50 years after ‘giant leap’: Local residents remember ‘watching history’

By Kaitlin Gebby
Posted 7/21/19

On July 20, 1969, the world held its breath as Neil Armstrong planted the first step ever on anything but Earth’s surface and announced, “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for …

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50 years after ‘giant leap’: Local residents remember ‘watching history’


On July 20, 1969, the world held its breath as Neil Armstrong planted the first step ever on anything but Earth’s surface and announced, “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 

Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, when man first landed on the moon.

Just four days before, Americans watched Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins shoot off into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The Cleveland Daily Banner displayed a photo of six children, the Lennons and Thompsons, splayed across the carpet of a local home, holding their heads up, eyes wide and in awe of “the moon shot,” where the Apollo rocket was launched from Kennedy Space Center at 9:32 a.m. 

The Banner published the picture with the headline, “They’re watching history.” 

It was reported Cleveland businesses wheeled in televisions for their employees to watch the launch as well. 

Banner Reporter Sandra Clark wrote about a “note of concern” in voices the day of the moon landing.

She described a family watching the launch with their young children, and noted a 6-year-old that looked as if a monster might attack one of the astronauts any minute. 

According to Clark’s report, Mrs. Bob Brooks, who lived on Wildwood Road, said she doubted if we were meant to explore space at all. 

“My feelings about this whole project is that we just shouldn’t mess with the moon,” she said. “I really don’t think God wanted us up there. But I prayed for the astronauts and kept my fingers crossed for the moonwalk.” 

David Dempsey, a young Clevelander at the time, said he was really proud of the astronauts after they stepped foot on the moon. 

“It took a lot of courage for those men to go up there and walk,” he said. 

That day is somewhat hazy in the minds of Cleveland residents today, but Donald Jones remembers it like it was yesterday. 

“When I watched Neil step out onto the moon, I thought for sure I’d be going to the moon myself one day,” he said. 

Jones, originally from Orlando, was 9 at the time of the landing. He and his family traveled to Cape Canaveral, Florida, to watch the launch. Jones said he’d never seen so much fire in his life. 

“It was like an explosion. There was so much flame. It was a heck of a launch,” he said, leaning over to take his turn in a game of pool at the Bradley County Senior Activity Center. 

Sitting at the side of the pool room was Bill Clontz, of Cleveland. 

“I was amazed,” he said, hands resting on the top of a pool cue, “but my mom didn’t believe it for a second.” 

He and other residents who spend their time at the activity center said even today the moon landing seems too good to be true. 

“I grew up thinking it was a fake, because that’s what my mom told me. It wasn’t until I was much older that I came around to the idea. But if you told me I had to swear in court that it really happened, I don’t think I could do it,” Clontz said. 

But Jones was simply an amazed 9-year-old during the moon landing, who had every bit of confidence in NASA and the astronauts. 

“I wasn’t nervous watching them at all,” he said. “I figured they knew everything they needed to know.” 

Gene Vest said he was riding his motorcycle with a group of friends in East Tennessee when they stopped at a friend's house for the night and to watch the landing together. 

Barbara Tillery, of Cleveland, said she was with her family that day. Huddled together in the living room, they stayed up to watch Armstrong and Aldrin set foot on the moon. 

Dr. Ralph Covino, an ancient history professor at the Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga and solar system ambassador for NASA, recently spoke at the Cleveland Bradley Public Library in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

He explained more than 400,000 people worked on the moon project. He also shared other lesser known facts and stories with listeners.

He said Armstrong and Aldrin are the household names we think of when discussing the moon landing; but explained an intriguing story originally told by Michael Collins, who piloted the spacecraft while Armstrong and Aldrin were on the surface of the moon. 

“Collins was up there in the shuttle while Neil and Buzz were on the moon’s surface, but what most people don’t realize when they look at a famous photograph from the Apollo mission is that Collins, at this point in time, was the furthest human being from Earth,” he said.

“He’s looking at The Eagle on the surface of the moon, with the Earth in the background, and behind him is nothing but the unknown universe.” 

Covino also noted a series of items left on the moon. Everything from nail clippers, bags of discarded trash and non-essential items were abandoned on the surface to make room for the only souvenir that mattered. 

“Moon rocks,” he explained. “Moon rocks were all that mattered to these guys.They dumped all they could to bring home as many as they could.”

One of the lunar rocks was brought back to Cleveland and placed in a public exhibit in March 1971 on the Cleveland State Community College campus. 

He added  the famous flag that Armstrong planted on the surface of the moon, which was accidentally knocked over during the launch back to Earth, was not a territorial claim to the moon. 

To pay their respects to all who pursued the journey to the moon’s surface, Armstrong and Aldrin left a plaque with an engraving of all those who gave their lives in the name of this mission —  American or not.

Finally, among the items left on the surface of the moon was a plaque that read, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon — July 1969 A.D.—We came in peace for all mankind."


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