Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
It's yellow now and almost opague, but when Charles Augustus Lindbergh looked through that insinglass skylight 50 years ago he saw the ancient procession of the Atlantic stars, like all the voyagers before him, and knew roughly where he was.
"Where am I?" he hollered once to a boat - he was flying 10 feet above the surface of the ocean sometimes - but nobody answered back. When he got to Paris, solo from New York, the world went wild.
All these years later, when the great flight was being remembered at ceremonies on both sides of the sea, the magic was still bright.
"He's still an image," said the French ambassador, Jacques Kosciusko-Morizet, "Still the young American."
Averell Harrimann was taking with the ambassador, in a great crowd of several hundred at the Air and Space Museum dinner Thursday night commemorating the flight that took place May 20-21, 1927. People often speculated just what there was about Lindy that swept the world before him.
"I think maybe it was simply that he as so unassuming," said Harriman. "A lot of men do good things but then can't handle the adulation that comes. He never let any of it go to his head."
Madame Koschiusko-Morizet, who was of course just scarcely born in 1927, said she'll never forget the song, and began to sing, "Le jeune american," hum-de-hum and then the words came to her and she sang quite a spell and very well indeed, too. A few people peered over to see what all the animation was about, and she stopped.
"There was a great light," she said, "that would guide him to Le Bourget, and all France knew it would not be lit unless he made it - was flying over French soil.
"The light went on. All France knew he was going to land, he had made it."
In the 33-odd hours of the flight, a lot of dreams from both coasts - and as far inland as the middle of Minnesota, his boyhood home - rode with him.
"Poor Slim," his buddies all said among themselves before he took off from New York. Others before him had tried and been killed. The oldest myths of men who presumed to fly all ahd the same ending. They died in flight. Nobody in the world wanted this skinny guy with the shy smile and the yellow hair that kept blowing around, to run into any trouble, but people were churned up about it and sat up all night with their radios on not learning anything. Prayers went up from all slides and in one place several thousand guys took off their caps and bowed their heads. There really never was anything like it.
Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) said people "needed" a hero, and in Lindbergh they thought they saw one clean and untarnished. Like the knight of Charlemagne's who was pure and without reproach.
"He was the last," said Zbigniew Brzezinski, the President's national security adviser, "who married security adviser, "who married adventure with technology single-handedly. Nowadays great advances are a huge team effort."
Guests sat in prim gilt chairs on the second-floor gallery where you could reach out and touch Lindbergh's plane. The Spirit of St. Louis (which could easily be spruced up to fly again, it is said).
Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins were there, the Dillon Ripleys, the Carter Browns, Mrs. Paul Warnke, Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz). Mayor and Mrs. Walter Washington Fulbright and Land Lindbergh, the Lone Eagle's son:
A memorial fund for scholarships (the evening was a benefit for this project) will go for studies in the fields that interested Lindbergh most - flying, exploring, nature conservation and including wildlife conservation and anti-pollution efforts. The wives of the last seven Presidents form an honorary committee for this fund drive.
The evening's speaker, Sir Peter Scott, chairman of the Wrold Wildlife Fund, said he was awed to be the chief talker since he was only "a simple bird-watcher."
Lindbergh, the speaker said, once told him, "You know, they think I'm coming to talk about aviation, but when I get there I talk about conservation. It seems to work out pretty well."
Lindbergh managed to secure protection for the blue and humpback whales off the whole Pacific coast of South America, and did a good bit of conservation work elsewhere and was indeed "a giant" in the field.
As the time passed and the evening settled in, one could reflect on Lindy's later life - the terrible kidnapping of his first son, and later the efforts to keep America out of World War II and the comments about Jewish influence in the media.
You could think of it if you got a kick reflecting no mortal is perfect. Or you could put that to one side, if you preferred, and look at the little plane, with cloth glued over its ribs and the skylight right where it has always been. He must have hollered out that window to the boat. He must have looked right through that patch of isinglasswhen he got his fix from the stars.