Continued from A move to the city
Finding the folder containing my mother’s best efforts at breaking into a writing career corroborated some of the stories she told me on one of our vacations together before illness robbed her of her whatsie.
In 1984, after a day of hiking to the vanishing glaciers at Glacier National Park, we were celebrating the beauty of the Park over dinner at the Many Glaciers Hotel. I asked my mother what she did after high school.
“I tried a bunch of things,” mom admitted. “First there was there was journalism. I’d always excelled in writing and had been editor of the newspaper in high school, so this seemed like a shoo-in. But that Lindbergh affair did it for me.” She took a sip from her martini.
“What do you mean, mom?”
“Ach, that spoiled little rich boy was nothing but a racist. He painted himself to be a grand hero and wanted the government’s help in finding his son, then his son’s abductor. There was something fishy about that whole abduction thing. Bruno Hauptmann was convicted by the press, not by the evidence.”
“Who was Bruno Hauptmann?”
“He’s the poor sucker who was executed, based on circumstantial evidence. He was an uneducated guy who’d fled a miserably poor life in Germany. He’d snuck into the states illegally after being convicted in Germany of thefts and burglaries, but lots of people had to steal to survive in Germany in those days.”
The mop-haired young waiter with the proud beginnings of a wispy mustache and goatee stepped up to the table with a pair of spinach salads. His name tag said he was from North Carolina and I wondered what he thought of those massive granite peaks that guarded the lake below the hotel.
Mom, smiling at the thick chunks of blue cheese on her salad, continued, “Hauptmann found work as a carpenter in the states, got married and was living a quiet life in the Bronx.” She massaged the dressing into the spinach as she spoke. “Someone reported him to the police and the jig was up. An illegal alien—a German at that—he was an easy target for the fear and pandemonium that the press had been stirring up for months. The headlines kept the fire hot— ransom notes and instructions copied out word-for-word right there in the paper. Maybe even the kidnappers were being scammed.” She stabbed another forkful of lettuce.
“Yabutt, who turned him in?”
“Somehow his car was associated with the ransom money. Then a couple of dubious witnesses said they saw him on Lindbergh property. I think he was framed. The police found a bunch of money in his garage. He said it belonged to a friend whose stuff he was storing. He didn’t even know there was money in there.”
“So what did all this have to do with journalism? What do you mean the press convicted him?”
“The papers were filled with sensationalized reports. Those papers became a tool for whoever abducted the kid. Now, when that happens, how in the world can you report impartially? It was yellow journalism at its worst, all fanned by a man with too much money and a Texas-sized ego.” She shoved a forkful of greens into her mouth, munched a bit, then continued.
“Then that man had the audacity to declare that Jewish Americans were war agitators. His anti-Semitism and anti-communism were the seeds of the McCarthy era persecutions that were to follow.”