Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Apollo XI: A Giant Leap For Us All

So, Where On Earth Is Neil Armstrong?

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON



Did I ever tell you my Neil Armstrong story? No? Well, stick around because this could be as good a time as any to share it.

About three years ago, I used to drive past a memorabilia store in suburban Melbourne. On the footpath outside the store, there was always a selection of life-size figures. There was a chef, complete with an impressive waxed moustache and his toque, the white chef’s hat. There was even a medieval knight, in a suit of armour. There was a fisherman, holding a huge marlin.

I marvelled at the collection and how beautifully they were crafted. Things would change, new figures would be added and sometimes the old ones would disappear, obviously sold.

So one day, early in 2005, when the figure of a NASA astronaut, appeared with the others on the footpath, I just had to find out some details. So instead of driving past as I always did, I parked my car and actually went into the store. The manager was more than happy to have a yarn with me and told me that the figures were made of fibreglass and that they sold for an average price of about $1500.

I had to ask the obvious question. How was it I always saw the figures on the footpath, with no visible sign of security. He just chuckled. He said the figures were always brought into the shop before closing time. And he revealed there was one figure that was never, ever, under any circumstances, placed on the footpath.

It was a figure of Michael Jordan. Given his status as a sporting legend, it was considered too precious to leave out in the open. The manager then pointed to a storefront across the road. It was another branch of their business, where a range of figures including John McEnroe, complete with wooden racket and headband, stood arrayed above a balcony.

With a smile on his face, the manager told me there had been "a few" attempts to steal the figures. He said on one occasion, the would-be thieves had rocked up in a cherry picker to try and remove at least one figure - before being thwarted.

He was more than happy for me to photograph the fibreglass figures. So I went outside and enjoyed the rare opportunity to shoot a Neil Armstrong lookalike.

It was really interesting, because the quality of the fibreglass visor was so good that I was able to get a good shot of the street, reflected in its dark surface.

And I did promise you more than one Neil Armstrong story, didn’t I? I was in primary school when Apollo XI captured our collective sensibilities. During the mission, my Dad happened to hear an announcement on Voice of America and he told me that there was a chance of getting a large official NASA colour photograph of the three astronauts.

All I had to do was write to a particular address and now as I look back on the event, I cannot remember if it was NASA I had to write to, or whether it was Voice of America. Anyway, I was so excited that I sat down and wrote the letter immediately. I did realise, even at that early age, that the odds did not favour me.

It was probably a month later, when I came home from school, that a beige A4-sized envelope was waiting for me. Inside was the photograph I had coveted, of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. To me, they were more than just the three Apollo astronauts.

They were the embodiment of the spirit that I have always carried through life - that all things are possible, even the most ambitious of dreams.

For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

25 comments:

Hammer said...

I was and am still fascinated by the apollo space program. Luckily I live near the space center in Houston and been to look at their exhibits. I wonder if I have any pictures...

Lehners in France said...

What a beautiful story from start to finish. Debs x

Bart said...

One of my favorite trivia questions is "who was the third crew member of Apollo 11." Armstrong and Aldrin got all the play because they were the lucky guys who got to be on the moon. Poor Collins, just orbiting it, making sure they all could get home.

quilly said...

Wow! Wacky AND inspirational. ?You are on a roll today.

Meg Wolff said...

I really enjoyed this story. Funny about the Michael Jordan figure. Glad that your poster came to Australia.

Charles Gramlich said...

It's kind of telling that in a world with such great characters as Neil Armstrong that the Jordan Basketball player guy would be the most popular. Very sad, if you ask me.

CrazyCath said...

A great post for me as someone who has always been fascinated by space. Commented on over at the abc blog but also wanted to know if you still have the photo from the competition?

I agree with Charles' comment too.

Kimberly said...

I sure love your stories. The other posts you put up daily are lovely, but the photos and stories are where the true delight is.

Beautiful.

dot said...

Enjoyed the story!

willow said...

Nice story, David! :)

Hilary said...

Great tales to accompany always-great photos.

distracted by shiny objects said...

Neil's in Ohio with the rest of us Buckeyes. I miss the days when astronauts were viewed as heroes and the whole family sat in front of the black and white TV watching the launch.

Maggie May said...

If I hadn't read that story, I would have thought that some how or other, you wheedled your way into the space craft, for photos! Well, you never know with you, just what you might get up to next!
Enjoyed the story & what an interesting shop!

Jennifer H said...

I'm chiming in with the rest who wish that astronauts were still the well-known heroes that they used to be.

How cool is it that you got the poster?!

74WIXYgrad said...

That's one small step for (a) blog; one giant leap for the blogosphere.

RiverPoet said...

My husband is a space junkie, so I just have to send him the link to this post :-)

Great stories, David. Thanks for sharing them!

Peace - D

Jenn: said...

I especially enjoyed the 2nd Neil Armstrong story. What a treasured keepsake!

The Urban Buddha said...

Great post!! :D My ABC entry is on the new site. Thanks for the visit. :)

The Urban Buddha said...

Lol.. actually I done it the original wway as well.. not too sure I got it right on new site on Blogger.. ;o)

Kim said...

Great story. Those are wonderful pieces of art, they must have taken a long time to make.

A Picture a Day

Jules~ said...

Great stories. I would have been giggling walking thru all of those life sized replicas.
I agree too that the courage and visionary strength of those men was so inspiring.

btw...thank you so much David for your insight to camera shopping. I do have to wait for now, but when I am ready to make a purchasse I will be coveting your knowledge and driving you crazy with questions.

highlander1463 said...

Great story David. I have been to NASA three times so far. The first was in 1976.

I read the Neil Armstrong book "First Man". One of the things I found interesting was that Buzz was so busy walking around that he took very few pictures. There are actually only five pictures of Neil standing on the moon. They could have used you on the trip.

-P

leslie said...

I always enjoy your narratives along with your photos. Wonderful again!

Suburbia said...

Great 'A' post!

holly said...

i wholeHEARTedly agree. dream big, everyone!

that is so cool that you got the photograph!

one question.

who on earth buys these figures? who says "you know what honey? you know what would go really well in the corner? now i know you've got your heart set on a piano, but i was thinking, em...michael jordan. what do you say?"