Small step, big impact: Edmonds residents reflect on moon landing anniversary

Rick Steves: "It was a human triumph"
By Brian Soergel | Jul 18, 2019
Photo by: Brian Soergel From left: Marcia Fankhauser, Cliff Sanderlin, and Sue Mahoney at the Apollo 11 sculpture at Neil Armstrong Plaza in Edmonds. They shared stories of where they were July 20, 1969.

On July 20, 1969, the world got just a bit smaller when the lunar module Eagle landed on the moon, with Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin stepping on its surface while Michael Collins circled in orbit in the command module Columbia.

For a time, for many, the spectacle of Apollo 11 and man’s first landing on the moon stopped time. Parents gathered children in front of the black-and-white TVs. Others watched in public places.

In Washington state, the Eagle’s landing was recorded at 12:17 p.m. PST, while Armstrong’s first steps followed at 7:56 p.m.

The Beacon asked readers around for the big moment to share their recollections. Here are some memories from Edmonds residents.

European travel expert Rick Steves was a self-described “gangly 14-year-old, in Europe for the first time.”

“I’d been dragged to the Old Country by a conspiracy of grandparents and parents solely to visit Norwegian relatives. I hadn’t wanted to go, and I’d arrived with a bad attitude. It was teen culture shock: No Fanta. No hamburgers. But after a few days, I was wild about Solo (Norway's orange pop) and addicted to pølser wieners.

Steves watched the Apollo moon landing with his cousins, sitting on the living room floor of the house where his great-great-grandmother was born.

“And as I heard them translate Neil Armstrong's words (‘Ett lite skritt for et menneske, ett stort skritt for menneskeheten’), it dawned on me that the first big step was more than just an American celebration. It was a human triumph.

“Travel had walloped my ethnocentrism – and at that exact moment, I began to see the whole world differently.”

Like Steves, Marcia Fankhauser was in Europe, visiting friends stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. There was no TV, so they listened to the radio after dinner.

“We were so excited after Apollo landed that we dashed off to find a TV. There was a small black-and-white TV in the window of a store. We saw a still shot of the landing, but by then German TV had quit following programming.

“Our friends set an alarm so they could get up at 4 a.m. to listen to the lunar walk. They listened; I stayed in bed. My friend’s husband did not have to go to the base to work on the 21st because President Nixon declared a holiday. We listened to the radio all day until the Eagle took off from the moon. Although we didn’t get to watch on TV, it was two days of excitement, even on the radio.”

Judith Leraas Cook was also in Europe, watching the moon landing on Norwegian television.

“On that beautiful summer night in the Land of the Midnight Sun, I was visiting relatives in the seaside village of Bessaker, about 50 miles north of Trondheim. Satellite reception was grainy when the manned spacecraft touched down at 9:17 p.m. Norwegian time, but no one cared.

“We watched, awestruck, as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended the module’s ladder and walked the moon’s surface. Adding to the excitement of the event, I knew my family back home in Washington state was seeing the same thing I was.”

July 20 was a doubly special day for Penny Haviland. Man landed on the moon, but it was also her 14th birthday, and family was camping that week at Lake Chelan State Park, as they have done every year for the last 55 years.

“One of my uncles was mindful to bring a small black-and-white TV to plug into one of the park electrical outlets to place on the picnic table alongside the cake and presents. A dozen or more small kids surrounded the table waiting for cake as the grownups engaged in the landing. My whole family had gathered together to celebrate a landmark with the world and me.

“It was a memorable birthday!”

July 20, 1969, was also Sue Mahoney’s birthday. She turned 15.

While attending a family reunion at Forest Park in Everett, Mahoney and a friend tried to buy snacks at the park’s concession stand. But they wondered why the clerk was ignoring them while watching a small television.

“After what seemed to be an interminably long time, he finally acknowledged us, and said, ‘This is history being made, girls!’ I will always remember watching with him. On each birthday, I feel honored and proud, being able to share the date with such a historic event. The ability and bravery of those who accomplished the incredible mission never ceases to amaze me. Cheers to 50 years!”

In 1969, Bob Spaulding recalls, “phones weighed 9 pounds and plugged into the wall, a guy with the weird name of Lew Alcindor was playing basketball at UCLA, and the only airbag in my car was my mother-in-law in the back seat.”

Spaulding was 24, married, and living in Michigan.

“On July 20, we were at my in-laws celebrating my sister-in-law's birthday. It was a clear night and the moon was bright overhead. Her large family and me were gathered around their black-and-white now-ancient TV watching the descent and landing on the moon by two humans in Apollo 11. Afterwards, my wife and I went out in the backyard and stood looking up at the moon, amazed there were two American astronauts walking around up there.

“The country had been in turmoil, with assassinations the previous year and a raging, unpopular war. Yet, on July 20, 1969 the whole world paused and was stunned by what American dedication, ingenuity and bravery had accomplished.”

Cliff Sanderlin was deep in Brazil during the moonwalk, as he was a Peace Corps volunteer in the arid Sertao (hinterland region) of northeastern Brazil. He visited the remote village of Carrapateira twice before the Apollo 11 moonwalk. Carrapateira was billed as the poorest, most backward village in Brazil, the end of the world.

Farmers walked miles on trails and sat on the ground to watch propaganda films Sanderlin borrowed from the U.S. Information Agency. Coverage of the Apollo 11 mission was very popular.

On July 20, the day of the moonwalk, the mayor of Carrapateira invited Sanderlin as a special guest to a party to celebrate the American triumph in space. As he arrived on a hot evening, dozens of people milled around.

The mayor led Sanderlin through the crowd to meet two other special guests – a reporter and photographer from Jornal do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro.

The reporter turned to Sanderlin with a scowl, moved in close to his right ear, and said in a growl, “Listen, we worked really hard to get to this pit of a place to interview these hicks about the moon walk.”

“It took us several hours to fly to Recife,” he added. “From Recife, we drove 16 hours over terrible roads. We’re hot; we’re exhausted, but we finally made it.”

He went on. “But what do we find when we get here? An Americano! You gringos are everywhere, just like Coca-Cola.”

As Sanderlin followed the reporter from a safe distance, he overheard some of his interviewees saying of the moon walk, “It’s a hoax; not possible!” Some thought it was great. One man said, “Even if it’s true, I don’t like it. What if they kick loose rocks? They’ll fall on us.”

“Decades later,” Sanderlin recalls, “I saw a clipping of the article from Jornal do Brasil. The reporter got the hillbilly reactions he was looking for. But his story did not mention the presence of a young gringo at the moonwalk party.

“In July of 2018, my wife and I visited northeastern Brazil. We happened to be in Carrapateira on July 20, 2018, exactly 49 years after the moonwalk and mayor’s celebration. I asked a local man – who turned out to be a city council member – if he remembered anything of an Americano who showed movies and was there during the walk.

He did not. “When was that, what year?” he asked Sanderlin.

“It was during the Apollo moonwalk, in 1969,” Sanderlin said.

“Wow, that’s the year I was born!” he said.

Said Sanderlin: “He toasted me and the United States with a shot of Brazilian booze. I suddenly felt very old, and it wasn’t just from the searing heat.”


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