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CHARLES A. LINDBERGH and ANN LINDBERGH The original, hand-written note authorizing John Condon to act on their behalf during the 1932 ransom investigation of their kidnapped son! Charles Lindbergh was America's hero.

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The original, hand-written note authorizing John Condon to act on their behalf during the 1932 ransom investigation of their kidnapped son!

Charles Lindbergh was America's hero. The "Lone Eagle's" intrepid voyage across the Atlantic, in 1927, inspired a public loyalty to Lindbergh that endured long after the flight's successful conclusion. In terms of aviation, Lindbergh did not rest on his laurels following his famed Atlantic crossing. He continued to blaze new airborne trails, often accompanied by his wife, Anne (1906-2001). Lindbergh (1902-1974) was more than just the first man to fly the Atlantic alone. His solo journey captured the imagination of an adoring public on numerous psychological levels. That his quest was bold and daring, and thus resonant with the nation's collective spirit of adventure, is obvious. The consequences of his success were equally clear. Lindbergh was revered as a national hero, given the rank of Colonel in the U.S. Army Air Corps, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and the first Distinguished Flying Cross, and immersed in opportunities to leverage his new fame into wealth. As the voice of radio developed during this period, the nation tuned in as much for news of Lindbergh as to indulge its fascination with the new medium. After the flight, Lindbergh embarked on a lucrative career as an aviation consultant. A description of Charles Lindbergh was provided by Harold Nicolson, a diarist in the employ of Anne Lindbergh's mother. "Lindbergh is a surprise," Nicolson writes in 1933, "There is much more in his face than appears in photographs. He has a fine intellectual forehead, a shy engaging smile, wind-blown hair, a way of tossing his head unhappily, a transparent complexion, thin nervous capable fingers, a loose-jointed shy manner. He looks young with a touch of arrested development." Lindbergh was fragile as well as brave, and complicated, even as his achievements were direct. Charles Lindbergh was one of those impossibly rare human beings who appeared, without trying, to be a worthy crucible for an entire country's unspent vicarious emotion. America loved him.

The Kidnapping

On the evening of March 1, 1932, 20-month-old Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. was kidnapped from the Lindbergh's home in Hopewell, New Jersey. Sometime between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m., "The Eaglet" (as the Lindbergh's young son was called by the newspapers) had been removed from his crib. The Hopewell Police and, shortly thereafter, the New Jersey State Police were summoned. Lindbergh himself hunted outside for signs of his son, or the kidnapper, in the cold darkness. Around midnight, the State Police Chief, H. Norman Schwarzkopf (father of the future Desert Storm commander), arrived to take command. On the windowsill was an envelope, spotted earlier by Lindbergh. An officer slit the envelope open with his penknife and removed a single sheet of paper. The note was handed to Lindbergh. At this point, Lindbergh took charge. He and Col. Breckinridge, family friend and the Lindberghs' lawyer, decided that the best hope of securing the baby's return was to comply with the kidnappers' request for $50,000. Chief Schwarzkopf, who held Lindbergh in awe, felt helpless, able to point out only that Lindbergh could not offer legal immunity to the criminal(s). On March 4, a second ransom letter arrived. This note scolded Lindbergh for bringing in the police, and increased (to $70,000) the amount of the ransom demand.

John F. Condon and The Trial

One week after the kidnapping, John F. Condon offered his services as go-between. Condon has been described as "a benevolent scout leader," and "a patriot," but he was seen as an enigmatic presence by the police and professional investigators who were already working the case. Nevertheless, to the Lindberghs, Condon was their wellspring of hope, their "Clint Eastwood." Condon, they were sure, would take charge and rapidly undo the dirty work of the perpetrators through cleverness and by force of personality. Nine days after the kidnapping, Condon received formal authorization from the Lindberghs to proceed on their behalf, and, on April 8th, Dr. Condon delivered the ransom to a cemetery. Five weeks later, the corpse of a baby was found within five miles of the Lindbergh home. Charles Lindbergh identified the body as his son's. On September 19, 1934, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an illegal German immigrant, was arrested for the crime. The trial began in Flemington, New Jersey, on January 2, 1935. During the trial, evidence was introduced showing that Hauptmann possessed more than $14,000 of the ransom money, that a homemade ladder left at the Lindbergh home belonged to Hauptmann, and that the spelling errors in the ransom notes were typical of those Hauptmann was known to make. Condon testified at the trial and was regarded by many as a hero for trying to save the Lindberghs' baby. Condon's testimony was seen as crucial to the outcome of the complex trial. Hauptmann was found guilty on February 14, 1935 and was executed on April 3, 1936. The trial generated unparalleled national attention.

The Aftermath

During the Hauptmann appeal, on December 22, 1935, Charles Lindbergh sailed for England with his wife and young son, Jon. The loss of his other son and the resulting trial, along with the avalanche of media attention, left Lindbergh without reserves, empty and in need of isolation. Nowhere on earth could be far enough away to offer adequate refuge from his devastation. Americans sympathized with the family in its time of loss, even though there was near-universal sadness at the hero's "desertion" for foreign shores.

Historians have been consumed for decades by questions that persisted after the trial. Did Hauptmann act alone? What actually caused the death of Charles Lindbergh, Jr? Who took possession of the missing portion of the ransom money? Uncertainty surrounding details of the Lindbergh kidnapping has kept its legend alive, and perpetuated America's fascination with its sad result.  

The Condon Note

Dr. John F. Condon, a retired, 72-year-old Bronx, N.Y., grade schoolteacher and principal, took exceptional interest in the Lindbergh case. He volunteered to act as a third party negotiator and was accepted by both the kidnappers and the Lindberghs. In the early hours of March 10, 1932, after speaking with the 30-year-old aviator on the telephone, Dr. Condon went to the Lindberghs' home in Hopewell, New Jersey. Jim Fisher's 1987 book, The Lindbergh Case, in the chapter entitled, "The Go-Betweens," tells what happened next. In part: "It was late, so Colonel Lindbergh asked Dr. Condon to spend the night at the estate. That night, Dr. Condon slept on the floor of the only vacant room in the house - the nursery. Early the next morning, before breakfast, Condon studied the room. He opened a chest beneath the large French window and removed three wooden toys - a hand-carved lion, a camel, and an elephant. He was fondling these playthings when Colonel Lindbergh appeared at the door. Condon asked if he could borrow the wooden animals. When he met the kidnappers and saw the baby, he would show him the toys to get his reaction. It was a way to identify the baby. The Colonel nodded; it sounded like a good idea. After breakfast Dr. Condon, Colonel Lindbergh, and Henry Breckinridge [Lindbergh's close friend and lawyer] conferred in an upstairs bedroom. Colonel Lindbergh handed Condon a note dated March 10, 1932.  It read: 'WE HEREBY AUTHORIZE DR. JOHN F. CONDON TO ACT AS GO-BETWEEN FOR US.'  THE NOTE WAS SIGNED BY CHARLES A. LINDBERGH AND ANNE LINDBERGH." The ransom money would be delivered by Dr. John F. Condon.

Presented is that historic autographed statement signed: "Charles A. Lindbergh," and his wife, "Anne Lindbergh," on a single page, 3-1/2" x 8-1/2" (Hopewell, New Jersey), March 10, 1932. It reads, in full: "We hereby authorize Dr. John F. Condon to act as go-between for us." Folds are evident: a light vertical fold touches "le" in "Charles" and the second "n" in "Anne." Excellent to Mint condition. Also offered as an accompaniment is an Official Pass to the Hauptmann trial, 3-1/2" x 4-1/2". Dated January 24, 1935, the ink is lightly smudged in the areas of three words. Hauptmann would be convicted three weeks after this pass was issued, and he was executed on April 3, 1936. (The pass did not belong to the Lindberghs). Excellent to Mint condition. Magnificently framed by the Gallery of History to 25" x 38" total dimensions.

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