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Remembering Lucky Lindy

The year 1927 seemed heavy with heroes. Babe Ruth was zeroing in on 60 home runs, Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney were headed for a heavyweight rematch and Al Jolson was making “talking pictures.”

But on one glorious day, Denver welcomed the one person who dominated the headlines like no other: Charles Augustus Lindbergh.

At 7:52 a.m. on May 20, 1927, his noisy monoplane roared away from Long Island’s Roosevelt Field. More than 33 hours and 3,610 miles later, “Lucky Lindy” landed The Spirit of St. Louis in the midst of 100,000 ecstatic Parisians at Le Bourget Field.

Lindbergh used his instant celebrity status to further the cause of aviation with a multi-city tour that included an appearance at the DU football stadium.

“Lindbergh will arrive at the big University of Denver stadium…to greet the children of Denver,” wrote the Rocky Mountain News. “Adults will be admitted if accompanied by a youngster…it’s the children’s own reception for the flying mailman.”

Denver bubbled with anticipation. A Cottrell’s ad boasted, “Lucky Lindy, if in need of clothes today, would come straight to this store and take advantage of our final clearance.” A grocer handed out kid’s caps—Piggly Wiggly Lindy Lids.

The “Lone Eagle” departed Omaha on the morning of Aug. 31 headed for Denver. As 50,000 people gathered at Lowry Airport, a black dot on the eastern horizon grew into The Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh swooped low over the field, saw “DENVER ALT 5280” painted on the roof of a building then took her up again for a loop around downtown. He then touched down at Lowry “as gentle as a leaf” at 1:59:45 p.m.

Soldiers and police cleared the way as Lindbergh greeted his great-aunt, Denver resident Jennie Land. Then he was scooted into a limo alongside Mayor Ben Stapleton and Gov. William Adams to travel the winding, 20-mile parade route.

Festivities at DU began with the boys’ band of the Denver National Home for Jewish Children, followed by the 150-piece Highlander Boys Band playing “Lindy, Eagle of the USA.” The Highlanders performed rifle exercises then stepped through regimental drill. All the while, loudspeakers kept the crowd of 12,000 apprised of the procession.

When the entourage hit DU, Harvey Sethman of the Rocky noted, “The crowd was orderly. It did not try to rush the stadium track as Lindy’s car moved along. But aside from that, pandemonium reigned supreme for five minutes.” Lindbergh climbed up on the folded top of his car, smiled and waved at the crowd, and was gone.

Downtown, Lindbergh was welcomed by as many as 100,000 lining the streets. He touched down at the Brown Palace, held a brief press conference and took a nap. At his address that evening, broadcast live from the Cosmopolitan Hotel, he challenged the city to take the lead in commercial aviation and build a “real airport.” With the altitude and the location, Denver could be a natural hub, he said.

Denver was just another runway on an 82-city tour that encompassed 22,350 miles, 260 flying hours, 1,285 miles of parades and 147 speeches. One observer noted that Lindbergh didn’t even smile during his welcome parade until he met thousands of screaming children at the DU stadium.

Mayor Stapleton considered Lindbergh’s blink of a visit a call to action and vowed to open his office to civic-minded millionaires ready to answer the challenge. Denver Municipal Airport opened in 1929 and in 1944 was named to honor Stapleton.

The next morning, Charles Lindbergh commented that he couldn’t wait to join the seagulls soaring overhead. He waved to 5,000 well-wishers and took off for Pierre, South Dakota. Gaining altitude, The Spirit of St. Louis glided over a field of buffalo grass that one day would frame Denver International Airport, then climbed high into the wild blue yonder.


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