By KAREN CUMMINGS, special to The Conway Daily Sun
CONWAY — Over the years, I’ve saved significant newspapers and magazines, and normally I’d be hard-pressed to find any of them, but recently, a special one resurfaced as I was cleaning out a random box.
It was the very delicate, brown and ragged front section of The Pittsburgh Press with the giant headline, MAN ON MOON, dated, “Monday, July 21, 1969.”
Twenty-five years ago, this same paper also miraculously appeared — "like rocks in a New England garden, the old newspaper just seemed to surface at my home," as I wrote about it for the July 21, 1994, issue of The Mountain Ear newspaper.
I’m as shocked that I found it then — I had moved six times from 1969-94 — as I am now, since I have moved an additional seven times.
Looking at the front page emblazoned with giant, if blurry, pictures of the astronauts just the day before, it seems pretty amazing that they had been beamed back from the surface of the moon.
Also amazing was the fact that the landing was actually televised. Wasn’t this before the internet and instant communication? But I guess if they could land on the moon, they could send back pictures.
A small article on Page 2 had the headline, “Moon ‘Toll Call’ Worries Nixon,” noting that the president was worried that "his historic phone call to astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. on the lunar surface might show up on the White House telephone bill.” OK, that sounds more like it.
A fun one had the headline, “Moon Callers Find They Lack Connections,” saying that people contacted Bell Telephone (remember Ma Bell?) operators asking, “What’s the area code for the moon?’ They were “advised to check back in a few years.”
As I wrote in the Ear: “Other things in the (1969) paper bore testament that the times have certainly changed. The headline, ‘Ladies in Waiting Keep Praying,’ for the story about the astronauts’ wives had a picture of a well-coifed Mrs. Pat Collins in a trim little dress. They wrote of Janice Armstrong, wife of astronaut Neil, saying that the moon landing was not the greatest thrill of her life. ‘The greatest moment was when I got married,’ she maintained.”
This time around, I noticed two articles somewhat buried on the second page. One had the headline, “Leaving Crash Scene Charge Filed Against Sen. Kennedy” with the offhand subhead, "Woman Secretary Killed.” The other was “Russia’s Luna: Spy, Lifeguard?”, which noted that the Russian Luna-15 spaceship came as close as 9.9 miles to Apollo 11’s moon landing site. The article wondered if it was spying or hanging around to execute a rescue.
Other headlines attested to the thrill of the moon landing: “Pride and Disbelief Top Reaction Here,” “Moondust in Eyes of America” and “World Acclaims Apollo-11.” The latter had the lede, “Almost all the world bore witness to mankind’s greatest achievement.” It then said, “But in Communist China — home to one-fifth of the world’s population — there was no report … no word that two humans had reached the moon.”
The paper featured pictures and cryptic quotes from local residents: “I’m very proud,” “It was great,” “I don’t believe it,” and “Tremendous moment.”
The story went on to quote leaders around the world, with my favorite being President Giuseppe Saragat of Italy, who was described as “drawing fully on the eloquence of Italians” and summarizing it: “Indescribable emotions have been aroused throughout the world. Perhaps this victory can give hope for victory more grand — that of peace, justice and liberty for all mankind.”
As I noted in The Mountain Ear story of 25 years ago, “not all people had stars (or moons) in their eyes.”
An article datelined Saigon reported that our American servicemen in the Mekong Delta clustered around “transistor radios” to listen to reports of the walk on the moon. Pfc. Thomas Hruby of Mable Heights, Ohio, was quoted as saying: “It’s good to venture out in space like that. But I think our country should be more concerned about the guys over here in Vietnam — getting us all home.” Sp/4 Charles Comstock of Oklahoma City echoed that thought, saying it was “good that we got on the moon, but I’d like to see us get out of Vietnam, too.”
Having lived through it, I remember mostly the nervousness associated with wondering if they were going to be able to lift off and return. They did, coming safely back to Earth on July 24.
A piece in the paper by Richard Starnes, a Scripps-Howard staff writer, commented on Neil Armstrong’s famous quote, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind,” after Armstrong placed the first human footprint on the moon.
“Perhaps no words ever before uttered have carried such instantaneous impact, nor such tremendous implications of things to come,” he wrote, adding, “For if man could conquer the heavens, what was there he could not conquer?”
He then went on to quote President Nixon: “Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world. And, as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to this earth.”
Well, what do you think?