Acknowledgments from My Biography of Charles Lindbergh

As I did with my last two books on Pietism, I’m posting here the Acknowledgments section of my Charles Lindbergh biography. I suspect that many of those mentioned here have ordered the book anyway, but I never want people to have to spend money in order to receive thanks.

I usually end this part of any book with my family, but this time I’m going to start the acknowledgments with my wife, children, and parents. If it weren’t for them, I’d never have given a second thought to Charles Lindbergh — and I’d never have been able to study his life.

One weekend in August 2016, the kids and I drove Katie to a workshop in St. Cloud, Minnesota, which left Lena, Isaiah, and me free to pay our first visit to the Lindbergh House, just up the road in Little Falls. That autumn, as we spent a sabbatical together on the East Coast, my son researched the Spirit of St. Louis for our visit to the National Air and Space Museum. After that trip to Washington, I started thinking seriously about the notion of a “spiritual but not religious” biography of Lindbergh. That project never would have happened if my parents, Dick and Elaine Gehrz, hadn’t hosted us for that 2016 sabbatical, and if Katie, Isaiah, and Lena hadn’t spared me for a long summer research trip in 2018 and then put up with endless Lindbergh conversations and trivia (“Did you know that…?”) over the following two years.

Here we are in late September 2016, checking out the original Spirit of St. Louis with Oma and Opa…

The next most indispensable figure in this project was Heath Carter, who had an inkling that a tall, introverted Minnesotan of Swedish ancestry might be the ideal person to study Charles Lindbergh — and then helped fill in the gaps of this Europeanist’s knowledge of US history. With Kathryn Gin Lum, Heath continues the excellent work started by Mark Noll in editing the Library of Religious Biography, several of whose prior entries I used to research my own contribution. Among many other people at Eerdmans who labored on this particular biography, let me thank Laurel Draper, Tom Raabe, Laura Bardolph Hubers, and David Bratt, who helped me realize that a biographer doesn’t have to like his subject to tell an important story.

While a spiritual biography of Lindbergh is unusual, I built on the work of many predecessors, particularly A. Scott Berg, Susan Hertog, Bruce L. Larson, and Grace Lee Nute. Their research and writing helped Charles, Anne, and the rest of the Lindbergh family come to life for me.

Nute worked for the Minnesota Historical Society, which remains one of the finest organizations of its type. I’m grateful for the staff and volunteers who make the Gale Family Library such a comfortable place to do research, and for the friendship of Kent Whitworth. Just before Brian Horrigan started his well-earned retirement from that organization, he shared some invaluable advice about doing Lindbergh research in Minnesota and beyond it. Melissa Peterson was a generous host at the Charles Lindbergh House and Museum in Little Falls.

The Lindbergh House, two miles south of Little Falls, MN

Just down the road, Ann Marie Johnson of the Morrison County Historical Society kindly met my spur-of-the-moment request for some oral histories and newspaper clippings. The COVID-19 pandemic kept me from spending time in St. Louis, but Bryan Morey pointed me to some of the Lindbergh artifacts digitized by the Missouri Historical Society. The rangers and other National Park Service employees who operate the Wright Brothers sites in Dayton, Ohio and Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, helped me better understand the earliest days of American aviation history.

The archivists and other staff of Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library and the Library of Congress’s Manuscripts Division made my 2018 research trip more fruitful than I could have hoped for. It was a particular honor to chat with Judith Schiff, who spent years helping Charles Lindbergh build his collection of private papers and then coedited his posthumously published autobiography.

That those collections are open to researchers is thanks to the Lindbergh children, who have had to put up with far too much public scrutiny over the years — yet still make it possible for people like me to offer critical assessments of their father. I’m especially grateful to Reeve Lindbergh, a lovely person and gifted writer who had already shared much insight through her own books, yet still took time to answer my occasional questions about her parents.

Thanks also to Bethel University, which awarded me the sabbatical that started this project, the grant that enabled my research trip out east, and the course release that made it possible to jump-start my writing. For eighteen years now, Bethel has been an ideal academic home, populated by committed teachers and scholars who are not just good colleagues but dear friends. With this book, I’ve been particularly influenced by Marion Larson, Amy Poppinga, and Sara Shady, whose commitment to love their non-Christian neighbors via interfaith dialogue and service helped inspire my engagement with someone who both admired Jesus and rejected Christianity. My teaching assistant Collin Barrett assisted me early in my research, especially with Lindbergh’s opposition to US involvement in World War II. Among our wonderful librarians, I owe special thanks to Ann Gannon for hosting a presentation where I took a first shot at narrating this story for potential readers, and to Sandy Oslund and Kaylin Creason for filling dozens of requests for books and articles. (When the COVID quarantine shut down libraries like ours, the Internet Archive became an invaluable substitute for more traditional interlibrary loan services.)

Bits and pieces of this book first took shape as I “thought in public” about Charles Lindbergh at my personal blog, The Pietist Schoolman, and at the Patheos group blog The Anxious Bench. From the latter’s distinguished group of contributors, I’m particularly grateful to Philip Jenkins (who was a regular source of suggestions, particularly when it came time to write about the America First movement), David Swartz (who pointed me in the direction of Kendrick Oliver’s religious history of the space race), John Turner (whose own book on Brigham Young remains the best religious biography I’ve read), and Kristin Kobes Du Mez and Beth Allison Barr (who were never too busy with their own, more significant books to take time to encourage my writing).

Phil Anderson taught me more about the Swedish immigrant heritage the two of us share with Charles Lindbergh. Peggy Bendroth and John Lawyer helped me speak the language of Congregationalism and Episcopalianism, respectively. Many others shared ideas, resources, and encouragement via social media, email, and informal conversations, including Amy Artman, Jon Butler, Mark Healey, Tim Johnson, Craig Miller, Nick Pruitt, and Paul Putz. Whatever mistakes that follow are my responsibility.