It was Forty Years Ago Today…

… when Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.

My sister and INo, sorry. It was forty years ago today that Astronauts set foot on the moon. Not only was it an astounding feat at the time, it was televised. Yes, shown nearly-live on TV. We’d been enjoying real-time news for quite a while. Olympic coverage. Coverage of the VietNam War. Mostly by undersea cables, but more and more by some newfangled satellites. But to me the Apollo landing on the moon epitomizes the move to instant gratification with the news.

Everyone has their story of where they were and how old they were when it happened. I’m not going to disappoint you. My observation of the moon landing was extra special to me as I was in Washington DC. when it happened. How much more patriotic can you get? I was in our nation’s capital during this moment of national pride.

I was 16 years old and my sister and I were visiting my Aunt who lived in DC. (Both of them read this blog and will probably correct me if I get something wrong.) It was a magical time and the moon landing was icing on the cake. Nixon was still president, but he was out of town at the time, so we had no chance of seeing him. But we saw just about every sight we could.

We spent two weeks there. My sister and I were old enough to venture out on our own. My Aunt had to work during the day, but spent a lot of time on evenings and the weekend showing us around. But, we were equipped with guide books, transit maps and a few tricks my Aunt had let us in on.

We traveled on buses. The subway system hadn’t yet been built. I think we may have had a pass that let us go anywhere. I know we did find out about the shuttle for the tourists that went around the Mall and paid a daily rate on that. We rode it all around the scenic area.

We found out about the employee cafeterias in most of the office buildings. They were all over and much cheaper than restaurants.

We spent an entire week seeing the Smithsonian. We still had to force ourselves to keep moving to see it all! The Library of Congress, Art Museum, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Capitol, Jefferson Monument, Washington Monument, Ford Theater, all were checked off our list. We even went to a few less likely things like the NTIA (Home of the Voice of America), FBI and rode a bus out to the Pentagon. I embarrassed us when I pulled the cord to get off the bus as soon as I saw the building. The driver just glared at me. I didn’t know that there was an actual terminal inside the Pentagon and the bus went inside it!

My Aunt, Sister and a big anchorBut we had a great time. Partly because it was a great place to visit. Partly because we were finally treated like adults and allowed to do – within limits – what we wanted. We had an experience only two kids from a small town dropped into a big city could have. It would have been awesome by itself. Like I said, being there to observe men landing on the Moon was all gravy. We stayed up late to watch it and saw it all.

I had always been a big fan of the space program. As a kid, I remember them wheeling big TVs on tall carts into the classrooms and having us watch John Glenn’s orbital flight. That was a regular occurrence whenever there was a space launch (as we called them) at the parochial school I went to. I understand they didn’t do that in the public schools. They didn’t have TVs, I guess. Maybe it was against the rules. Even at the Catholic school I went to, there were only a couple TVs. They would set them up and bring all the kids from another classroom in to share. We had kids sitting two to a desk and we still were transfixed by the occasion.

Later, as I got older and went to the public schools, the space flights got to be more routine and it didn’t matter so much whether we watched, but if I could, I did. Of course, you didn’t have much choice. They were like Presidential speeches, they were on every channel and we only got about 4 back then.

Posted in Family, Tech Stuff, TV
4 comments on “It was Forty Years Ago Today…
  1. Fran Kane says:

    I was thinking about your being here then! Remember how wet you got in the rain when you went searching for Smokey the Bear?

  2. Al Gritzmacher says:

    Yes, I remember there being a couple real downpours then. Didn’t we get stranded at Union Station one afternoon and end up taking a cab? I can remember a vivid image on the TV news of the water running down the stairs in RFK Stadium like it was Niagara Falls. It was a hot, humid summer, but it was great!

  3. M. Moretti says:

    Seeing as my brother, Al Gritz the blogger, has put what I believe is the first photo of myself on the WWW, I think it’s about time I weighed in on this entry. Yes, that is our teen-aged selves in Washington, DC, in July 1969. Our Aunt Fran had generously invited us to stay with her for a couple of weeks in DC where she lived and worked. In later years she would do the same for younger members of the family.

    It was my first plane trip, and my first time in a big city other than Buffalo, NY. It also was the mid-point in a significant year in recent history. Richard Nixon had just become president. Golda Meir became PM of Israel, and Charles DeGaulle stepped down as president of France. By the end of the year, both Dwight Eisenhower and Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. would pass away. Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy infamously drove off the Chappaquiddick bridge on Martha’s Vineyard the night of my 15th birthday. We didn’t hear about it until we got to DC, and it was what everyone was talking about.

    1969 was the height of the Vietnam War. The civil rights movement was still quite active. There were protest riots on college campuses in both the US and Europe. There were riots in Belfast, Northern Ireland protesting the British military presence there. This was also the summer of the Stonewall riot in NYC, the beginning of the gay-rights movement.

    It was the summer that John Lennon married Yoko Ono, and wrote the song, “Give Peace a Chance”. It was the summer of the Woodstock music festival, and also the Manson murders. It was also the summer that US astronauts landed on the moon.

    We watched the famous “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind” late one night at our aunt’s place. She and our uncle were not yet married, and he came over for dinner and to share the event with us. I remember Pres. Nixon calling the astronauts after the moonwalk. My biggest disappointment was that I thought we would get to see the astronauts when they came back. At that time it was traditional to give each returning space mission crew a ticker-tape parade in DC. Since they were due back before we left, I thought that was a given. Instead they quarantined the astronauts because they thought they might have acquired mysterious “moon germs”. Since our dad worked in the aerospace industry helping make some of the parts for the rockets, we had an above-average interest in the space flights.

    We saw most of the major monuments and a lot of museums. We saw a modern version of a play by Shakespeare at an outdoor theater on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Al has somehow left the White House and Mount Vernon off the list. I was impressed with the trip to the FBI. We ate breakfast in the cafeteria there. I passed on going to see the Pentagon. While Al went there one afternoon, I took my aunt’s dog for a walk down Embassy Row, which was very close to her apartment. The usually well-behaved dog embarrassed me by deciding to bark at some non-English-speaking men coming out of the embassy of Ghana. She also chose to do some “business” at the lawn of the Swiss embassy.

    We took a trip to Arlington Cemetary, and saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. We saw JFK’s eternal flame. RFK’s grave was new and had a simple cross with a small white picket fence around it. That has since been replaced with a permanent memorial. We caught the end of a soldier’s funeral and paused to pay our respects. He might have been a veteran from any war, but given at the time the casualty rate in Vietnam was 1000 a month, I have always assumed that was how he passed away. I often wonder which name on the “Wall” is his.

    One night we were all taking the dog for a walk in a park. Aunt Fran pointed out a certain large building that was the apartment residences of many politicians. It was the Watergate building, destined to go down in history in a few years. We also went on a Potomac cruise for the Justice Department employees and their families. The head of the Justice Department, John Mitchell was there with his wife, Martha, greeting the employees. They both would be involved with Watergate.

    It was a summer full of history, both old and new. Al and I had a good time.

  4. M. Moretti says:

    Forgot one other important event from 1969. It was the year of the start-up of ARPANET, the forerunner of today’s internet!

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