Atlantic Fever by Joe Jackson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 503 pages, including photographs, bibliography, notes, glossary and epilogue.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charles Augustus Lindbergh made his solo flight from New York to Paris in May of 1927. He became a world hero, nicknamed "Lucky Lindy" and "Lone Eagle".
He was lucky and lone, but hardly the hero people made him. Single, somewhat attractive, silent, almost reclusive, women of that era "fell" for him, and leaders of government and industry decorated him. Then, after a time, the hero fell from grace.
His adoption of the America First cause, and his suspected admiration for the Nazi government of Germany caused many people to turn their backs on him. It was only with some difficulty that Lindbergh returned to a state of grace with the military, instructing pilots in how to conserve fuel for long flights, and possibly being engaged in some combat action in World War II.
Why would Joe Jackson tackle such a familiar subject in a book called Atlantic Fever?
Jackson was not attempting to dethrone a pilot whose planning skill excelled over his many competitors. He does place the Lindbergh saga against the many attempts in 1927 to conquer the Atlantic and to bring the promise of future transatlantic passenger flights closer to reality.
Think of the men, and perhaps two or three women, who hoped to wing it over 3,000 miles of ocean and horrendous weather toward a frantic welcome in Paris. Names like Richard E. Byrd, Nungesser and Coli, and later Amelia Earhart hoped to claim this great accomplishment.
Nungesser and Coli, in their great White Bird died trying. Byrd moved his operation to polar regions. Other flyers altered plans, crashed on takeoff or failed because of a number of factors Jackson explores.
Having grown up near the Atlantic Ocean, I know how much fear can result from entering it from a quiet river on a sea island. My cousin's husband took Bridget and me to ride in his fine boat. On our short trip on still waters, he had no GPS. He knew the island estuaries. I asked to see the great ocean, so he obliged, briefly. Passing one island, and then another, he slowed his boat and pointed. "There it is", he said. Just from that point it was a fearful thing to think of passing the safety of the creeks and rivers to enter the "pond" that stretched 3,000 miles to the east.
Flyers would have a more fearful experience. The weather in the North Atlantic can change quickly. In the Maritimes, fog endures for days. Winds change, and there are no convenient places to land, unless one is in a flying boat. Even today, with modern navigation equipment and the wonders of GPS, air flight over the great oceans can cause some anxieties, even to skilled pilots with thousands of hours of flying behind them.