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WONDER YEARS


jazz_baby

The decades of the 20’s were wild and wonderful. “Jazz Babies” danced their way across the country, fueled with bathtub gin and devil may care attitude. Hollywood dazzled and amazed us with glamour girls and gangsters on larger than life screens, while we watched in amazement.

The 1920’s were the decades of heroes; the days of the pony express were long gone and fearless young pilots flew the U.S. mail. Flying at night without lights and proper instruments they took their lives in their hands, and frequently lost the gamble.

One of the lucky ones was Charles Lindburgh, a barnstormer who took paying customers for quick sight-seeing rides as well as flying the mail. In 1927 at the age of 25, he rose from virtual obscurity to world wide fame by winning the Orteig Prize for his solo nonstop flight from Roosevelt Field on Long Island to Le Bourget Field in Paris, France, a distance of nearly 3,600 miles in a single seat, single engine Ryan monoplane.

Lindburgh was not the first to make a Transatlantic flight, 19 others had done it before, but Lindburgh’s flight was nearly twice the distance, and took 33 1/3 hours. He was an instant hero, the like of which people had longed for.

He and his wife, Ann Morrow Lindburgh were a golden couple, the public could not get enough of them. Though they tried to retain some sense of privacy, the press would not let their hero fade into a normal life. Sometime in the night of March 1, 1932, an intruder entered the second floor nursery of their twenty month old son by the aid of a ladder. When Ann checked the nursery later that night, the baby was gone.

Thus began the biggest search for a kidnapper that the country had ever seen. All law enforcement agencies were involved in the search and newspapers and radio pressured parents to keep an eye on their children. I learned my lesson so well, that I was even afraid to walk across our living room at night to make sure the front door was locked. I “knew” the kidnapper was waiting on the front porch to carry me away. Strangely, six or seven years later, while on a lonely country road on my way to my school in Connecticut, I was nearly snatched, but managed to get away.

Nearly two months after the Lindburgh baby was stolen, he was found dead in the woods nearly two miles from the Lindburgh home. The search continued for the murderer, which ultimately turned up one Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was electrocuted on April 3, 1936.

Though the 20’s had been the decade of the hero, the 1930’s belonged to Shirley Temple. The Dionne Quintuplets in Canada fascinated us, and dolls depicted all the children sold like hot cakes.

The kidnapping of nine year old George Weyerhaeuser on his way home from school, shocked the city of Tacoma, Washington in May, 1935. Planning to meet his sister, George decided to take a short cut, but somewhere on the way he was kidnapped.

That evening a ransom note was delivered to the Weyerhaeuer home asking for $200,000 to which the family placed ads saying they would comply with all the demands. Later there was a short note from George saying that he was alright. After following a series of orders as to where to deliver the money, someone jumped from the bushes and grabbed the package of money and ran away.

In the 1970’s my aunt and uncle lived in the house in Tacoma from which I thought George had been kidnapped. I later learned that he had been on his way home from school.

George was released and found safe in a shack in Issaquah, Washington on the morning of June 1, 1935, after which he described his ordeal in detail.

He was driven from place to place, apparently with no concrete idea as to what to do with him. He was frequently put in a closet, tied to a tree, left alone in a shack, until finally the kidnappers, addressing themselves as “Bill” and “Harry” told him his father would come and get him shortly. After which they left. George wandered to a nearby farmhouse, and announced who he was. The family took him in, gave him clean clothes and drove him to Tacoma, Washington in their car.

Harmon Metz Waley was arrested, and after making several false statements he confessed that he and he and William Dainard whom he had met in in the Idaho State Penitentiary, had kidnapped the boy.

Harmon Waley entered a plea of guilty on June 21, 1935 and was sentenced to serve time at McNeil Island, Washington, from which he was paroled in June, 1963, at the age of 52.

Waley wrote to his victim on several occasions apologizing for his actions. When he was released he asked for a job. In a demonstration of compassion, George Weyerhaeuser found a place for him in one of his Oregon plants.

George Weyerhaeuser ultimately became Chairman of the Board for the Weyerhaeuser Company. George never forgot the people who made his company, telling loggers to leave their muddy cork boots on when coming into the office, regardless of the deep pile carpeting. He knew who was responsible for making the company run.

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13 comments on “WONDER YEARS

  1. There must be a moral to this story. possibly, “atone for your sins, and you will be forgiven”! The kidnapping of children for ransom may not have occurred to criminals until the Lindburgh case. Unfortunately, the crime persists, and many children suffer.

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    • Far too many children suffer. Parents have a big job teaching caution. In today’s world, even adults are not safe.
      The Weyerhaeuser case was highly unusual, in that Mr. Weyerhaeuser actually hired him . Waley must have been terribly convincing in his apology, and Weyerhaeuser was an unusual man.

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  2. It is so hard to create a balance, it seems to me Kayti. I understand the need for teaching our children caution. But then I see parents driving their children to school out of fear when they live three blocks away. Interesting blog. You’ve been around for a while, eh kid? 🙂 –Curt

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  3. Good story. We always had to do our own thing. I come from a family of six children and Helvi with nine. Parents could not possibly do everything for their children on practical matters and the older siblings took over. Of course love was in abundance as was a good smack.

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    • Thanks Gerard. As an only child I was never granted any special treatment, and never expected any. I had chores from an early age, and woe betide me if I didn’t do them. Parents today are concerned with food and how its grown, they use sprays on everything to kill bugs, so their children never develop any immunity. There is something about being overly cautious in everything isn’t there? We are even bored with an occasional hypochondriac as an adult.

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  4. Such interesting tales. I must confess that when i hear the name Lindbergh, I don’t think first of the aviator, or of the poor kidnapped child, but of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Her “Gift From the Sea” is one of my favorite books, and has been for decades. I’ve loaned and lost so many copies I think I may be on number six.

    However! You’ve reminded me that I took a photo of Charles Lindbergh’s historical marker in Camp Wood, Texas. Voila! I don’t know if the whole marker will be readable. If it’s not, and IF you’re interested, I’ll copy the text out of a book I have that has the text of every historical marker in the state. Lindbergh landed in Camp Wood on his way to California, and promptly ran his plane into a local store. Ah, the things we never hear about!

    Now, I’m going to go find “Gift From the Sea” again.

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    • I love the Gift From the Sea. I’m going to look for it. The Lindbergh monument in Texas is great. He was a strange man in the end. Sort of got into eugenics too as did Burbank. Must have been the era. After having 6 children with Anne he had three other families with 7 more children which no one knew of. Nice man! ha ha

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  5. Gift From the Sea is a seaside treasure…but Lindbergh? An anti-Semite.

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  6. I like the way you blended historical events and your personal life in this interesting post, Kayti. Having recently finished The Wright Brothers by David McCullough, I was especially interested in the Lindbergh information. The Wright Brothers were also tremendously popular and famous in the US and abroad, but weathered it with no tragedies or ill effects. It’s difficult to imagine the horror of having a child kidnapped.

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  7. I liked McCullough’s book on the Wright Bros very much. Lindbergh didn’t end up with such an enviable character unfortunately. Probably too much adulation as a young man. The tried so hard to maintain their privacy that people finally took them at their word. While living in England, they expected to be invited to social events, and when the invitations didn’t come as often as they hoped, Anne especially, felt snubbed. Several people DID try to have them included, Evalyn Walsh and Vita Sackville-West, but I don’t think they were the best guests. They bought an isolated island just large enough for a big stone house, but had no knowledge of how to entertain. A sad couple.

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