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320: This Week: The Spirit of St. Louis, Amelia, The Messenger

In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movies: The Spirit of St. Louis, Amelia, and The Messenger.

Events from This Week in History


Birthdays from This Week in History


A Historical Movie Released This Week in History

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

May 20, 1927. New York.

Jimmy Stewart’s version of Charles Lindbergh looks at the watch on his nightstand. Then, unable to sleep, he decides to turn the light on and get up. I guess if you can’t sleep anyway, might as well get some work done.

He splashes some water on his face. Benjamin Frank Mahoney, he’s played by Bartlett Robinson in the film, walks into the room. He asks Lindbergh what’s up, it’s not time yet. Lindbergh says it’s close enough. Mahoney asks if he got any sleep at all, to which Lindbergh just says he’ll be all right.

In the next shot, we see the two men checking out of their room and almost immediately they’re swarmed by reporters.

It’s too early in the morning for the sun to be up yet. It’s also raining as their car drives to the hangar. There, men are checking all the items. They can’t pack a parachute, it’s too heavy. The weight of that is about four gallons of gas and Lindbergh would rather have the gas. So, no parachute.

One of the men still doing final checks on the plane tells Lindbergh he hung up the magnetic compass in the best spot he could find so it’d swing less in the rough air. The only downside is that it’ll be right above Lindbergh’s head, so he’ll have to read it in a mirror. The only one of those he could find is a big, clunky one. Lindbergh says that’ll be too heavy, so he asks the others in the hangar if anyone has a small, pocket mirror.

From outside, one of the people in the crowd standing in the rain outside the hangar replies. Lindbergh invites the woman over to the plane where he lets her sit in the cockpit in exchange for her mirror.

She remarks how empty it is in there. He says they have the bare minimum to keep the weight down. She notices there’s no window in front, they should cut a hole to see. He explains the front is filled with gas for the trip, but he points to a little slot that he can look through to see ahead through a periscope like on a submarine.

Before she goes, he asks how long she’s been standing out there. She says she was standing out there all night. He asks if she’s from Long Island. Nope. New York? Nope. Where? She says she’s from Philadelphia.

“You came all the way from Philadelphia?” He asks.

She says she had to, you needed a mirror. Then, she rejoins the crowd watching in the rain outside. A weather report comes in and they’d recommend waiting until noon. Maybe another 24 hours, just to be safe.

Lindbergh goes outside. It’s not raining anymore, but it’s super foggy out there.

He goes back inside. “Let’s roll her out,” he says and the men in the hangar spring into action, rolling the airplane outside. Once there, the back of the plane is hooked up to a truck and it’s towed to the runway, followed by scores of other cars, trucks, motorcycles, and all the spectators on foot.

The rain has washed out the runway, so now the challenge will be whether he can get the plane off the ground before the runway runs out of room.

Getting in the plane, Lindbergh turns on the gas from inside the cockpit as a man manually spins the propeller.


The engine roars to life. It’s running 30 revolutions low, but they attribute it to the weather. It’s just damp air, nothing mechanical.

Lindbergh puts some cotton in his ears and then puts on a leather cap with goggles. He checks the flaps and looks through the periscope. Things seem to be okay. He turns to Mahoney, who is just outside the cockpit and says he might as well go.

They shake hands and Lindbergh takes off without incident despite the mud and a close call with the power lines and trees at the end of the runway.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie The Spirit of St. Louis

That depiction comes from the 1957 film named after the airplane we see Jimmy Stewart’s version of Charles Lindbergh piloting: The Spirit of St. Louis.

It was this week in history, on May 20th, 1927, that Charles Lindbergh took off in New York for the flight that would make him the first human being to fly solo across the Atlantic.

Although there is more to the true story that we don’t see in the film’s sequence I just described.

For example, the “solo” bit of Lindbergh’s achievement is important because he was not the first to fly across the Atlantic nonstop. That would be two British pilots, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, who flew from Newfoundland to Ireland in June of 1919. At just under 2,000 miles, or about 3,200 kilometers, Alcock and Brown’s trip was about half the distance of Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris.

So, that begs another question. Why from New York to Paris? Why those cities in particular when he could’ve made history as the first solo aviator to fly nonstop across the Atlantic while also flying a much shorter distance similar to Alcock and Brown.

Well, one of Lindbergh’s reasons for making the trip was to make history, of course, but it was also because of a $25,000 reward put up by a French businessman named Raymond Orteig who owned hotels in New York City. In 1919, he set up a prize of $25,000 for whoever could achieve the first non-stop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris.

That’s about $434,000 in today’s U.S. dollars.

So, of course, Lindbergh was aware of the history he would be making, but he’d also be making a fair amount of money for himself and those who financed his trip.

The plane he used was built by Ryan Airlines in San Diego, which we see happening earlier in the film. They customized one of their M-2 planes for Lindbergh to allow for the weight of additional fuel and dubbed it the Ryan NYP for New York-Paris. It was powered by a J5-C engine from the Wright Brothers’ aircraft manufacturer.

Although Wilbur Wright wasn’t alive—he died in 1912—his brother, Orville, was alive and friendly with Charles Lindbergh. About a month after his historic flight, in June of 1927, Lindbergh went to Dayton, Ohio, to meet with Orville Wright at Wright Field. That’s where the U.S. Air Force’s headquarters are today.

As for the name of Lindbergh’s plane, that came thanks to his financiers who were in St. Louis. That was Lindbergh’s hometown at the time, where he was an airmail pilot.

That’s key to the story because it ties into something else we see in the film: The Spirit of St. Louis not having any front window.

Lindbergh’s experience as an airmail pilot meant he was used to flying with limited visibility. You see, mail planes back then used to carry the mail bags in the front with the pilot in the rear cockpit. So, Lindbergh was used to navigating by looking out the side of the cockpit.

Since Lindbergh didn’t have to look out the front of the plane, having a front window didn’t matter that much too him. What mattered more was being able to carry more fuel, so the movie was correct to show that instead of a front window there was, instead, fuel tanks in front.

Oh, and there really was a periscope in the plane, too. That was just in case Lindbergh needed to see out front, but we don’t really know if he used it at all.

The film was also correct to show the main compass in the plane being mounted in a location where Lindbergh needed to use a mirror to see it. In some of the final tests before taking off, Lindbergh noticed it was too difficult to see the compass.

So, it’s also true that they used a mirror from a woman’s makeup case mounted with chewing gum to help him see the compass.

The takeoff itself was shown fairly well in the movie too, all things considered.

It is true that the weather wasn’t great. And just like we see in the movie, Lindbergh himself had trouble sleeping the night before, so he was at the airfield by about 3:00 AM. He wasn’t the first to the field as spectators had started showing up overnight.

He’d hoped to take off sooner, but the rain delayed them some. At 7:51 AM on May 20th, Lindbergh’s plane started down the runway to the delight of the 500 or so people who showed up to the field to watch.

After some bouncing on the wet runway, Lindbergh managed to get the plane in the air and he was off!

And while we didn’t talk about this part of the film, it was also this week in history that Lindbergh successfully landed in Paris, France at 10:22 PM on May 21st, 1927. That was 33.5 hours and 3,610 miles, or about 5,800 kilometers, away from where he took off in New York.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, check out the 1957 film called The Spirit of St. Louis. The takeoff sequence starts with Jimmy Stewart’s version of Charles Lindbergh heading to the airfield on the early morning hours of May 20th at about 53 minutes into the film.

Oh, and as a fun little fact, James Stewart himself was also born on May 20th in the year 1908.


May 20, 1932. Teterboro, New Jersey.

Our next event this week takes place exactly five years after Lindbergh took off for his historic flight. This is yet another historic flight, too.

There’s a woman wearing a brown, leather flight suit walks around the silver propeller of an otherwise bright, red plane. There are a few other people, all men, who are looking over the plane as well. She walks away from the plane toward a bespectacled man wearing a fedora and a suit.

He asks if she’s still tired. She smiles, saying she’ll nap on the way. That’s the good thing about flying solo, no one else is there to make any noise. She chuckles lightly at her own joke.

He gives her $20, saying he spent the rest of the money on the ship’s ticket back. It’s non-refundable, so he begs her to please do her part. She smiles and makes the promise. Then, she walks back to the red plane and hops in the cockpit.

In the next shot, we can see the plane flying above the clouds. A full moon is peaking behind the clouds in the distance as it casts light on the foreground clouds making for a beautiful scene.

In the cockpit, Hilary Swank’s version of Amelia Earhart smiles as she takes in the view. Then, a look of concern crosses over her face as she sees the flashes of lightning in the clouds. Here comes the thunder and the rain. And now her propeller plane shakes and rattles as she coaxes it through the clouds of a strong thunderstorm.

She makes it back above the clouds for a moment of peace before there’s another challenge: Ice. Her windshield starts to ice up, forcing her down below the clouds. This, too, she makes it through for a while until she can safely guide the plane back above the clouds into clarity.

The camera cuts to the same bespectacled man from the airstrip. This is Richard Gere’s character, George Putnam. He’s listening to the radio, which is talking about a crowd gathering in Paris in anticipation of the historic moment when Amelia Earhart touches down where Lindbergh did years ago.

Back in the cockpit, Earhart is facing a new challenge now: Exhaustion. We can see she’s starting to doze off to sleep. After a moment, she wakes up with a jolt.

The sun is coming up now and she laughs as she sees the sprawling, green landscape unfolding in front of her. She touches down in a grassy field.

Getting out of the cockpit, the first person she sees is a man with a bunch of sheep. She asks the shepherd where she is. He says she’s landed in Gallagher’s pasture. Where were you heading?

She tells him she was aiming for Paris.

He gives her the bad news—well, you missed. Then, raising his cane, he points it off to the left side of the shot: It’s over there.

Amelia laughs and greets the sheep with a look of joy on her face.

Back in the United States, the phone rings and George Putnam answers. The voice on the other end says that she’s made it. She landed in Ireland. Jumping out of his chair, George cheers the good news.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Amelia

This sequence comes from the 2009 movie simply called Amelia, and it depicts an event that really did happen this week in history: Amelia Earhart becoming the first woman to fly solo and nonstop across the Atlantic.

Although there was no $25,000 prize money up for grabs since Lindbergh had already gotten that, so there was no need for Amelia Earhart to fly from New York to Paris.

As a little side note, Richard Gere’s character in the movie, George Putnam, was based on a real person. The real George Putnam was the one who published Charles Lindbergh’s autobiographical story of his 1927 flight. That was published in July of 1927, just a couple months after the trip itself, and in less than a year it had made over $250,000.

That’s over $4.3 million in today’s U.S. dollars.

That was also a big driver for Earhart’s flight, because Putnam suggested she follow in Lindbergh’s steps to make history of her own.

I’ll admit that’s a bit of an oversimplification because Putnam himself was actually contacted by a woman named Amy Phipps Guest who wanted to finance a woman to follow in Lindbergh’s path. She contacted him because of his work with Lindbergh on the book and Putnam found Amelia Earhart.

So, it’s not coincidental that Earhart was trying to get to Paris, too. The movie is correct to show that was her destination. Although she took off from Newfoundland, the original plan was for her to follow in Lindbergh’s path and land in Paris. However, icy conditions and bad weather blew her off course. So that’s why the movie was also correct to show her landing in a pasture in Ireland.

While Lindbergh’s flight took him over 33 hours, Earhart’s flight took less than half that time at about 15 hours. Of course, as we just learned, Earhart didn’t make it to Paris. So, part of the reason her flight wasn’t as long was because she landed in Ireland instead. That cut the distance to about 2,000 miles, or about 3,200 kilometers.

Nevertheless, it was a historic flight as it made Amelia Earhart the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic as well as just the second human to do so. No one else had done it in the five years since Lindbergh’s flight.

Five years after successfully becoming the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, Earhart tried to set another record in 1937. She was trying to become the first woman to fly around the world. Sadly, this attempt was not successful and she disappeared along with her navigator, Fred Noonan. They were presumed dead two years later, although searches for exactly what happened to her continue to this day.

If you want to watch her taking off in the 2009 movie called Amelia, that sequence starts at about 42 minutes and 37 seconds into the film.


May 23, 1430. Compiegne, France.

We’re immediately thrown into the action without a lot of time to digest what’s happening. In the context of the movie, it makes sense, but as we’re just focusing on this one event, let’s pause the movie for a moment to understand what’s happening here.

The camera is looking through a gate of some kind—probably a castle or city walls. I’m guessing that simply because we can see the drawbridge in the view. Right in the center of the drawbridge is a woman riding a horse. In one hand, she’s holding a flagpole with the other on the reigns of her armored horse. She’s rushing straight toward the camera, followed by a few heavily armored soldiers carrying swords. They all seem to be running away from hordes of what I can assume are enemy soldiers, battling them on both the left and right sides of the camera.

If we play the movie again, we can see a little easier that it’s Milla Jovavich’s character. She screams out, “No!” as the gate just in front of the camera comes crashing down, barring the woman and her fellow soldiers from the entrance into the safety of the castle.

She turns around to see her soldiers fighting to hold back the advancing enemy. One of the men on the other side of the gate turns, ordering the man in charge of the gate to open it and let her inside.

He refuses, saying he can’t risk the safety of the town. He screams in frustration at the betrayal. Turning back to the woman on the horse, she hands him the flagpole with its banner attached to it. Then, she draws her sword and turns around to face the enemy.

Some of her soldiers are stabbed. Throats slit.

The scene turns to slow motion as she continues swinging her sword at the enemy from her horse.

Then, a hand reaches up from behind her and pulls her from the horse. At this point, the scene cuts to what seems to be a flashback of her in an empty field lying on her back. Or, maybe it’s a vision because time is moving very fast as she whispers, “My Lord.”

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

This comes from the 1999 movie The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc with Milla Jovovich in the lead role. While this depiction is highly dramatized, it is true that Joan of Arc was captured this week in history during a battle in Compiegne, France.

All this took place during what we now know as the Hundred Years’ War between France and England.

And the movie is correct to show Joan of Arc being refused entry, but was she betrayed like we see happening in the movie?

Maybe. Maybe not.

It’s nearly impossible to know the details of exactly what happened back in 1430, and this is one of those moments in history that still gets debated today.

In the movie, it’s hard to tell if it’s a city or a castle from the limited information it has on screen, but we know from history it was the city of Compiegne that was under siege by soldiers under the command of John of Luxembourg. He was a captain for the Duke of Burgundy who was allied with the English. So, even though Burgundy is a region in France today, back then the region was allied with the English during the war between the French and English.

Joan managed to sneak into the city and then tried to start repelling the sieging forces. That didn’t work, though, because there were way more Burgundians than French. Knowing they couldn’t hold out for long, the soldiers under Joan’s command fought against Luxembourg’s men to hold them off while the citizens fled to safety.

Joan’s own escape route, however, was cut off. She did try to get back into the city, but the city gates were closed. That’s how we see the betrayal happening in the movie when someone inside closes the gates and refuses to open them again.

That’d be the governor of Compiegne, and we don’t really know if he ordered the gate closed purposely to get Joan of Arc captured. Some historians have suggested perhaps the gate was closed simply because the Burgundians were outside and they didn’t want the enemy to enter the city.

It would make sense.

Whatever the reason, Joan wasn’t able to get into the city and that meant any French outside the wall had nowhere to go.

Very similar to what we see in the movie, Joan was pulled down from her horse and captured by the Burgundians. They then sold her to the English where she was put on trial for heresy.

Oh, and the visions we see happening in the movie? While we don’t know if those exact visions were a thing, it is true that Joan of Arc claimed to see visions of various saints and hear divine voices. In fact, her visions were used against her in the English trial.

It was a show trial, everyone knew what the result would be. She died almost exactly a year later, because the anniversary of her execution is next week.

Joan of Arc was burned at the stake on May 30th, 1431, at the age of 19.

If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, though, check out the 1999 movie called The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc and the day’s events start at about an hour and 56 minutes into the film.


May 26, 1940. Dunkirk, France.

Five British soldiers look up to see countless papers floating down from the sky. The town seems to be deserted, and every so often one or two of the soldiers peel off from the rest to check the buildings for something.

One of the soldiers grabs a few pieces of paper from the air. They’re all the same. It’s kind of like one of those “You are here” maps you’ll find at various places, but this is quite an ominous one.

The top of the map indicates water, and everything beneath it is red except for a spot in the middle that says “YOU.” There are arrows pointing toward “YOU” from the red area of the map and in that are it says “WE SURROUND YOU.” At the bottom there are two words: “SURRENDER SURVIVE.”

Another of the soldiers gives an indication for what they’re checking the buildings for as he tries picking up a hose to wring out anything left into his mouth. There are only a few drops.

The silence is broken by gunshots. The soldiers start running down the street. One of them is hit. Then another, and another and another. The last soldier manages to make it over a gate into someone’s backyard. The gunshots follow and he runs to the other side of the yard into a different street. On that side, more gunshots erupt as they shoot at him.

He yells at them, saying he’s English, and the gunshots stop. These must be friendly soldiers. He runs to the barricade, a French soldier helping him over the sandbags that are piled up.

Once he’s on the other side, gunshots start from behind him and the defending soldiers return fire. He runs down the street until it opens up to a sandy beach. There are thousands of other soldiers on the beach, all lined up with nowhere to go. They’re blocked by the water beyond the beach that stretches as far as the eye can see.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Dunkirk

This sequence comes from the 2017 movie Dunkirk and right away I’ll point out that it might not be something that happened this week in history. The reason I say that is because by the time that last soldier—his character’s name is Tommy in the film—by the time Tommy reaches the beach, we can see the soldiers are already there on the beach.

Has the evacuation already started? Maybe. Maybe not. The film is a little ambiguous about the specific date. With that said, though, since the point of the entire film is the Dunkirk evacuation and this is how the movie starts, I’ll guess the day is either May 26th or May 27th, 1940.

I know I mentioned the date as May 26th at the beginning of this segment, and I did that because that’s when the evacuation began. But many refer to May 27th as the start because it was the first full day of the evacuation. And I know this week splits between May 26th being this week and May 27th being next week, but since the evacuation started partway through the day on May 26th, that’s why we’re learning about Operation Dynamo beginning this week. That’s the name of the operation that history often remembers as the “Miracle of Dunkirk.”

Of course, they didn’t know it was going to be a miracle when it first got underway. Churchill ordered the operation to begin on May 26th and it was expected to last about two days. They hoped to get about 45,000 of the troops across the English Channel to safety before the Germans overran the remaining forces.

What they didn’t know was that Hitler ordered his Panzers to halt. Maybe he thought the Luftwaffe could kill the men on the beaches without any of their own losses. Maybe he thought they’d counterattack. We don’t really know the reason why, but we do know that allowed an operation that the British originally thought might save 45,000 over the course of two days, but it ended up saving the lives of 338,226 people in nine days.

That’s why, after the operation ended on June 4th, 1940, Winston Churchill gave his famous “We Shall Never Surrender” speech. So here is that speech, and listen closely for when he calls it a “miracle of deliverance.”

“A miracle of deliverance, achieved by valour, by perseverance, by perfect discipline, by faultless service, by resource, by skill, by unconquerable fidelity, is manifest to us all. The enemy was hurled back by the retreating British and French troops. He was so roughly handled that he did not hurry their departure seriously. We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations. But there was a victory inside this deliverance, which should be noted. It was gained by the Air Force. Many of our soldiers coming back have not seen the Air Force at work; they saw only the bombers which escaped its protective attack. They underrate its achievements. I have heard much talk of this; that is why I go out of my way to say this.”

If you want to watch the event that began this week in history, I’d recommend just watching the entire 2017 Dunkirk movie. Once you’ve done that, I had a chat with the historical consultant on the film, Joshua Levine, back on episode #204 of Based on a True Story. Oh, and if you happen to catch the video version on YouTube you can see Joshua showing a side-by-side of the map we see falling at the beginning of the movie. He shows the actual one compared with the one they made easier to read for the film so you can see that over at



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