It is hard to believe that fifty years have passed since an Ohio favorite son, Neil Armstrong, walked on the moon. And yet, we have relived the excitement of those times by means of the recent coverage of that significant stretch of nine days in U.S. history as well as in the history of mankind,
I must confess, however, that I barely remember the launch, orbit, landing or the steps, the historic words, and the return to Earth, complete with splash-down. I was otherwise occupied.
The summer of 1969 was such a pivotal time that Erin Hilderbrand’s historical novel by that title appeared in bookstores last month. It was also a pivotal time for me: I was preparing to leave my family, my school, and my country to take up residence in Germany for several months.
But the Apollo 11 mission was not the only major event to which I paid scant attention that summer. I did not know that Woodstock even happened until months later when I read about it in an international edition of Time I purchased at a Stuttgart newsstand.
Using the Apollo moon landing and the Woodstock music festival as timeline bookends, I delved back into that one-month period fifty years ago to find out what else I missed while I was packing my passport and German dictionary for my own personal piece of history.
I suppose I can be excused from not immediately knowing about an automobile mishap in Massachusetts a couple of days before the Eagle landed on the surface of the moon: this news item would have been tucked in and around the lunar coverage. Then, too, it took some time to unravel the full facts of Ted Kennedy’s late-night accident at Chappaquiddick in which Mary Jo Kopechne, a former campaign aide to the late Robert Kennedy, died when the car plunged into a pond. The cloud of Chappaquiddick forever after hung over the youngest Kennedy brother, effectively ending any White House aspirations.
By the way, not one of us could have predicted that a future megastar was making her earthly debut just as the American astronauts returned to Earth: Jennifer Lopez was born in the Bronx while Armstrong, along with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, bobbed around in the Pacific, waiting to be rescued after their historic mission.
In those heady days following America’s victory over Russia in the space race to put a man on the moon, my attention – along with many other Champaign Countians – turned to the county fair. As Queen Jeanne Warye reigned over the 128th fair, Mariner 7 photographed Mars during a flyby some 3500 kilometers from the surface of one of Earth’s planetary neighbors. And, as a UDC photographer snapped shots of Merlin Woodruff auctioning off livestock on the final day of the fair, a London photographer recorded George, John, Paul, and Ringo of Beatles fame crossing Abbey Road for the cover of one of their final albums.
The midway stood newly empty with sugar waffles and cotton candy suddenly reduced to mere sweet memories, when appalling news from Los Angeles invaded our consciousness: seven people had been murdered in two gruesome home invasions. Pregnant actress Sharon Tate was the most well-known victim of the grisly massacres carried out under the direction of Charles Manson by members of his “family.” The cult leader continued to periodically make disturbingly-bizarre headlines from prison right up to his death two years ago.
As the middle of August showed up on our calendars, kids – parents and teachers, too – could feel school niggling at their brains, back when it all started the day after Labor Day. Personally, I was in a state of panic, wondering how I could have ever thought it was a good idea to leave my comfortable, familiar surroundings and go gallivanting off to live on another continent, for goodness sake.
Thus, I am certain I had no clue that the first Long John Silver restaurant was opening in Kentucky, that the first Captain D’s restaurant was opening in Tennessee, and that a couple of Californians were dreaming up the idea of a clothing store to be known as Gap.
However, I probably at least skimmed headlines about the destruction and 248 deaths caused when the particularly-ferocious Hurricane Camille made landfall in Mississippi, back when all hurricanes carried female names.
What I completely missed, however, was Woodstock, the iconic mixture of rock music and counterculture – during those “make love, not war” days. Planned as a music festival for 50,000 attendees, the event ended up in a hayfield down the road from Max Yasgur’s dairy farm a hundred miles from New York City.
The unexpected absence of ticket booths and a slate of music acts including Joan Baez, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young attracted almost a half million festival goers. Interestingly enough, there was no violence reported, no Woodstock merchandise for sale – and one huge mess to clean up afterwards.
By the time I was winging my way to Europe, a whole month full of newsworthy occurrences was already being added to the archives to make room for the next round of headlines.
However, I will try to keep in perspective all that happened for the country – and for me – during an eventful four weeks in a summer now fifty years long gone.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.