The Hero's Wife

updated 02/26/2001 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/26/2001 01:00AM

As aviator Charles Lindbergh lay dying of lymphoma in 1974, his wife, Anne, reassured their daughter Reeve, "Don't worry about me. I'm equal to my life." Those words came back to Reeve on Feb. 7, when Anne Morrow Lindbergh died at her home in rural Passumpsic, Vt., at age 94. "I'm thinking a lot about what she said," says Reeve, 55. "Boy, what a life it was—and she was equal to it."

Pilot and author, wife to a legend and mother of six, Anne Morrow Lindbergh grew as famous as her intrepid husband, but it was never a smooth ride. "This was a shy, private woman who kept getting yanked into the public eye," says Lindbergh biographer A. Scott Berg. The studious Smith College senior who fell for "Lucky Lindy" was raised in Englewood, N.J., the daughter of Dwight Morrow, a J.P. Morgan partner and later U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and his wife, Elizabeth, a writer and teacher. She met Lindbergh, world-renowned since his solo transatlantic flight in May 1927, when he visited her father at the embassy in Mexico later that year. Anne, 21, wrote in her diary that she felt herself "glowing and frivolous" around the dashing young hero; Charles, 23, was smitten too.

They married in 1929 and proceeded to take the world by storm. With Anne as copilot, navigator and radio operator, the couple flew across the country promoting the safety of air travel. They set a transcontinental speed record (14 hours, 45 minutes) in 1930, when Anne was seven months pregnant; that same year she became the first American woman to get a glider pilot's license. The Lindberghs' 1931 flight to China via the Arctic Circle charted a new commercial air route and formed the basis of Anne's first book, the bestselling North to the Orient.

Then came the nightmare known, pre-O.J., as the crime of the century. On the night of March 1, 1932, the Lindberghs' first child, 20-month-old Charles Jr., was kidnapped from his crib in their Hopewell, N.J., home. His body was found in nearby woods 10 weeks later; Bruno Hauptmann, a carpenter, was convicted of the murder and ultimately executed. Believing "their fame and press attention had killed the baby," says Susan Hertog, author of 1999's Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the couple spent years living quietly abroad before settling in Darien, Conn. Anne would bear five more children (Jon, 68, a farming consultant; Land, 63, a retired rancher; Anne, a writer who died in '93 at 53; Scott, 58, a scientist; and Reeve, whose memoir Under a Wing was published in 1998), but she never stopped grieving for her firstborn. "She made it clear," says Berg, "that it was always somewhere in her mind."

There were more trials to come. In the late '30s, after inspecting Hitler's Luftwaffe for the U.S. government, Charles accepted a medal from the Nazi regime and accused American Jews of warmongering. He was reviled as an anti-Semite—as was Anne, who tried to explain his isolationist views in The Wave of the Future, a treatise she later admitted was "naive." Already suffering from Charles's remote nature and long absences, the marriage nearly crumbled. Each partner drifted into brief affairs. But the relationship recovered with time, along with the pair's professional fortunes. Anne's 1955 book A Gift from the Sea, a look at women's conflicting roles, was hugely popular (she went on to write 10 more books, including five volumes of diaries), and her husband's Spirit of St. Louis won a 1954 Pulitzer Prize.

When Charles died, says Hertog, Anne "lost the will to write." But not to live. Even after the strokes in the early '90s that left her frail and confused, she enjoyed her 15 grandchildren and read poetry daily. "I used to sit with her in the evenings by the fire and hold her hand," recalls Reeve. "She often didn't know what part of her life she was living in." There was so much to choose from. "When I heard that she died," says Berg, "I really felt, 'The 20th century is now over.' "

Kim Hubbard
Tom Duffy in Haydenville, Mass.

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