Friday, July 29, 2011

Twelve Strangers in the Night

Elizabeth M. Bisgood (1905–1988)
From Into the Blue: American Writers on Aviation and Spaceflight

Passengers in a Ford Tri-Motor in 1932. Photograph by Russell Froelich (1890–1958). Missouri History Museum Photographs and Prints Collections (30283). Courtesy Missouri History Museum.
Anne Spencer Morrow and Elizabeth Mitchell Bacon were classmates at Smith College in the late 1920s. In a letter to her father dated 1926, Morrow identifies “that little Bacon girl” as one of her new friends away from home: “It is very nice to be with them and know them on the basis of reading instead of on a basis of just New York, if that makes sense at all.” During the spring of the following year, Bacon was in bed with the measles when Morrow shouted through the window of Elizabeth’s room in the infirmary, “Bacon, Bacon, a man has flown the Atlantic. His name is Charles Lindbergh. He flew all alone. He has landed in Paris.”*

Anne Morrow would meet Lindbergh just seven months later, during the Christmas holidays, when he stayed with her parents in Mexico City (her father was the American ambassador). Two years later they were married, and during their courtship Lindbergh taught Anne to fly; she would fly solo for the first time the year of her marriage and in 1930 she became the first woman to receive a glider pilot license. During the early years of their marriage, the couple would fly all over the world, pivotally charting possible air routes for commercial flights over the North Pole. After their first son was kidnapped and murdered in one of the most infamous crimes of the twentieth century, the couple moved to England to escape the intense American media attention, and Anne began fulfilling her earlier, collegiate ambition of becoming a writer, publishing thirteen books between 1935 and 1980.

“That little Bacon girl” also dreamed of becoming a writer—and it’s tempting to wonder if Anne’s career influenced the choice of topic for one of Elizabeth’s earliest articles, published under her married name Bisgood. Her perspective is different from that of her pilot-friend, however; she is one of twelve passengers, whose attitudes range from awestruck to petrified, on a commercial flight in 1933. And like her friend Anne, Elizabeth would go on to publish a number of other works (including, as Elizabeth Rodewald, the novel At the Edge of the Shadow, about a wife who falls victim to alcoholism). Most of her works are long out of print, but “Twelve Strangers in the Night” is a gem of travel writing rescued from oblivion and included, alongside selections by both Charles and Anne Lindbergh, in the LOA anthology Into the Blue: American Writing on Aviation and Spaceflight.

* As related in Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg

Do you remember how we stared at those people in the airport who were waiting around with us? We tried to make out which were the ones who were leaving and which were being left behind. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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