US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for June 17, 2019: Apollo 11 at 50

Fifty years ago, a 15-year-old coin collector and space enthusiast watched as a fellow Ohioan took his first steps on the surface of the moon.

Original images courtesy of NASA and Heritage Auctions.

Fifty years ago, I was a 15-year-old from Castalia, Ohio, a village with a population of a few thousand. I was already a coin collector, and a fan of science fiction books. I was an avid follower of the American space program.

On July 20, 1969, I was not in Ohio but instead in Paris, Kentucky, at the home of my paternal grandfather along with my parents, my two younger brothers, and assorted other family members. I remember sitting in front of my grandfather’s television, watching as CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite followed the unfolding saga of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission. We were not alone; an estimated 20 percent of the world’s population was also watching.

The Eagle landed on the surface of the moon and we all waited for Neil Armstrong to step out of the lunar excursion module or LEM. The television had a black and white screen, as I recall, and the image coming through the antenna was probably fuzzy.

Armstrong stepped out of the spacecraft, carefully descended the ladder, and planted his foot on the surface of the moon, speaking those immortal first words. Then came the last word from my father: “OK, you’ve seen it. Now get to bed.”

I was annoyed; I had hoped to stay up and watch as Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon. But I knew better than to protest my father. He was a firm believer in corporal punishment and even at the age of 15, I still feared his belt.

My family was on vacation, you see; the first one we had taken as a family. We were on our way to visit my maternal grandmother in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and her cousin in Gulfport, Mississippi. My father wanted to get an early start on the road, in our green Ford Econoline van that he had fitted out as a camper, including a propane-fueled stove (no vacation for my mother; she still had to cook for us).

Later, I read as much as I could about the Apollo 11 mission. The bookshelves at my home have a number of volumes devoted to the flight and space history in general, along with my numismatic library, my novels and much more.

Today, my house lies a 15-minute drive from Armstrong’s hometown, Wapakoneta, Ohio, and its museum named after him. Early in my career at Coin World, I even helped the museum staff catalog the hundreds of medals, decorations and other numismatics items in its holdings.

My interest in the space program has waned, though I still keep up with the unmanned missions to Mars, Pluto and other distant worlds. But I will never forget that brief moment when I watched a man step onto the surface of another world and fulfill the fantasies of millions of boys like me.

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