In the cockpit of the Spirit of St. Louis on the morning of May 20, 1927, he set out as the first pilot ever to fly nonstop across the Atlantic, from Roosevelt Field to Le Bourget Field in Paris. Digital social media wasn’t in the picture back then, though his 3,500-mile flight most certainly would have warranted worldwide Twitter chat. Actor Steve Carroll believes most audiences don’t know much more than that about Charles Lindbergh, and that’s something he’s trying to change, one act at a time, with his original, one-man show, “Charles Lindbergh: The Lone Eagle.” Carroll will be performing his two-act piece this weekend in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, at the historic county courthouse on Main Street, Flemington. The event is one of many that have been planned for Hunterdon’s 300th anniversary celebration this year.
“Charles Lindbergh: The Lone Eagle” will be performed on Saturday at 7 p.m., and again on Sunday at 3 p.m., in the same courthouse that was the scene in March 1932 for the famous Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial which became known as “The Trial of the Century.” It was at Charles and Anne (Morrow) Lindbergh’s Hunterdon County home in East Amwell Township, New Jersey, that their infant son, Charles, Jr., disappeared from his crib and was found murdered nearby the home two months later. Bruno Hauptmann, convicted of the crime in 1935 and sent to the electric chair 14 months later, proclaimed his innocence to the end.
In a phone interview from his home in Boynton Beach, Florida, veteran actor Carroll spoke passionately about his touring the show nationwide since he first produced and performed it in June 2001 at the New Jersey Repertory Company.
“Lindbergh comes back from the grave, and it’s a spiritual tribunal,” Carroll explained of the play. “He’s asking, ‘Am I on trial for my life?’ He views this as a chance to defend himself.”
“The Lone Eagle” was just one of the many nicknames given to Lindbergh by the press following his nonstop flight. Carroll feels it is an apt description of the man.
“Almost everything he did, he did alone,” Carroll said. “Whether it was flying the Atlantic, heading his son’s kidnapping investigation, or making a stand against World War II, he always seemed to be taking on the world all by himself.”
In 2002, Carroll’s play received the endorsement of Reeve Lindbergh, the last surviving child of Charles and Anne and president of The Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, at a command performance presented in Garden City, New York, on the 75th anniversary celebration of her father’s famous flight.
“When I was making my exit, she (Reeve) stood up and threw her arms around me,” Carroll recalled. “It was a moment I’ll never forget.”
In a letter sent to Carroll, Reeve Lindbergh wrote that she found the performance “moving and very thoughtful, with a fresh perspective on my father that contained much truth. …You do not try to ‘reproduce’ my father. Instead, you try to understand him, and then to represent him.”
Early in his acting career, Carroll was an original member of The Meat and Potatoes Company in New York City, where he performed off-Broadway in works ranging from William Shakespeare and Jean Cocteau to William Inge and Jean Genet. He also performed in regional theater, commercials and films. In daytime drama, he was Dr. Matt Rawlins on ABC-TV’s “One Life to Live.”
A former resident of Brick Township, New Jersey, Carroll said he was motivated to write a play about the life of Lindbergh following a suggestion by fellow actor Bob Brown while he and Brown were involved in a 30-part television series in China in 1998. Brown, with his own one-man show on the life of Benedict Arnold, suggested Carroll take on a similar project for when (acting) things got slow and to choose someone where he lived. And for that, Carroll said he chose to portray “Lindy.”
He said he was familiar with Lindbergh’s Paris flight and the baby kidnapping, but his research including access to the Lindbergh family archives provided “a fascinating story” of a man who became part of an anti-war movement and labeled a Nazi sympathizer. Carroll called it “completely untrue.”
Carroll said he wrote the play “to reach a large audience, from kids today who want to learn about history to the older generations who lived through Lindbergh’s time.” He called Lindbergh the media’s first ‘superstar’ who suffered terribly for it, losing his privacy, a normal family life, and his firstborn son.
If anything, he said he hopes this weekend’s performances will have audiences leaving the courthouse “with a deeper understanding of who Lindbergh was. …He was misunderstood. …He was a very stubborn, pig-headed man who held his opinion. His very determination worked against him.”
In continuing with weekend events marking Hunterdon County’s 300th anniversary is the PowerPoint presentation on historic Hunterdon needlework samplers to be discussed by husband-and-wife artists/historians Dan and Marty Campanelli on Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m., at the north branch of the county library, 65 Halstead St., Clinton. Attendees are encouraged to bring any Hunterdon samplers created prior to 1850 for Show & Tell following the presentation.
The Campanelli’s have been researching American needlework since 2002. Their talk will focus on samplers stitched prior to 1850. Their book, “A Sampling of Hunterdon County Needlework: the motifs, the makers & their stories,” debuted in June 2013 and highlights samplers made by local girls in the late 1700s to the mid-1800s. It is serving as a fundraiser for the Hunterdon County Historical Society in Flemington, New Jersey. The book was featured in “The New York Times,” as well as a “must read” in the Sept. 4, 2013 issue of “Martha Stewart’s Living Blog.”
The samplers of the Campanelli’s display motifs attributable to the area’s fine academies where the girls attended and their teachers’ varied tastes. Some display tragic family stories, while others are dedicated to relatives past or contain quotations from hymns and poems, and Bible verses. One sampler from the couple’s personal collection was sewn in 1841 by Catharine Sutphin (1832-1876) of Delaware Township, when she was nine years old. It was created with wool thread on a linen background and features a graphic vase filled with exotic flowers, as well as large birds and butterflies. The sampler is surrounded by a bold strawberry and eight-pointed star border.
“They (samplers) are works of art, created in the hardest medium with thread,” Dan Campanelli said. “It was a ‘must’ for the girls to do needlework, …a way to learn by sewing the alphabet, numbers, poetry or religious verses.”
The Campanelli’s are guest curates for what’s being called the first-ever exhibit of New Jersey needlework which will run at the Morven Museum in Princeton, New Jersey, starting in October.
Dan Campanelli was commissioned last year to create “Blue Skies,” a watercolor of the Historic County Court House, as a fundraiser for the Hunterdon County Tricentennial Committee. Marcia Karrow and Catherine McVicker, chair and vice-chair, respectively, for the committee were involved in the planning.
For further info: hunterdonhistory.org