Aug. 3, 1927: Quite often we find only fragments of history in the Post-Gazette photo library. Such is the case with the file titled, “Lindbergh, Charles: visit to Pittsburgh, 1927.” The file contains a number of images and clippings, nearly all of which have been cut, folded, broken, heavily airbrushed or damaged by age. What remains are items that read like epic novels with missing chapters.
Both the Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Press gave extensive coverage to the famous pilot’s visit. “Lindy,” as the press called him, was honored before a packed crowd at Pitt Stadium. Prints from that event are missing from our files. A stunning picture of Lindbergh’s plane the “Spirit of St. Louis” surrounded by thousands of people at McKeesport’s Bettis Field was published on the Press front page, but we had no luck finding the original print.
In the surviving photographs, we see glimpses of a city and a man coming of age. During a ticker-tape parade, people stand 12 deep along Smithfield Street. Lindbergh, young and handsome and brimming with calm confidence, emerges from the William Penn Hotel. And 900 of the city’s most important and powerful people gather at the hotel’s Grand Ballroom for a banquet to honor Lindbergh. We found a yellowed clipping of this event, but only half of the original print survives.
At the time of Lindbergh’s visit, Pittsburgh’s population was approximately 600,000, ranking it as one of America’s 10 largest cities, and its industrial strength was known throughout the world. Certainly it was a place fit for a visit from an aviator who’d emerged from nowhere to become one of the world’s most admired people.
When Lindbergh visited Pittsburgh he was much like the city — full of youth and dreams and potential. He had secured his place in history with a non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic. Tragedy would soon stalk him. On his own, he would find controversy, though he remains an aviation icon. The city he visited would grow in industrial strength, help win wars, then suffer painful decline before embracing a new identity. A lifetime after the man and the city met, we have only fragments to remind us of what both had been on that day.