Locals Remember Apollo 11 Moon Landing

By: Debra Lawless

Orpheum To Screen Documentary On 50th Anniversary

One Sunday afternoon in July 1969, Don St. Pierre was announcing a dune buggy race in a pit on Middle Road near what was then the Chatham dump.
Then, when St. Pierre shouted through his megaphone that the “Eagle” had just landed on the moon, “everyone applauded and screamed and hollered,” St. Pierre remembered last week.
It July 20, 1969, 4:18 p.m.
Joyce K. Williams of Chatham, now a landscape designer, was working as a lifeguard in a Pennsylvania state park that day. At about 4 p.m. everywhere Williams looked—on the beach and the adjacent lawn, at picnic tables—families were glued to their radios.
When Neil Armstrong’s words “the Eagle has landed” came over the radio “the entire beach exploded in applause and shouts of joy.” Williams knew “that this was a day I would always remember, and a very special time to be alive.”
This Saturday, July 20, marks the 50th anniversary of the historic moon landing and moonwalk. To commemorate it, the Chatham Orpheum will screen the acclaimed 93-minute documentary “Apollo 11.” Morton Dean, who in 1969 reported on the moon landing for CBS radio, will introduce the film.
“'Apollo 11' gives viewers the feeling that they’re “watching it on TV 50 years ago. You are in the moment from when it starts, to the end,” says Kevin McLain, executive director of the Orpheum. “It’s a very moving experience.”
The moon landing and moonwalk are, for people age 60 and older, a defining moment. In the 1960s, space travel had been in the zeitgeist since President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 speech vowing that before the decade ended, Americans would walk on the moon. The moon landing was a moment when Americans came together for something extraordinary.
After landing, it was about six hours before the astronauts stepped onto the surface of the moon. Richard Waystack of Harwich was 10 that summer. The kids in his Canton, Mass. neighborhood had piled into his family’s split-level home in the late afternoon to watch the lunar module land. But by the time Armstrong and then Buzz Aldrin emerged from the lunar module and walked on the moon at 10:56 p.m., Waystack was in bed.
Jack Bohman of Chatham was also 10. He was at Camp Takodah, a YMCA camp in Keene, N.H. “We all got out of our bunks and gathered in the mess hall to watch it on a grainy black and white TV,” Bohman recalls. “For the camp director, Uncle Oscar, to get us all out of bed for the occasion was indeed a big deal.”
Tish Noyes of Orleans was 16 and stayed up watching TV with her parents in New Haven. When the door to the “Eagle” opened, “my mom and I gasped, and my dad shushed us. I don’t think I took a breath for a minute or two.” When Armstrong stepped onto the moon, “we all began to cry,” she says.
Ron Weishaar, co-owner of A Great Yarn in Chatham, had graduated from high school the month before. “My father and I sat alone in the family room, staring quietly at the blurry black and white images on the screen,” he says. “My father went to the refrigerator to get a beer. Then he did something he had never done before. He brought me one, too.”
Chatham residents still remember where they were that day. Ron Nickerson and his wife Karen were newlyweds in Texarkana, Texas. Karen McPherson was living in Alexandria, Va., with a student. Kassie Foss was living in a four-flight walk-up on the East side of Manhattan. And Gloria Freeman attended a “grand celebration in Hyannisport.”
“Glasses were raised in tribute to a president who had not lived to see this victory, and to Armstrong and Aldrin,” she says. “They had a view no one had seen before.”
Helen Doane of Harwich was waitressing at the Otesage Inn in Cooperstown, N.Y. Doane went to the house of a friend to watch the landing. For her, the memory is “certainly not as emotion-laden as the JFK assassination, but it was a big one.”
Evelyn Doane of Chatham was renting a house behind a dune on Nauset Beach. “We were awestruck,” she says. “It did not seem possible.”
The writer Art Vanderbilt was at work in a book shop on Main Street, Chatham. When he returned to the family home on Eastward Point, his grandfather Ralph P. White “was glued to the television. I watched just a few minutes of the grainy footage and underwater-like sound, and went to bed.”
Across town, over on Holway Street, John Whelan watched the moonwalk with three generations of his family. “I do remember thinking that more space walks and possibly moon colonies were right ahead in our future.” About six years later, Whelan was thrilled to meet Aldrin in Boston. “I told him how much we appreciated the moon walk. I remember he was very gracious.”
Fifty years later, “we’re still impressed, we’re still amazed” by the feat of Apollo 11, McLain says. Following “Apollo 11,” people can share their own stories of that night.
For more information and advance tickets to the July 20, 10 a.m. showing of “Apollo 11,” visit chathamorpheum.org.