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Myron Herrick, US Ambassador to France, describes Lindbergh's arrival and stay in Paris

May 21, 1927

Lindbergh, Bleriot, and  Herrick
Lindbergh, Bleriot, and Herrick
"We had all lunched with Mrs. Bernard Carter that 21st of May in 1927", said Mr. Herrick one day when the subject of Lindbergh's famous flight was being discussed. "Afterward we went out to see Tilden play in one of the tennis matches. Information had come in the morning that Lindbergh had started, but I confess it did not mean much to me. Probably that was because Rodman Wanamaker had been bombarding me with telegrams announcing Byrd's departure, and my attention was entirely diverted from the youngster who, so I read in the papers, had started from California on his way to Paris. California seemed a long way from the goal for any kind of a start. Nevertheless, I had made up my mind to go out to Le Bourget and wait for his arrival as soon as I had some indication to go on.

Lindbergh had been surely sighted

"During the tennis match a telegram was brought me saying that Lindbergh had passed over Valencia in Ireland. It seemed a little too good to be true, but we hurried home, had a quick dinner at half-past six, and started for the field. It was a good thing we did not delay another quarter of an hour, for crowds were already collecting along the road and in a short time passage was almost impossible. News had already reached Paris that Lindbergh had been surely sighted, and the whole population seemed bent upon being at Le Bourget to see him land. When we arrived there we were escorted to the big pavilion at one end of the field and found it full of people. These were mostly 'Americans,' that is, South Americans. The open-sesame that night with police and aviation officials was the words 'I'm an American,' and our Southern neighbors had no reason for insisting upon which end of our continent they came from. Some of them, moreover, were our excellent friends, diplomats and others, and I carried away from Le Bourget visible souvenirs of their enthusiasm when Lindbergh landed. Many of the ladies kissed me on both cheeks, leaving rich traces of their emotions. For in the matter of red for the lips, Buenos Aires has nothing to learn from New York: Paris alone seems a bit backward.

A silvery plane circled the field and landed

"We had been at our post of observation only a little while, when a silvery plane circled the field and landed. Many thought it was the ship from Strasbourg which was due about that time, but an official whispered to me that it could not be so, the color was not right and that it must be our man. It was, and in a moment pandemonium broke loose---not the pandemonium the newspapers always tell about at political conventions, but the real thing. I certainly never witnessed any occasion like it. Soldiers and police were swept away, the stout fence demolished, and the crowd surged toward the aeroplane. That is when the kissing began. Then a little man in white kid gloves, bearing a tiny 'bokay' all fixed up in a white paper petticoat, came forward and presented his offering to me. I had noticed him there, looking so quiet and comical. He tried to make a speech, but of course not a word could be distinguished. He had brought the flowers for Lindbergh but his emotion got the better of him and he gave them to me instead. I never knew who he was.

"Presently---I have no notion of time as far as that night is concerned---a man half torn to pieces managed to get up to the terrace where I was and handed me an aviator's helmet. This man turned out to be a New York Herald reporter, who was close by when the ship landed, and to whom Major Weiss had given the helmet with orders to take it to me. This was done to deceive the crowd and get them clear of Lindbergh and his ship. The ruse succeeded, and it only goes to show how quickly aviators have to think and act. The crowd rushed off after him, believing it was Lindbergh, and they nearly annihilated him in their enthusiasm. I went out on the balcony, where a searchlight began to play on me, and waved the helmet to the crowd below. They went wild with enthusiasm.

Here we found Lindbergh

"Then after about two hours one of the French officers put us in his car and drove us to Major Weiss's office across the field. Here we found Lindbergh in a little room with a few chairs and an army cot. They told him who I was. I shook hands with him, and he handed me some letters he had brought. Three of them were from Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, one addressed to me, one to Mr. Houghton, and the third, I forget to whom. These three were letters of introduction; the others were from people who had asked him to take them, thinking it was an interesting idea to send mail across the ocean in a day's time.

"I learned later that among the first to reach Lindbergh were Major Weiss, Sergeant Détroyat, and civil pilot Delage. Under cover of the diversion created by sending the reporter through the crowd with the helmet, these men slipped Lindbergh across the field to Major Weiss's little office at its far end. Here they put out the lights so as to conceal his presence from the crowd, which now surged madly in various directions looking for him. It was to this office that Colonel Denain took us.

"After shaking hands with Lindbergh and introducing him to my son and daughter-in-law I said, 'Young man, I am going to take you home with me and look after you.' He came up a little closer, saying, 'I can't hear you very well; the sound of the motor is still in my ears.' I repeated my invitation; to which he replied, 'I should like to, sir; thank you very much.' Then he added, 'I want to go over to my ship first and shut the windows; I left them open and they will not know how to put them in.' I of course assented to this.

"While we were talking, one of the Frenchmen politely pushed a chair up and suggested that Lindbergh sit down. 'Thank you,' he replied, 'I have been sitting.' I perceived, then and there, that he was a boy who did not waste words. Somebody else wanted him examined by a doctor. It appears they had one out there for the purpose, but he was not on hand at that moment. Lindbergh absolutely refused to be bothered with any doctor. He was perfectly calm and did not seem fatigued; his face was rosy and not at all drawn.

Lindbergh did not speak French

"I then said to Major Weiss, 'Let us go down to our cars and get started.' As I spoke in English he probably misunderstood what I said, for when he, Détroyat, and Delage went out with Lindbergh, as I thought to close those windows, they never came back. Instead of taking him to his ship they bundled him immediately into their car and started off to Paris by roads known only to them. They had but one thought and that was to get him safely away from the crowd. I did not see him again until I got to the embassy some hours later. Lindbergh did not speak French and the officers spoke little English. However, on their way through the city he made his guides understand that he wished to stop at the Unknown Soldier's tomb. So a halt was made at the Arc de Triomphe. Lindbergh got out of the car and stood uncovered for a long time. The officers say he finally swayed a little, as though the fatigue of all he had been through was making itself felt. They then drove to the chancery in the Rue de Chaillot, thinking that was my residence. The policeman on duty told them where the embassy was; they went there, turned Lindbergh over to my servants, said good-night to him and left.

"My wanderings at Le Bourget trying to re-find Lindbergh are not worth relating, except for our experience at the hangar where they had sheltered the Spirit of St. Louis. The commandant of the field, Colonel Poli-Marchetti. was with us, and in our search for Lindbergh we went to this place. A sentinel was inside, apparently with everything tightly bolted. The officer called to him and ordered him to open. He flatly refused. The officer then told him who he was, giving his name and rank and ordering him severely to come out. Still the soldier refused. I was thoroughly tired by now, but this revived me. I knew what was going on in that sentinel's head, for the colloquy reminded me of a darkey butler who was calling out the names at a reception in San Francisco. Three guests arrived together and one of them said, 'Announce Mr. Bean, Mr. Pease, and Mr. Oyster.' The darkey looked at him a second and said, 'You can't fool me; I bin at this business too long!'

"Nobody, not even his colonel, could fool that sentinel and get hold of Lindbergh's ship.

"After this our much-irritated guide took us back to the pavilion; but no Lindbergh. However, I had already sent a telephone message to the embassy telling the butler to have a room ready and something to eat for him, so that on his reaching there he was taken care of.

I found Lindbergh sitting on the edge of his bed

"We at last arrived also, having given up the search at Le Bourget; but it took what seemed hours to work our way through the crowds that filled the road. I found Lindbergh sitting on the edge of his bed, dressed in a bathrobe, my pajamas and slippers. They told me he had eaten an egg and drunk some bouillon, refusing the chicken and other things offered him.

"The street in front of my house was now full of newspaper men (it must have been about three o'clock). They had learned at Le Bourget that I was taking him to the embassy and had telephoned the news to Paris. I suggested that if he was not worn out, he let them all come in for a minute. To this he replied that he had a contract with the New York Times engaging him to give an exclusive interview to that paper, and he could not violate its terms. On hearing this, Parmely went downstairs and had a talk with Mr. Carlisle MacDonald, who represented the Times in Paris. He told MacDonald that this thing seemed too big an affair to be made the exclusive news of any one paper and asked him to consent to having Lindbergh see all the reporters. MacDonald showed himself the high-class man he is, took the responsibility of waiving his paper's rights, and all the journalists came up to hear what Lindbergh would tell them. The New York Times approved of MacDonald's decision, which also was worthy of the great tradition of that paper. Nobody would expect anything less from Mr. Ochs.

He constantly said what 'we' did

"While he was talking to the reporters about the flight, he constantly said what 'we' did: 'We were flying over such a place; the fog began to thicken and we decided,' etc., etc. I finally asked him, 'What do you mean when you say we?' He replied, 'Why, my ship, and me.'

"At last the newspaper men left---or were shoo-ed out---and at four o'clock Lindbergh went to sleep, saying that there was no use to call him as he was sure to be up and ready at nine o'clock.

"In the morning the crowd began to gather at an early hour, and the presents commenced to arrive. Then the letters and the newspaper men. Finally, at two o'clock, we waked him. He seemed to think it was about eight. I had had inquiries made by telephone as to the Spirit of St. Louis, and the report came back that everything was satisfactory and the ship safe in the hangar. That relieved Lindbergh immensely.

"One of Lindbergh's remarks that most deeply impressed me was this reply to some congratulatory comment of mine upon his great feat. He said: 'You must remember, Mr. Ambassador, how much easier it is to fly from New York to Paris than it would be from Paris to New York.'

THE AMBASSADOR AND CAPTAIN LINDBERGH Review a French air regiment at Le Bourget.

Pay a visit to Madame Nungesser

"The first thing we did was to pay a visit to Madame Nungesser. She was in a pitiful state of emotion over the loss of her son and begged Lindbergh to find him for her. A large crowd had assembled around the house and we had some difficulty making our way through it. Several girls tried to kiss him. He was scared to death. Coming back we drove through the Rue de la Paix. 'Why, look at all those American flags everywhere,' he exclaimed. When I told him they were hung out in his honor he couldn't believe it.

"A dinner had been long ago arranged for that evening at the embassy. Fortunately it was a rather young affair and I hoped it would give Lindbergh some pleasure. I had seen enough of him by this time to want to give him any enjoyment I could. He was not able to get into my clothes or Parmely's, but Blanchard, my valet, with practiced eye measured his figure and soon appeared with two suits he had borrowed somewhere. He came down to dinner looking perfectly normal and comfortable in his borrowed evening clothes. He seemed to me normal and comfortable in every situation. He was so natural that nothing surprised him and he surprised nobody. It was only when we stopped to think, that the whole affair seemed so extraordinary. My daughter-in-law had asked some fifty people to come in after dinner to meet him and every one of them wanted his autograph. So, pads and pencils were brought, and he smilingly wrote for them all.

"That night, my dog Max, who always slept in my room, having made Lindbergh's acquaintance, decided he was a better man than I was and went in and passed the night on Lindbergh's bed, with his head on his pillow. You can't beat a dog's instinct---not a good dog's!

City of Paris gave him a reception

"The next day serious business began. The President wanted to see him, Monsieur Poincaré wanted to see him, the Aero Club arranged a reception, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate both invited him to pay them a visit and suspended their sitting to receive him; a medal was struck in his honor, the city of Paris gave him a reception, he was decorated, fêted, and adored. He deserved it all, and it was fine to see him bearing himself throughout like the charming young gentleman he is. But all the time he was thinking about his ship and he wanted to see her more than he wanted anything else. So, one morning he got up at half-past four and drove to Le Bourget and tinkered for an hour or so. Then he borrowed a French plane and sailed out once more in the air, doing some terrifying stunts. The people at Le Bourget, especially the French pilots who understood what was going on, were extremely frightened at seeing him do these hair-raising tricks in the air, for they knew how dangerous it was, and they felt their responsibility if an accident occurred while he was flying one of their planes. It is true he had asked if the ship they lent him was suitable for stunt flying, and they said yes; but I learned afterward that they never expected him to do any such tricks as he performed there, and which only very special planes are built to stand. The anxiety of these officers was intense and they made repeated signals for him to come down; but he either did not see them or did not choose to interrupt his enjoyment. I have an idea this was the happiest morning of his stay in Paris.

"When I went out to Le Bourget I had no plan of any kind regarding Lindbergh, not even the idea of asking him to stay in my house. I hardly even dared to expect his arrival. I merely went to the flying field on the chance that he would be successful in his attempt and I wanted to be on hand to congratulate him. But when I saw the crowd and the confusion and danger, and above all, when I looked at this fine boy and realized all at once what he had done and what he had been through, it naturally came into my head to take him home with me.

"A good deal has been said and written about my coaching him on all these official occasions, telling him what to say, and all that. There is almost no truth in any of it. I naturally told him who the people were we were going to see, what the occasion was about, and things of that sort. But I never told him what to say. He did not need to be told, as was demonstrated on every occasion. Whenever he was called upon to reply to the really wonderful speeches that were made to him by the greatest orators in France, it seemed to me that he always said exactly the right thing in exactly the right way. Even if I had had any misgivings on this subject, it would have been inexcusable on my part to diminish any of the freshness of his boyish charm by suggestions which would have hampered him in selecting his thoughts or pressing them.

His second day in Paris we lunched with that famous old aviator

"But he was very quick to seize an idea that occurred in conversation and use it to advantage. His second day in Paris we lunched with that famous old aviator, Monsieur Blériot. A very pretty scene occurred here. The guests passed their menu cards to Blériot and Lindbergh, asking for their autographs. Then, as there were several of the most renowned French pilots present, they passed these cards for them also to sign. All refused, saying with one accord that they were unworthy to put their signatures beside two such names.

"We left this luncheon to go to the Chamber of Deputies. During the drive Lindbergh asked me what would take place there. I told him what it probably would be, adding that he would have to say something in reply to the addresses which would surely be made to him. I advised him---I think it is the only time---to wait quietly until all the applause, which would doubtless greet him when he stood up, had entirely ceased. 'Then,' I said, 'when you can hear a pin drop, begin.'

"Something now brought up Franklin's name---his statue, the street called after him, I forget what it was. I told Lindbergh about my great predecessor's interest in balloons when he was here. He liked that and asked me several questions. I then told him the story of someone's asking Franklin what was the use of a balloon, and his reply, 'What is the use of a new-born baby?'

"When we got to the French House of Representatives every one of the members, I believe, was there. They gave him a great ovation; the Speaker made an eloquent address all in his praise, everybody wanted to shake hands with him, and there was enough enthusiasm to upset an old head. When he got up to reply there was long applause. He stood perfectly quiet and waited. He waited so long I became anxious lest he had stage-fright. For remember, this was the first speech of his life, and the room was charged with emotion. Finally he began, with perfect self-possession. His whole manner was quiet, simple, natural. After thanking everybody he said he was glad he had had the good fortune to make the flight successfully and he hoped it would be repeated frequently. He knew that it was natural for people to ask what use it could be, but the same question was put to Franklin in regard to balloons---and here he told the rest of my story. 'I suppose,' he concluded, 'when Mr. Blériot flew the Channel eighteen years ago they asked this question again. I hope that what I have managed to do will have its practical value just as what Mr. Blériot did has been followed by a daily air express between London and Paris.'

"This is the nearest I ever came to advising Lindbergh what to say. He seized the little story which I had related without premeditation, and applied it in a way which was appropriate, instructive, and agreeable to his audience. It was just one of the numerous things which went to prove what a very complete young fellow he was.

"Lindbergh's speeches were merely the unornamented statement of what he was thinking about, and in reading them now they sound so easy and natural that anyone except an experienced public speaker would say that their delivery was a very simple thing. Old hands at speechmaking of course know that this is exactly the most difficult part of the business.

"I believe it would be well to insert here this speech at the reception given him by the city of Paris in the Hôtel de Ville on May 26th. It is a fair example of all the others and it shows that several days of replying to addresses had not injured his method."

I have one regret, and that is that New York was not able to accord to these brave Frenchmen the same reception that Paris has accorded to me

The following is the speech Mr. Herrick refers to. Four others by various officials had preceded it:

I cannot adequately express my appreciation of the honor which you are doing me and my country to-day. I think I have already said everything I have to say with respect to my flight but I want to express one remaining desire. I hope my flight is but the precursor of a regular commercial air service uniting your country and mine as they never have been united before. That is my hope to-day as I believe Blériot hoped his flight across the English Channel in 1909 would be the forerunner of the commercial aviation of to-day; and I believe that if those gallant Frenchmen, Nungesser and Coli, had landed in New York instead of me here in Paris, that would also be their desire.

"I have one regret, and that is that New York was not able to accord to these brave Frenchmen the same reception that Paris has accorded to me."

"There was one other occasion on which I gave him advice, if explaining a situation a man does not understand, is giving advice. That was with regard to his visit to London. He had been asked by a well-known English aviator to stay at his house, and it was natural that he should have been willing to accept. But I felt that for every reason, for him as well as for us all, it was preferable that he stay at our embassy. I bad a talk over the telephone with Mr. Houghton on the subject and he was altogether fine about it. Confirmed in my previous judgment by this conversation, I explained the situation to Lindbergh and he immediately agreed to my idea and gratefully accepted Mr. Houghton's offer.

"To have Lindbergh as his guest at that moment was a serious inconvenience to the ambassador, as he was on the eve of sailing for America; but he did it---did it to protect him and give his visit official recognition.

"Two tiny incidents that took place in my house tell more of how people really felt than any number of orations. A dressmaker came one morning to fit some clothes on my daughter-in-law. Lindbergh was upstairs in the hall at the time. So, to give this good woman pleasure, Agnes said, 'Come out here and you can meet Captain Lindbergh.' He spoke to her in his usual charming fashion, and after that it appears that no more fitting could be done. In the first place the excellent creature wept with emotion, and when that was over she stuck pins into Agnes as much as into the dress she was making.

"Then my valet brought a tailor around to measure him for some clothes. Blanchard asserts that his hands shook so he had much trouble taking the measures and writing them down. I have heard that this man has made a little fortune through having been Lindbergh's tailor.

A young American citizen who a few days before had never been heard of

"All the story of Lindbergh's days in Paris has been written and re-written, and I mention only the things which came under my personal observation and which seem to have some historical interest. As one looks back on it, there is one general fact which stands out and measures the importance of the event. For more than a week the ambassador to France and almost his entire staff were busy night and day attending to nothing except matters which concerned a young American citizen who a few days before had never been heard of. It was not a question of whether we wanted to do it or did not want to do it, it had to be done. For the moment I decided to take him to my house all the rest followed inevitably. There was no escape. Of course nobody wanted to escape; we were all charmed with him and delighted that things had turned out as they did. I merely record the inevitableness of it all. There were forty million people in France, not to speak of the rest of Europe, and a hundred and twenty million at home, to whom Lindbergh was of more importance at that moment than kings, presidents, or politics. As governments and ambassadors are the servants of the people, we should have been a stupid lot to show indifference where they were so passionately interested, even if we had been tempted to; and I repeat, there was no temptation whatever in that direction.

"There was also another consideration which soon became apparent to my mind. At the very moment Lindbergh started from America, we were in one of those periods of petulant nagging and quarreling between the French and ourselves which have flared up and died down more than once since the Armistice. I have lived through enough of these nasty equinoctial storms not to let them worry me very much, for not all the newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic can ever seriously affect the solid basis of our mutual feelings. But I hate this bad weather and like to see it clear up.

"Within ten hours after Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget all these clouds were rolling away, and in another twenty-four the sun was shining brilliantly. Here was serious matter or an ambassador to ponder. Providence had interposed in he shape of this boy, and if I did not seize the occasion offered I was not worth my salt. But I did not make the opportunity; I only took advantage of it. Lindbergh made it. And now, when more than a year has passed, we are still drawing the dividends, both France and America. Isn't it a sort of lesson to us both? The next time bickering starts up, I hope it will be remembered how easily the last was dissipated. We will not have another Lindbergh to drop down out of the sky to help us, but we might have sense enough to invent one just for the occasion.

French people's interest in Lindbergh

"The French people's interest in Lindbergh, first in his feat and later in his personality, was absolutely spontaneous. No earthly power could have created the outburst of enthusiasm which began with his arrival and never abated one jot or tittle during his entire stay. It was all the more remarkable, coming right on top of the natural disappointment and intense sorrow at Nungesser and Coli being lost. Moreover, lies had been published here and believed, intimating that our weather bureau had deliberately failed in its duty. The feeling was so strong that I cabled the Department suggesting that no flight be undertaken from our side until this unpleasant excitement had died down; unfortunately, instead of following my suggestion quietly and discreetly, it was given out to the papers, and when copied over here, while redounding to my credit with the French, was taken by them as proof of bad taste and evil intentions across the water.

"How is it, then, that under these unpropitious conditions, Lindbergh's arrival created such instant enthusiasm and sympathetic acclaim in all of France? I leave the scientific analysis of this question to the experts in mass psychology. For me the explanation lies, first, in the immediate response which Frenchmen make to any brave act. A gallant race themselves, courage excites their instant admiration and sweeps away all prejudices. But apart from this, I find a deeper reason in the latent feeling of admiration which exists in the hearts of the French for us Americans. Many of them had read the abuse of us and had joined in the criticism, but inside they really did not believe it. The instinct of the race was on our side, and justly so. Therefore, in the presence of the decisive and amazing fact of Lindbergh's landing, this sentiment burst the bonds of an artificially excited prejudice, and in acclaiming this boy the people of France knew they were also expressing their innate love for their old friend, America. And they were glad of an excuse to do so."

Mr. Herrick was fond of flying long before he knew Lindbergh, but since the extraordinary friendship which grew up between the two men and the trips he has taken with the famous pilot, he has liked the air more and more. " I think it is a good idea," he would say, "to do some flying in this world as a preparation for the next." This friendship, during the last year of Mr. Herrick's life, had developed into something quite unusual; it forms an interesting commentary upon the characters of both men.

At first Mr. Herrick thought of Lindbergh as a charming boy

One is just fifty years older than the other. At first Mr. Herrick thought of Lindbergh as a charming boy who had done a marvelous act and incidentally rendered a great service to his country. Lindbergh probably not only felt a deep gratitude to Mr. Herrick for his kindness and hospitality, but also responded to the influence of hi wonderful nature. But as time went on, the distance which separated the two, through age, occupations, and training, grew less and less, until finally they actually met on the common ground of personality. I don't think Mr. Herrick was much older than Lindbergh except in the mere matter of years; and I imagine that Lindbergh did not feel himself much younger than Mr. Herrick. The two simply grew to be very great pals, with a thousand points of contact which sprung from the similarity of their characters. Mr. Herrick told me more than a year ago that Lindbergh was a perfectly mature man, for all his youthful appearance; that he knew exactly what he was about, and that nothing short of death would stop him. I have no doubt that if I could consult Colonel Lindbergh he would say that Mr. Herrick seemed to him a young man just getting agreeably mature, and that old age would never overtake him. It never did; only death.

I was saying he loved to fly. In 1920 when he was in Paris before returning here as ambassador, he used the air constantly for traveling; he went by aeroplane to England and sailed home from there. Three years ago he told me he was going to hop over for a night with Mr. Houghton in London. "I don't want anybody to know I am gone and I intend to take an airship. It will save time and I shall enjoy the voyage." I argued with him in vain, even pointing out that the method he was choosing for the journey would be sure to give his visit a wide publicity. Seeing him immovable, I urged that, at least, if it was foggy he would not leave. He seemed to agree to this, but when he got to the aviation field and found the fog was so thick that the pilot did not want to start, Mr. Herrick over-persuaded him and they took off. When they got beyond Dover, the fog was worse and the pilot made a forced landing in an open field. The ambassador finally arrived in London by train. But the experience did not prevent his flying back to Paris two days later. He seemed surprised that this quiet trip incognito had been featured in all the papers and cabled to America.

In matters like this he was as incorrigible as a boy. He was afraid of nothing for himself, but only worried about those who were dear to him.

Reprinted from MYRON HERRICK FRIEND OF FRANCE An Autobiographical Biography BY COL. T. BENTLEY MOTT

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