VINSON: Hoover Changes Course Of American History

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“We must never forget our history,” said J. Edgar Hoover

Though it falls into the very genre I tend to enjoy, I didn’t make it a point to go to the theater and see the Clint Eastwood directed-produced movie “J. Edgar,” a brave take on J. Edgar Hoover, the Federal Bureau Investigation’s first and most controversial director.

However, a few days back, after the movie had been released on DVD, I rented a copy from Northside Video Store, here in McMinnville.

Wow, was I ever in for a learning experience!

With most readers having heard and read about Hoover ’s controversial career or seen the movie, or both, I’ll provide just a short, layman’s  background,  to ensure some of the younger readers aren’t  left in the wake scratching their heads.

Hoover was born in 1895 and grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. An apt assumption is, early on, Hoover felt “communism” threatened the American way of life.

Raised and controlled by a seemingly domineering mother, Hoover earned his law degree and was appointed the FBI’s first official director in 1935 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a position he held until his death in 1972.

For the entirety of his career as director, Hoover maintained a vigilant lookout for communists and communist sympathizers

Hoover never married, and rumors circulated that he engaged in a homosexual relationship with FBI Deputy Director Clyde Tolson, who never married, either, and to whom he left his estate upon his death.

However, Eastwood should be credited for doing a balanced job regarding Hoover’s actual sexuality.

While Eastwood gives strong  implications that Hoover and Tolson could’ve been a romantic item, he — with the savvy only someone of his background could have —leaves enough space for the objective mind to counter with this another possibility.

The movie hints that Hoover and Tolson threw themselves into their careers, were nothing more than the closest of friends, and never consummated a homosexual act.

Further, Hoover laid the groundwork for fingerprinting, as we know it today.

Though it never has been definitively produced, strong evidence indicates Hoover kept confidential files on practically anyone and everyone who expressed any form of disdain for Hoover or the bureau.

The biggest lesson I gained from the movie “J. Edgar,” though, is the impact the Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932 had on American culture.

Charles Lindbergh Sr. rose to international fame when, in May 1927, he made a solo, nonstop flight in a single-seat, single-engine airplane from New York City, across the Atlantic Ocean, to Paris, France.

On March 1, 1932, Charles Lindbergh Jr., infant  son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, was abducted from the family’s upscale home in New Jersey.

The kidnapping became a national phenomenon or, as famous newspaper writer H.L. Mencken called it, the “biggest story since the Resurrection.”

A huge ransom was demanded by the abductors. Ultimately, it was paid by the Lindbergh family.

The FBI quickly intervened, with Hoover at the helm.

Sadly, Charles Jr.’s dead body was discovered May 12, 1932 near the Lindbergh home.

Bruno Richard Hauptman, a German immigrant, was arrested, tried and convicted of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder. Hauptman was later electrocuted on April 3, 1936.

Resultant of the capture and conviction of Hauptman, kidnapping was legislated as a federal crime, which caused the nation to view Hoover and the FBI in a positive light, for a while, anyway.  

Essentially, the Lindberg baby kidnapping forever altered the collective face of American law enforcement.

Love him or loathe him, I agree with Hoover’s statement, “We must never forget our history.”

However, I’ll gingerly add to it by stating: We, first, must take the time necessary to learn the same history”

Mike Vinson can be contacted at
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