her white shoes take the screen.

No. This is real. This is the court house of Flemington; the Hauptmann trial is in progress.

The big story is on its way to every corner of the world. In Africa, in China, in Soviet Russia and Fascist Italy they will be reading what American justice has done here today.

There have been laughs in the court room today. Where civilized persons gather there must always be laughter, even in the presence of the grief that will live forever in the heart of the child's father.

We laughed when one of the defense lawyers asked a juror if his wife agreed with him. "Well, we always have--" he said faintly, doubtfully. We laughed again when a pretty girl explained that she had adroitly moved over the county line, and so must be excused from jury duty.

One studies the face of Attorney General Wilentz--he looks self-possessed, poised, brilliant; we shall come to know this name. Edward J. Reilly, head of the defense corps, is impressive; he looks as if a magnificent priest might have been lost to the church when he turned to the law.

The afternoon wanes. We have seven jurors--now we have nine, ten; things are moving at last.

And then quite suddenly the first day of the Hauptmann trial is over; we go out to the fresh, cold air again. A colorless Winter sun is setting over the town and the hills. We scatter; every one is tired. Newsboys are shouting early afternoon editions in the streets. The die is cast now; the great wheels of the law are moving; history is to be written in these next few weeks, never to be obliterated from our records.

<< Return to Article Index

Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | This site is not affiliated with the Lindbergh family,
Lindbergh Foundation, or any other organization or group.
This site owned and operated by the Spirit of St. Louis 2 Project.
Email: webmaster@charleslindbergh.com
® Copyright 2014 CharlesLindbergh.com®, All rights reserved.
Help support this site, order your www.Amazon.com materials through this link.

Shop at Amazon.com