These were some of the words used by Lancaster County residents less than a day after two Americans landed a lunar module on the moon for the first time on July 20, 1969 — an event commemorated today on its 50th anniversary.
Some TV watchers had stayed up all night. Other residents waited until the morning to find out what had transpired.
But whether they had watched it live or heard about it afterward, the local reaction was clear, according to a look through LNP’s archived newspapers from the time. (The event is now being dramatized in the film, “First Man.”)
For all, the moment seemed like a trance as they experienced a true landmark in human history – the day people left Earth behind to see if there was anywhere else in the cosmos that we could call our own. Those who saw it live witnessed astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they took their first steps onto the moon’s surface at 10:56 p.m., July 20.
“It just doesn’t seem possible that there are two men up there. I just don’t know what else to say,” said Fruitville Pike resident Evelyn Bowman to the Intelligencer Journal.
“I believe what I’m seeing,” exclaimed Frank Burns to the Lancaster New Era. “But I simply don’t comprehend it.”
Much like most residents on that fateful Sunday evening, Burns had watched TV with his family at home to bask in the glow of human achievement. To prepare for their late night, the Burns’ children, Ann Marie and Peter Thomas, had taken a nap earlier in the day. And although she and her brother were still tired, Ann managed to spot Armstrong as he descended the lunar ladder’s steps. “There he is!” she exclaimed, startling her family.
So many people were inside their homes that night that the streets of Lancaster were eerily empty. From 4 p.m. Sunday to 4 a.m. Monday, police did not report any arrests.
Suzanne Stahl, then the evening supervisor at St. Joseph’s Hospital, reported that nearly every television set in the hospital was tuned to the moon landing. At the Host Town Motel [then at 30 Keller Ave., now demolished], a Brigitte Bardot movie was stopped after the first reel so the audience could switch to watching Armstrong and Aldrin. After the pair’s first steps were shown, the movie was continued.
Woodworker Jacob Brubaker spent an hour of his day creating a space-related gift for President Richard Nixon. Brubaker crafted a solid walnut saffron box with an orange osage inlay depicting six phases of the moon. He meant the gift to hold any moon debris the astronauts might present to Nixon upon their return. It is unknown whether the president received it.
Not every Lancaster resident was jazzed about the moon landing, however. “It’s very nice and interesting to watch, but I’m a little old to get excited over things like that anymore,” said 74-year-old Edna Mull to the Daily Intelligencer.
Mary Snow of Duke Street had a different take. “It’s a wonderful achievement from mankind’s standpoint, and I admire the men who accomplished it, but I think it contradicts God’s will,” explained Snow. “The moon was not meant to be explored by man. The scriptures say that man is to inhabit Earth and God is to inhabit the Heavens.”
Some, such as bus dispatcher Charlie Reynolds, said the event had invigorated him enough to want to volunteer to go to the stars.
“Sure, I’ll go for a ride. I was in the Air Force for 14 years, why not?” Reynolds said. “This is something people used to talk about 10, 15 years ago, and now it’s coming true.”
While city and state employees enjoyed Monday off due to the moon landing, most folks had to wipe the stardust out of their eyes and head to work. And many went knowing they had joined 500 million people in watching two of their own go farther than most could have ever imagined. Might future treks be possible?
“We’re going to Mars next,” said Don Bucher, who had hung a sign proclaiming “We’re on: Moon or Bust!” at his filling station. “It would take 10 years to send someone there. They’d have to send someone young, so we’d be sure he’s alive when he comes back,” Burcher said with a chuckle.