SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Fifty years ago this Saturday, millions of Americans were tuned in to their televisions to watch Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin step onto the moon’s surface.
On July 20, 1969, at some point in the evening (depending where in the country one was located) the words, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” could be heard echoing from the small tubes of televisions.
“I was eight years old,” said Larry Albee of Tremont, who remembers Armstrong’s adage.
“My mom got us up and we went down and watched it on TV … It was after midnight. We went to bed and got up again.”
The summer of ‘69 was memorable for many reasons. Politically the country was divided about the war in Vietnam. Rock and roll saw one of its greatest concerts in upstate New York about a month after the lunar landing. Richard Nixon was president at the time.
It was one of the few summers Mount Desert Town Manager Durlin Lunt was not on Mount Desert Island.
“I know exactly where I was,” he said. “I was in Athens, Ga. I was watching it in an un-air-conditioned dormitory.”
Lunt, who was 22 years old at the time, was watching a television with about 30 other students in a common room of Morris Hall at the University of Georgia. Temperatures were a stifling 90 degrees with humidity to match, he recalled.
“Everyone cheered when [Armstrong] stepped out,” Lunt said. “That was a time the country was well divided because of Vietnam and that was something that brought the country together.”
The thought of working in municipal administration had not yet crossed Lunt’s mind. He had gone to the southern state to take some summer college courses.
“I was trying to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he said. “That was quite a celebration. It doesn’t quite feel like 50 years ago.”
Aimee Williams of Southwest Harbor was a young teenager when Armstrong took his small step on the surface of the moon. She was in Joplin, Mo. with her aunt, helping with a cousin, because her uncle had been deployed to Vietnam.
“I was 13 or 14 playing with the children outside,” said Williams. “I remember them having us come in to see it.”
Not completely aware she was witnessing history being made, Williams recalls hooting and hollers of excitement when it happened.
“It was exciting for the adults,” she said about the televised event.
Although approximately 90 percent of households in 1969 had televisions, there was not the constant replay of events when they happen. Viewers were relegated to between three and five channels and news came on at specific times versus throughout the day.
Seeing such a big event on the family television was a big deal and Kathe Walton of Bar Harbor remembers it well. She was six years old.
“I lived in the laundromat [in Southwest Harbor],” she said. “I was above the laundromat watching it on a Zenith black and white television.”
Ellen Kappes of Northeast Harbor, who was 28 years old at the time of the lunar landing, recalls it felt like watching a movie.
“I remember sitting on the couch and watching it and just being fascinated,” she said. “I just remember being so glad to see it. It was kind of a surprise because they were able to do it.”
Kappes shared the moment with her husband and their three-month-old baby son in their home in Simsbury, Conn.
“Of course he had to be there because it was a very important event,” she said. “I was so glad to see it ‘firsthand.’ It is funny how clear it is in my memory, exactly where I was and where I was sitting.”
That moment is very clear for Becky Burnham of Southwest Harbor as well, even though she did not watch it on television.
Burnham, who was 27 years old at the time, remembers she was standing outside a tent at Cathedral Pines Campground in Eustis when she and her new husband learned of the landing.
“We read the newspaper first thing every day,” she said about how they found out.
Abbie Savage, a Northeast Harbor resident, celebrates her birthday on July 20. She turned 25 that year and was pregnant with her first child when the landing happened.
“I do remember it,” she said. “I was in Northeast Harbor living in a boat house down by the shore with no electricity and no running water,”
Because of that, she has no memory of seeing it on television.
“I do remember seeing it on the cover of Time magazine,” said Savage. “It was a celebration of my birthday … What a wonderful day to do it.”