Quincy News

Moon landing in 1969 burned into memory of many Quincy residents

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 20, 2019 12:01 am

QUINCY -- On July 20, 1969 -- 50 years ago Saturday -- people across the world stopped what they were doing and turned their attention to the sky.

American astronauts had just landed on the moon and were taking their first steps as most of humanity watched the television coverage with rapt attention.

It was a moment many Quincy-area residents will never forget.

Beth Young had just graduated from college that spring and was about to start her teaching career. She spent a big part of that day -- a Sunday -- watching TV at her parents' house.

Young remembers her thrill at seeing Neil Armstrong become the first person to walk on the moon as he uttered the words: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

"I had to go out and look at the moon," Young recalled. "I can distinctly remember standing on the front porch and looking up into the sky and seeing the moon and thinking, ‘We have a man on the moon.' It was pretty amazing."

A Herald-Whig story appearing the next day under the headline, "City moonstruck on lunar Sunday," told how traffic and outdoor activity in Quincy was noticeably reduced once the moon landing took place about 3:30 p.m. local time. Things got even quieter once live pictures from the moon started streaming across TVs early that evening.

Adams County Sheriff's Deputy Delbert Devore told The Herald-Whig back then: "There was nothing going on" throughout Quincy once the moon landing occurred. "Everyone seemed to have ‘dug in' for a day of TV," he said.

Janet and Joe Conover were among those eagerly watching the coverage. They married just two years earlier and came to Quincy in 1968 when Joe landed a reporting job at The Herald-Whig. He would go on to become the newspaper's editor, retiring in 2000.

"We were siting in our living room watching a little TV on a stand," Janet Conover recalled. "We had our new baby son, Joseph, and held him. I wanted him to see it, although he was not even a year old."

She remembers the excitement that swept across the country as the American astronauts achieved a feat that had been dreamed of for centuries.

"It was an important day, and I remember how thrilled we were, calling family and talking back and forth. For us it was a real celebration," she said. "We were thrilled and nervous that something would happen (to the Apollo 11 crew), and we were so delighted that it all went off and was such a thrilling experience."

Bob Ravenscraft of Palmyra, Mo., remembers that day well.

"We just got done playing softball, and I ran home and flipped on the TV and watched it," said Ravenscraft, who had started his 24-year career as county clerk of Marion County two years before the lunar mission.

"It was quite an exciting thing at that time," he said. "I just thought it was truly amazing."

Ravenscraft, who was 25 at the time, remembers watching the astronauts walk on the moon and thinking to himself, "Man, I'd like to do that."

Now 75, his perspective has changed. He said there is "no way" he'd take part in a dangerous space mission like that.

"I have found out that 75 is not 25," he said.?Reg Ankrom, president of SIMEC, was 23 at the time of the moon landing in 1969. He had already spent three years in the U.S. Navy and was attending Illinois College in his hometown of Jacksonville. He and wife, Jane, had married on June 14 of that year.

"We didn't have a television set," Ankrom recalled. "We were a young couple with very little means. So we decided to go to her grandmother's house. She had a black and white television set, and that's where we watched the landing."

The grandmother -- Celestine Wright, who lived to be 102 -- "was much more excited than we were" about man reaching the moon, Ankrom said. "I mean, it was exciting stuff for us. But her grandmother was extremely excited."

Ankrom remembers how he and his wife "were amazed to think that somebody from this planet had actually reached another world," he said. "It was inconceivable, really."

Another Quincy resident who watched the lunar mission with great interest was John Baird, a longtime physics teacher at Quincy High School and later at John Wood Community College.

"I remember it very well," said Baird, who spent the summer of 1969 working on his master's degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

"We were in our apartment watching this black and white TV," he said. Baird remembers that his 2-year-old daughter was there at the time, although "I can't claim that she was paying a lot of attention" to the TV coverage.

His daughter, Beth Buck, went on to become an astrophysicist. "She has been responsible for all the interplanetary missions that Lockheed Martin has been putting on for the last couple of years," he said.

Baird has his own connections to space exploration. He was a member of NASA's Teacher in Space program, which was initiated by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 with the goal of inspiring students, honoring teachers and spurring interest in math, science and space exploration.

Baird competed for a chance to become the first teacher to accompany a Space Shuttle mission, but he missed out. Teacher Christa McAuliffe was selected for that honor. She went on to become part of the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger flight that exploded shortly after takeoff in 1986.

Baird knew practically all of the Teacher in Space finalists, including McAuliffe. "I sat right next to her when we went to the first banquet in Washington, D.C., before they even named who the finalists were," he said.

Baird said he's been "extremely interested in astronomy" all his life, and man's first trip to the moon served to further his interest in science.

He said the lunar mission 50 years ago became an uplifting moment for all of humanity.

"No other time that I'm aware of has anyone thing brought the whole world together in a way that that did," he said.

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