A monument commemorating famed aviator Charles Lindbergh’s 1933 landing at Bay Bulls-Big Pond has been temporarily put away.
The plaque had long been located metres from the Bay Bulls highway, but due to construction at the regional water treatment plant, the City of St. John’s successfully sought permission from the province to move it last summer.
It has been placed in storage to protect it until work on the plant wraps up. Access to its former site has been blocked.
A city official said in an email the plan is to re-erect it near the treatment plant, “in a location where a greater number of people would have exposure to the monument and story it depicts.”
That story was prominent enough to have the area of Lindbergh’s landing declared a site of provincial historical significance.
In 1927, Lindbergh captured the world’s imagination when he became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Six years later, on July 12, 1933, he and his wife, Anne, flew to St. John’s in a monoplane fitted with floats.
Their mission was to survey some of the conditions between New York and Greenland for Pan American Airlines, which was looking to establish the first transatlantic mail and passenger service. They later flew to Botwood and then Cartwright, Labrador.
The Evening Telegram reported July 13, 1933, that, “through some misunderstanding or failure to spot Big Pond,” the couple first landed at Quidi Vidi Lake and then took off for their original destination a short time later.
Thousands who lined Bay Bulls Road gave the Lindberghs an ovation after a “beautiful landing” on Big Pond.
The couple was greeted by Pan American’s vice-president and L.C. Outerbridge, who represented Harvey and Co., the airline’s local agent.
As they drove towards St. John’s, the Lindberghs were “cheered by throngs who were located at advantageous points to welcome them, while a procession of cars followed them to town.”
The Evening Telegram article included the kind of information that is often part of Hollywood awards coverage today.
“The famous flyer was dressed in togs similar to those shown in screen pictures, his big broad smile and sincere handshake favoured by all those who approached him. Mrs. Lindbergh was also dressed in flying togs of khaki colour with white aeroplane cap.”
Such detail is perhaps not surprising, considering Lindbergh was one of the world’s most famous people at the time.
Of course, what had literally lifted him to fame and fortune was the first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic.
The 85th anniversary of that event, which happened May 20-21, 1927, is just around the corner.
St. John’s was a significant point as Lindbergh flew his plane, Spirit of St. Louis, from Roosevelt Field, near New York City, to Le Bourget Field, near Paris, in 33.5 hours.
He buzzed the city on his way, updating the world of his status.
“All the evening, the coastal stations were on the lookout, but it was foggy and no word to his whereabouts could be obtained,” The Evening Telegram reported May 21, 1927.
“Suddenly at 8:45, the citizens of St. John’s were startled by the zooming of an engine, and there overhead, flashing down through the Waterford Valley and making for The Narrows was Lindbergh’s machine.”
He flew between 300 and 400 feet at “an immense speed.”
The paper later noted the people of Bay Bulls fell to their knees and prayed for Lindbergh’s success as he flew over that community.
When asked about the status of the Lindbergh marker at Big Pond, the city spokeswoman listed other reasons why the original location was inappropriate.
She said it was not maintained by the province prior to the city taking ownership of the watershed area.
As well, the city began having issues regarding the safety and security of the water supply, because people were found camping or fishing, or involved in “other inappropriate uses at the location.”
Finally, the official said the road leading to the site caused safety concerns due to its steep grade.
“The new location for the monument will allow us to better protect it from vandalism, protect the regional water supply and alleviate the traffic issues and need to park on the highway,” she wrote. “The location will also give the monument increased visibility and prominence.”
Gary Hebbard, an aviation buff who is also a Telegram photographer, likes that the monument will be relocated.
“(It) was in a rather inaccessible spot and it had begun to deteriorate, so if they’re going to fix it up and move it to a more prominent spot, I think that’s a great idea, especially from a tourism point of view,” he said.
Hebbard says Lindbergh’s contribution to aviation, along with the local connection to him, are worth acknowledging.
He noted that the aviator and his wife were pioneers, and part of their legacy was searching out the best routes for transatlantic travel.
“Without him, who knows what our air system would look like?”