For nearly twenty years, my mom has been giving me a yearly subscription to Old News, a really interesting publication founded by Nancy and Richard Bromer and continued by their son Rick.
They take historical stories and present them in a news format. It’s just about as eclectic as you can get, and I really love it, from Alexander the Great to Alexander Graham Bell.
Every once in a while you find a transcendent passage like this one in a Rick Bromer story about Charles Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris.
Because of extra fuel tanks in the forward compartment, Lindbergh could only see ahead by looking out the side windows or by using a periscope. He has been falling asleep with his eyes open for some time:
“During the twenty-second hour of the flight, at about 5:00 a.m. New York time, Lindbergh felt that the fuselage behind him had filled with spirits. He could see these phantoms without turning around, and he could hear them speaking to him with human voices.
“They drifted in and out of his airplane, sometimes discussing problems of navigation among themselves and sometimes giving Lindbergh advice about his flight, as well as ‘messages of importance unattainable in life.’
“Lindbergh decided that the spirits were friendly ’emanations from the experience of ages, inhabitants of a universe closed to mortal men.’ He felt that he was on the border between life and death, and that he might soon join the spirits forever.
“He asked himself, ‘Am I now more man than spirit? Will I fly my airplane on to Europe and live in the flesh as I have before, feeling hunger, pain, and cold, or am I about to join these ghostly forms, become a consciousness in space, all-seeing, all-knowing, unhampered by materialistic fetters of the world.'”
Then Lindbergh gets so tired that even when he’s leaning out the window with his eyes wide open, the world seems to go black. He told himself, “Breathe deeply. Force the eyes to see… God give me strength.”
“Then his terror seemed to wake him up,” Bromer continues. “Color began returning to the world and Lindbergh thought, ‘No, I’m not going over the precipice. The ocean is green again. The sky’s turning blue. Clouds are whitening.’ The sun and sea looked incredibly beautiful, and he felt confident that he would not fall asleep again.”
Lindbergh flies over Ireland and England, two hours ahead of schedule because of favorable winds, and as darkness falls he sees the floodlit runway prepared for him in Paris. “I almost wish Paris were a few more hours away,” he wrote. “It seems a shame to land with the night so clear and so much fuel in my tanks.”