Samuel Blackman; Reporter, AP Executive

From Associated Press

Samuel G. Blackman, who broke the news that Charles Lindbergh's baby had been kidnaped, has died of heart failure in his retirement home in Chevy Chase, Md.

Blackman, 90, who spent four decades in journalism, died Thursday. His career spanned an era from the Great Depression to missions to the moon.

The Lindbergh kidnaping was his first big story in a career of reporting and supervising coverage for Associated Press. He retired in 1969 after 11 years as AP's general news editor, then the wire service's top editorial job.

As general news editor, he demanded accurate reporting and clear writing. He presided over the general desk, the nerve center of AP headquarters in New York, in an era of clattering typewriters, ringing phones and Teletype bells, the cacophony of news.

Age did not dim his zest for news. When he turned 90 last October, Blackman wrote an account of life in a retirement home.

"Now, at 90, I find that old age for me began in my 80s," he wrote. "Steps got shorter, every chore took longer (most everything these days is a chore--even dressing), visits to doctors and hospitals became more numerous, bones more brittle. An afternoon nap is one of life's little pleasures."

His words did not flow as they did when he was an active newsman, but he said he found solace knowing others had been there, too. He noted author E. B. White's observation that, "The aging mind has a bagful of nasty tricks, one of which is to tuck names and words away in crannies where they are not immediately available."

As a reporter, Blackman covered some of the major events of his day, including the 1934 Morro Castle steamship fire in which 125 people died, the crashes of the dirigibles Akron and Hindenburg, and the kidnaping and murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr., one of the most sensational stories of its time.

Researchers over the years sought him out for his memory of the Lindbergh story.

Acting on a tip, Blackman hurried 14 miles from his AP office in Trenton, N.J., to the Lindbergh estate, where he found four men searching with flashlights.

"State police," one said.

"I'm Blackman of the AP," the reporter said.

"I'm Charles Lindbergh," another said, and explained the search.

Blackman dictated his story from a farmhouse and it appeared in morning newspapers hours before the kidnaping was announced. He covered the case from that night in 1932 through the execution of Bruno Hauptmann four years later.

Blackman was born in Port Jervis, N.Y., Oct. 22, 1904. He began his news career as a student stringer for the New York Times and several New Jersey newspapers to earn tuition money for Rutgers University, where he graduated in 1927 and later earned a master's degree in English. Blackman joined AP at its Trenton bureau in 1931.

Walter R. Mears, now an AP vice president and Washington columnist, recalls an incident from the 1964 election campaign.

"Barry Goldwater gave a press conference and said it was for background, not for attribution. That didn't seem right--this was a candidate for President. I asked Sam what to do. He said to spike it, we wouldn't use it.

"So we spiked it. When we were the only ones who didn't have a story the next day, the flak flew. Sam backed us all the way. His principles were inflexible. That explains his status in journalism."

He is survived by two daughters, Carolyn B. Jacoby of Bound Brook, N.J., and Ann Blackman Putzel, a former AP reporter and now a correspondent for Time magazine in Washington, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World