Spirit and Creator: The Mysterious Man Behind Lindbergh’s Flight to Paris
Introduction from the book
My grandfather passed away in 1968, eight years before I was born. What I knew of him was limited to stories. Not of a gifted aeronautical engineer, but of a man who loved to hike among the tall pines in the Cuyamaca Mountain wilderness near San Diego. Occasionally, I would mention my grandfather’s connection to the Spirit of St. Louis, but there it would stop. I knew Donald A. Hall had done something important, but I felt removed from him and from his accomplishments. Removed from that titanic event in American History. I was young and more interested in surfing, swimming, and current aviation, than in aeronautical events of the past.
Five years after moving to Sedona, Arizona, in 1992, my father received a letter that would change all that. Historian Ev Cassagneres was writing a book about the Spirit of St. Louis and had been looking for my grandfather’s only son, Don Hall, Jr., for a quarter of a century. He had located my great aunt in San Diego, California, and she agreed to contact my father for the author. A meeting was arranged, and Cassagneres flew from Connecticut to interview us. He had been researching the Spirit for 35 years and hoped we could provide answers to lingering questions about Donald Hall’s role in building the aircraft. We soon learned that Cassagneres already knew of my grandfather and his true role with Charles A. Lindbergh.
What he told me sparked my interest to learn more. I began to ask my father an endless barrage of questions and pored over family photographs and keepsakes. In the process, I learned more about the man my grandfather had been than I did about his role in changing the course of aviation history. An early conservationist, backpacker, long-distance swimmer, paddle-boarder, and prolific photographer, Donald Hall had a passion for the wilds of the world. He was a gentle man, most at home while sleeping under the stars and breathing the fresh mountain air.
He was also intrigued with flight and the machines that allowed man to touch the sky. My grandfather believed that through hard work, dedication, and an understanding of the forces around us, anything is possible. As both an inventor and an engineer, his attention was always focused on the next progressive leap in technology.
The more I learned about him, the more I came to admire my grandfather. Yet, his greatest and most known accomplishment, designing and building the Spirit of St. Louis, remained less real to me than who he had been as a living and breathing man. Soon that, too, would change.
In 1999 we were packing for a move to a smaller house south of Sedona. I was working in the garage, trying to decide what to keep, what to donate, and what to throw out. In the process of moving a stack of boxes, I uncovered a WWI-era steamer trunk with the initials D.A.H. on its side. Curious, I pried open the lid of the chest. The smell of old paper was immediate and intoxicating. As I rummaged through the contents I found original manuscripts, drawings, film, photographs, and the original side drafts for the Spirit of St. Louis. While this discovery amazed me, I remembered the many family keepsakes I had looked at previously. There had been a special slide rule I had found in my grandfathers boxes. Had it been used in designing the Spirit of St. Louis? Had other items been hidden in front of us, waiting to be found, for 75 years? The proverbial Light Bulb had gone off and I went back researching and reading the letters, books, newspaper articles, photo negatives, engineering equipment scattered around the house. Here was the missing link, a steamer trunk that had lead me to the truest of family treasures, that of discovering my heritage & personal hero.
In researching my grandfather’s life a few years earlier, many questions had formed in my mind. As I sorted through the contents of this historical treasure chest, they rose to the surface again. Why did the history Donald Hall helped create pass him by with little mention? Why did he finish his career with the Navy at North Island instead of at the head of his own Hall Aeronautical Company? What had Donald Hall thought as the aerospace industry left him behind? How did his brush with destiny change him, if it had changed him at all?
This book attempts to answer those questions as it chronicles the creation of the Spirit of St. Louis from the perspective of its designer & creator. In it you’ll come to know Donald Hall not as a celebrity, but as an ordinary man who tapped into qualities inherent in all of us to achieve the extraordinary. It is my hope that reading Spirit & Creator will inspire you in the same way that coming to know my grandfather has inspired me. For his experience demonstrates that by applying ability, vision, hard work, integrity, and teamwork, an individual can change the course of history in as little as sixty days.
Grandson of Donald A. Hall, Sr.