UNCG Campus Weekly

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Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis swoops over UNCG

Photograph of Spirit of St. Louis at Greensboro’s Lindley Field, Oct. 14, 1927, courtesy Greensboro Historical MuseumLook up, above the campus. It’s a bird. It’s a plane … It’s the Spirit of St. Louis, piloted by Charles Lindbergh.

The celebrated plane, with Lindbergh alone in the cockpit, had been the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean non-stop. Lindbergh left New York on May 20, 1927, and touched down in Paris on May 21. He and the plane were instantly famous.

Lindbergh sailed low over the UNCG campus on Oct. 14, 1927 – a thrilling sight no doubt. He also rode through the UNCG campus, perched in an open convertible.

“N.C.C. Gives Lindy a Hearty Welcome” the Carolinian headline proclaimed.

UNCG was then known as “The North Carolina College for Women” – NCC or NCCW for short.

Fall 1927 was an exciting time for the campus. Architect Harry Barton’s new auditorium at the corner of Tate and Spring Garden provided plenty of seating for October 5 Founders Day – and the students suggested they add a ceremony at the McIver Statue as well, the Carolinian reported. It also reported that contracts were bidded out for several new buildings, including Mary Foust and Guilford Residence Halls and a home economics building that is now the oldest part of Stone Building, facing Walker Avenue. (Barton, featured in last week’s Campus Weekly, designed each of them.) Old Curry had burned the previous year, but new Curry Building, also designed by Barton, had opened.

The year was momentous for the city as well. Greensboro had just opened War Memorial Stadium, a monument to the area men who had died in the War to End All Wars. The new stadium (also designed by Barton) allowed about 20,000 to hear Lindbergh speak. People came from southern Virginia and throughout North Carolina to see the man Governor McLean introduced as “perhaps the greatest hero of the age.” (Daily News, Oct. 15)

He landed his plane at the newly opened Lindley Field – now known as Piedmont Triad International Airport. Many thousands greeted him there. A focus of his Greensboro visit, which generated a lot of press coverage, was the importance of aviation. During his brief remarks at the stadium, the former airmail pilot predicted there’d soon be a surge in airmail and even passengers in the United States, as more airfields would be built and enhanced. “For this reason I want to to bring before you the importance of backing and standing behind the aviation progress that has been inaugurated in Greensboro,” he said, according to the Oct. 15 Daily News.

A historical marker at the airport notes Greensboro’s airport becoming part of the Eastern United States’ air mail route a few months later. Air transportation in Greensboro continued to blossom over the decades – and is one of the Triad’s key industries today.

Before landing at the Greensboro airfield, he circled the city three times, the third so low “the markings on the great aircraft could be easily read,” said the next day’s Greensboro Daily News. Actually, Lindbergh buzzed the UNCG campus twice that day, judging by the Nov. 1927 Alumnae News: “Previous to landing at the airport and just before leaving the city, Colonel Lindbergh circled low over the campus in the ‘Spirit of St. Louis.’”

The Oct. 15 newspaper corroborates this account, saying he made a “pleasing final gesture” of – instead of flying straight to Winston-Salem, his only other North Carolina visit on the tour – taking time to fly again over Greensboro that early afternoon.

And the UNCG students got a close-up look as Lindy rode through campus in an open convertible.

“The Famous Aviator Smiles and Salutes as He Passes Through City” proclaimed the Greensboro Daily News.

He would donate his plane to the Smithsonian the following year, after 174 flights.

Lindbergh died four decades ago. But the repercussions of that October 1927 day – for the city of Greensboro and the Triad aviation industry – live on.

In a future CW: part 2. UNCG community lines the banks of Walker Avenue through the campus to welcome Lindbergh; alumni statewide revel in aviation theme in wake of Lindbergh’s visit.

By Mike Harris
Photograph of Spirit of St. Louis at Greensboro’s Lindley Field, Oct. 14, 1927, courtesy Greensboro Historical Museum.

Sources: Greensboro Daily News newspapers week of October 1927, courtesy Greensboro Public Library. November 2017 Alumnae News and October Carolinian student newspapers courtesy UNCG’s Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives / Digital Collection. “Lindbergh” by A. Scott Berg, 1998. “Lindbergh Alone” by Brendan Gill, 1977. Historical marker’s full text may be viewed at http://www.historicalmarkerproject.com/markers/HMKM6_lindley-field_Greensboro-NC.html. Thanks to GHM Archivist Elise Allison for providing photography from that day.