Monday, February 23, 2015

Finding Charles Lindbergh


When I tell people the story of how difficult it was to find Charles Lindbergh's gravesite off the Hana Highway, the response is always the same.  

"I didn't know Charles Lindbergh lived in Maui."   

"How did Lindbergh ever end up in Hawaii?" 

"He's buried there?"

One would assume he'd be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, or something similar, but no.

To be honest with you, I also didn't know about Lindbergh's connection to the Hawaiian islands before our Maui vacation.  I just wanted to drive the Hana Highway and see all of the beautiful bridges and waterfalls.  When Gerry and I researched the Hana Highway and how best to see as much as we could on on the 64-plus miles stretch of road, that's when we learned that Lindbergh was buried on the mountain.  Growing up, I was very intrigued about Lindbergh's life as the pilot, inventor, goodwill ambassador, and conservation activist so, of course, we had to visit his gravesite.
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With a detailed tour map and mastered CD ready to play in the disk drive, and there were many to choose from, we began our early ascent up the rolling hills and mountain.  So many people make the mistake of not purchasing the inexpensive map and CD and miss so many remarkable sites along the way.  The CD provides a narrative of the area that you're approaching.  The numbered segments on the CD correspond to the numbered road markers on the highway.  It's a great way to learn the history of these marked areas.
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After three hours of driving, then stopping to take pictures of the lovely lush scenery, then driving some more on the two-lane paved highway, we knew we were close to reaching the cemetery, but we couldn't find it.  Sites weren't always easily found.  Either the markers were missing, or we just couldn't readily see them because they became hidden in foliage.  So we kept driving until the two lanes became one.  

Something didn't feel right.  The road went from smooth pavement to sandy and rocky road.  It wasn't a good situation.  As we drove uphill on the rocky road, the width of the road became more narrow and was just getting freaking scary, and then we came head to head with a car going downhill.  Yikes.  We were basically hugging the cliff!  Cars were backed up behind us. We signaled the drivers to reverse gears and slowly drive back down the hill.  I don't think anyone breathed the entire time.

Back on safe ground, we stopped vehicles to ask for directions to the cemetery.  After two false tries, we pulled over to a small local grocery store and asked a group of tourists for directions.  One group said they were trying to find the gravesite, but a lady from another group spoke up and said to "go back down the road and turn right at the horse head."  So we did, and there it was.  A huge wooden carved horse head -- a beautiful creation.  I'm sorry to say I did not take a photo of it.  I was simply too excited to have found the place to even think of taking a picture of the horse head.  We drove onto the red clay road toward an old church.
The Palapala Ho'omau Church is tiny and unassuming.  Founded in 1864, the church is a popular stop for tourists, especially those old enough to remember the historic flight of the "Lone Eagle".  They are drawn here as if on an aviation pilgrimage.

Next to the church is a horse pasture.  I think this horse served as a model for the beautifully carved wooden horse head marker.

Resources say Lindbergh loved coming to the islands for rest and relaxation.  He favored this part of Maui because Kipahulu is beautiful and tranquil with just enough rain to keep everything lush and green, but with the most sun year-round.  The area also has the least amount of people in this most remote part of the island.  Now who wouldn't want to spend the rest of their lives this way?  They say "the church is the first building to greet the sunrise in Maui."  That's heavenly.


Palapala Church was built in 1857 of limestone coral by some of the Christian missionaries to the island.  There was a high concentration of Hawaiians living in and around the area at the time.  Today only a few families and farmers remain.

Charles Lindbergh loved it so much in Kipahulu that he built an A-frame cottage and lived part of the year there with his wife and one of his children.  During the last few weeks of his life, Lindbergh quietly planned his funeral keeping it simple.  He was buried in simple work clothes, and his body was placed in a coffin built by cowboys employed at cattle ranch in the nearby town of Hana.  He said he "wanted to smell the sweet flowery air of Hana" as his final breath.  His wish was granted. 

Lindbergh died of lymphatic cancer at the age of 72.

There are few graves that surround Lindbergh's gravesite in this peaceful place that sits high on a bluff overlooking the dramatic coastline.

Other than seeing my niece get married, finding Charles Lindbergh's gravesite was the highlight of my Maui vacation.  Being there at his eternal resting place was sacred.  Rest in peace, Mr. Lindbergh.

If you come to visit, the Palapala Ho'omau Church welcomes you and request you not disturb any of the flowers and gifts left at the gravesites, and that you treat the entire grounds with respect.

Happy Travels,

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