Letter to Charles Lindbergh Makes a Return Flight 83 Years Later
Here is a curatorial feel-good story about one boy’s letter to Charles Lindbergh and how a copy of it made its way back home.
Over nine years ago, I was in the process of selecting artifacts for a 6,000-square-foot exhibit commemorating the New York to Paris flight that Lindbergh made in 1927. The Missouri History Museum has the largest collection of gifts Lindbergh received for his various flights from 1927 onward, as well as a large archival collection including thousands of letters of congratulations from around the world. The exhibit team decided to select about a dozen or so of the letters sent to Col. Lindbergh, laminate copies of them, and place them in a replica of a mailbag, since Lindbergh was an airmail pilot before the big flight.
The exhibit opened in 2002 and then traveled for two years to five venues around the country. It came back to St. Louis in 2004 and we reinstalled it at the History Museum, where it has been ever since. Earlier this summer a Canadian visitor came through the Museum and spent some time in the Lindbergh gallery. While in the gallery he looked through the mailbag and spotted a letter written by a boy from Redwood, NY. On his drive back to Canada, he stopped in Redwood and talked to Shirley at the Redwood Historical Society. He told her of a letter he had seen at the History Museum in St. Louis. He explained that it was a letter sent to Lindbergh by a small boy, Konrod K. Kabel, from Redwood, NY. Shirley was very excited to hear of this letter and eventually tracked me down as curator of the exhibition. She asked if I knew of the letter. I did not remember it right away, but I told her I would go find it and get back to her. Sure enough, it was one of the dozen or so letters in the mailbag. She asked if we would send her a copy of it, and we did.
A few weeks later I received a phone call from a man named Jim Kabel, asking about the same letter! While Jim now lives in Virginia, he often goes back to Redwood, the very small town where he grew up. In September he went back for a visit, and while talking with a few of the townspeople it was announced to him that this letter had surfaced and they had a copy. It seems his father, Konrod Kabel, was the little boy who wrote the letter to Charles Lindbergh in 1927. Jim and his two brothers recalled hearing their father speak often about how he wrote a letter to Lindbergh and how he even remembered receiving an answer, although they could never find Lindbergh’s reply. Jim looked at the copy of the letter, and all those stories his father had told about writing it now came rushing back. He asked Shirley at the Redwood Historical Society for a copy of it and she obliged. He went back to Virginia and eventually wrote an article for the local Redwood paper about this extraordinary find. Jim and I chatted for a while about this heartwarming series of events.
It is uncanny that this letter was one we chose, most likely because of its artwork. Then we placed it in a mailbag, not even on the wall. Yet this Canadian visitor comes through St. Louis and looks through the mailbag, spotting this letter from a town that was familiar to him because of his travels. He goes back by way of Redwood, NY, to tell them of his find, and then Shirley contacts me. It is all so unlikely, yet so rewarding. These three men, once young boys listening to their father talk about his days as a young boy writing a letter to the hero of the day, now are able to see that handwritten note. The only sad part is that Konrod passed away before he got to see his letter again. But the sons have a copy to place with another letter the family has from astronaut Alan Shepard.
—Sharon Smith, Curator of Civic and Personal Identity