LITTLE FALLS (AP) -- When the Minnesota Historical Society built the Lindbergh Historical Site nearly 30 years ago, it tried to honor a request by pioneering aviator Charles A. Lindbergh that he not be the focus of the exhibit.
The refurbished version of the visitor and exhibit center near his boyhood summer home above the Mississippi River in Little Falls isn't what he had in mind.
The new exhibits include a cockpit replica of the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane that carried him on his 1927 flight across the Atlantic; childhood toys, recordings of his voice, the 1959 Volkswagen Beetle he drove on four continents, and examples of his later scientific work and his commitment to the environment.
When the Historical Society first designed the center, under Lindbergh's influence, "he wanted the society not to focus on him but on his ancestors," society director Nina Archabal told about 500 people at Thursday's dedication.
But people come to the Lindbergh Historic Site to learn about him, Archabal said, and "the Charles A. Lindbergh story belongs to all of us."
So, with about $1.3 million in state and federal money, the society gutted the interior, doubled the exhibit space to 3,500 square feet and added a lot more about the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic.
"We're telling the whole story of Lindbergh's life from boyhood to his death," exhibit curator Brian Horrigan said.
A big hit at the opening was the chance to sit in a cutaway cockpit of the Spirit of St. Louis, part of a skeleton model of the 27 1/2-foot single-engine plane. Its full 46-foot wingspan wouldn't fit, so one wing is outlined on the carpet.
Lindbergh made his plane virtually a flying gas tank (450 gallons) and was so conscious of weight that he even cut off corners of maps.
So how would you see where you were going with one 210-gallon tank directly in front of the cockpit in place of a windshield?
Ten-year-old Mark Thompson of Little Falls showed how by standing up from the wicker seat to peer through a periscope that gave a view.
Michael Brand, a private pilot from Grapevine, Texas, said the plane would be "very intimidating. ... He must have had a lot of confidence in his abilities to fly something like this."
To Donald Westfall, the site manager, one of the most interesting exhibits is a pioneer perfusion (heart) pump Lindbergh designed in the 1930s, seeking help for a sister-in-law with a heart problem.
Other exhibits tell stories of the aviator's wife, author Anne Morrow Lindbergh; his father, U.S. Rep. C.A. Lindbergh; his immigrant grandfather, August, and his mother, Evangeline; who told the boy that flying was too expensive and too dangerous.
Even Lindbergh family members have learned from the new exhibits.
Granddaughter Susanna Lindbergh Brown said she was surprised to see how many toys Charles had.
As children played with sticks in a nearby pond that Charles made for his ducks in 1919, Brown recalled Lindbergh's frequent response to children's requests for pricey toys.
"All I needed," he used to say, "was a stick and a piece of string."
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