Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

February 26, 2013

RANDOM THOUGHTS: Crossville’s Lindbergh baby

By Dorothy Copus Brush
Chronicle correspondent

CROSSVILLE — “Battleship Maine a wreck, blown to pieces in Havana Harbor. 265 men lost their lives. Spain is suspected by some of being connected with the disaster.” That was the story that appeared in the Crossville Chronicle in February 1898. In February 2013 that same story appears nationwide as Cuba announces they are repairing the monument, dedicated in 1925 to the 266 U.S. sailors who lost their lives in that Remember the Maine incident.

The Maine was sunk February 15, 1898. The U.S. declared war on Spain April 25, 1898 and the war ended when the ‘Treaty of Paris’ was signed on December 10, 1898. The war cost the United States $250 million dollars and 3,000 lives but 90% died from infectious diseases.

A Chronicle editorial on April 13, 1898 said, “When we go to war, as we probably will within ten days, we will begin a rate of expenditure of $1,000,000 a day for the extraordinary cost of the war alone. This much on top of the $5,000,000 we now expend for the peace footing, will make the debit side of our national ledger look big. How will we feel when we come to pay Piper?”

Later in April the Chronicle noted that the war department had decided on Chickamauga Park as the point for mobilizing most of the troops when the war with Spain comes. Somewhere from 40,000 to 50,000 men will be stationed there.    

In New York City the Film Forum is showing “1933 Hollywood’s Naughtiest, Bawdiest Year.” It was during the 1930s our country was suffering from the worst days of the Depression and the effort to change that began when F.D.R. took office in 1933 and introduced the New Deal.

It was in the 1930s that Hitler became chancellor, the Great Plains became the Dust Bowl, prohibition was repealed and construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building was completed.

On March 1, 1932 the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped. A short story about the most celebrated crime of the 1930s appeared on the front page of the Crossville Chronicle on March 3. The next few days were well remembered by Crossville.

Mike Moser, Chronicle editor, tells the story in a February 1989 article. March 4, 1932 the owner of a grocery, gas station and tourist camp in Ozone rented to a couple with a baby the owner suspected was the Lindbergh child. He held the couple at gun point until Sheriff Baxter Swicegood and deputies arrived and took them to jail. That was Saturday, March 12. The Lindberghs were notified and on Sunday morning Drs. V.L. Lewis and E.W. Mitchell  examined the baby and consulted with the Lindberghs. It was not the missing child.

By this time the rumors had spread that the Lindbergh baby was safe and being held in the Crossville jail. This tiny town of 1,500 was quickly filled to overflowing with thousands of visitors who arrived by car and plane to get a look at the baby. The town had only two restaurants, six soft drink and lunch stands and five boarding houses and they soon were out of everything. To keep order the National Guard came from Cookeville to surround the jail. Special phone lines had been installed to relay the latest news.

All the excitement was over in a short time and the banner headline of the Crossville Chronicle on March 17 read “Crossville holds world spotlight Sunday.”

What happened to the mistaken Lindbergh baby? On March 20 the 18 year old mother of the child arrived in Crossville after hitchhiking from Kalamazoo, MI. By the end of March a couple in Knoxville had legally adopted the child. Now 81 years later one wonders if that babe ever knew its story.

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Dorothy Copus Brush is a Fairfield Glade resident and Crossville Chronicle staffwriter whose column is published each Wednesday. She may be reached at dcb1@frontiernet.net.