A Historical Page-Turner for Women’s History Month: The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks

22 Mar

I’ve always had a penchant for reading historical fiction and it’s especially more appealing when the story focuses on New Jersey history and prominent Garden State figures such as Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks is a compelling and riveting new historical novel about America’s most notorious kidnapping through the eyes of the woman who found herself at the heart of this deadly crime.

Betty Gow, a Scottish immigrant, is hired by the infamous Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh to serve as the nanny for their precious little Charles Jr. Betty has recently relocated to New Jersey to begin working for the renowned Lindberghs and has to acclimate herself to their refined and aristocratic lifestyle as well as the upperclass environment. She quickly bonds with the adorable Charles Jr. as well as the other down-to-earth household staff. However, her relationship with the famed Lindberghs is somewhat strained, because Colonel Lindbergh is eccentric and often odd, and Mrs. Lindbergh is kind yet nervous, not allowing her to develop a rapport. They also spend a considerable amount of time traveling, leaving Betty to her own devices. She settles into the palatial Englewood mansion of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s parents as the famous couple awaits the construction of their own lavish estate in the quaint village of Hopewell, NJ. She assumes her duties as nanny with utmost care and compassion and develops a daily routine with her charge involving outdoor playtime, story time, feeding, naps, etc. Far from home and bruised from a love affair gone horribly wrong, Betty finds comfort in caring for Charles Jr. and warms to the attentions of handsome sailor Henrik, also known as Red, whom she meets at a nightclub on a night out with some of the household staff.

Then, tragedy strikes when Charles Jr. is kidnapped from the family home in 1932 under her supposed care and the case makes international headlines. Betty Gow, a formerly obscure young woman, is now known around the world by another name: the Lindbergh Nanny. Suddenly a suspect in the eyes of both the media and the public, she must find the truth about what really happened that night, in order to clear her own name and to find justice for the child she loves.

At this point, the story becomes more of a mystery or whodunit as the local authorities investigate the kidnapping and begin prying into the personal lives of the household staff, including Betty. They believe the kidnapping is an inside job, so past skeletons and dark secrets are unearthed causing tension and suspicion. Even Betty begins digging into matters in an effort to comfort and appease the Lindberghs and her own guilty conscience. The media also becomes quite cruel by printing outlandish gossip and pointing the finger at any number of suspects thus causing a riff in the relationships among the closely-knit household staff. As rumors and gossip spiral out of control, Betty maintains her innocence and becomes a resolute and steadfast witness as well as an honest and admirable individual with sincere convictions.

This was a fascinating and engrossing read, which inspired me to pursue more research about the Lindbergh kidnapping and the people involved after I had finished the book. You can check out The Kidnap Years: The Astonishing True History of the Forgotten Epidemic That Shook Depression-Era America by David Stout for a True Crime exploration of the kidnappings that were frequent during the Great Depression Era. New Jersey’s Lindbergh Kidnapping and Trial by Mark W. Falzini and James Davidson, part of the Images of America Series, features historic photographs from the investigation and trial.

Written by:
Ethan Galvin
Information and Digital Services Librarian

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