Saturday the world marked the 50th anniversary of man’s landing on the lunar surface. Today, newspapers mark the 50th anniversary of that news being distributed to their readers in print.
For our younger readers, let me explain. Once upon a time there was no internet and thus no smartphones. It was a dark and barbaric time; humanity was barely beyond the pointy stick stage.
National news arrived from the television via one the three available stations, local news came from the newspaper a day after and radio did a bit of both. So while millions tuned in to watch man land on the moon, the first photos of Apollo 11 on the moon for those who didn’t find a TV on that Sunday afternoon 50 years ago was what appeared in the Monday, July 21, edition of their newspapers.
Contrary to what some of the little digital whelps in our current newsroom believe, I wasn’t around to lay out that edition. In fact, I wasn’t around at all. But I have known several of the former staff members who did produce the moon landing front page of this paper, then known as the Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times — “The Best Little Metropolitan Newspaper in the South.”
So for you dear readers, we have reprinted that historic front page distributed on July 21, 1969. And I must give due credit to photographers Tom Sherlin and Scott Keller, who invested a good deal of time and ingenuity converting 50-year-old microfilm into a digital image. In the sometimes frustrating process of scanning, rescanning, re-rescanning that took place, several items of note began to pop out.
• The decisions as to just how much of the front page would be dedicated to the moon rested mainly with Editor Dean Stone. I spent several years sitting in front of Dean’s office. In Dean’s 66 years in this newsroom, numerous people have held that sometimes dubious distinction, and I dare say most of them learned a few things along the way about what a local newspaper is expected to be. In my case, it came in a mix of kindly story suggestions for sports and what we’ll call vigorous discussions about the placement and formatting of his “Bits of Stone.”
It came as only a mild surprise when the first glance revealed that man on the moon might have been important, but the biggest headline was dedicated to the meeting of the Blount County Quarterly Court (now known as Blount County Commission). The court set the property tax rate at $2.60 per $100 of assessed value, which is also notable for the fact that made the property tax rate of 50 years ago was 13 cents higher than the present rate of $2.47.
To quote longtime staffer Robert Norris from his column marking Stone’s passing in October 2016, “The people and events that made Blount County the special place it is today formed the foundation of his dedication to journalism.”
Deciding to give this story dealing with local taxes and local business development equal importance to the moon was entirely keeping with Stone’s view of where this paper should place its coverage and presentation priorities to serve its readers.
• In the process of determining our progress in making the type preserved on 50-year-old film readable, one interesting item also came to light. The inset story “One small step for man, giant leap for mankind” from The Associated Press revealed an error in what Neil Armstrong famously said.
History has recorded his words as, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
But the AP story, quotes Armstrong as saying “a giant leap” instead of the famous “one giant leap.”
Curiosity got the better of me and a review of my collection of old newspapers from that momentous day, I found that they all used Washington Post reporter Thomas O’Toole’s story rather than AP, and O’Toole did have the “one giant leap” quote we know. An inquiry to AP has their archivist looking to see if that error was on the transmitting end or might have been made on the receiving end when the text was being pasted up — again, it was a truly primitive and barbaric time — in our composing room.
• Careful eyes also picked up this little nugget under “Space Interruption:” It seems for that 10-minute span of the landing, everybody in Memphis held their bladder to watch.
The city had to perform an emergency shutdown of its water pumping stations as the lack of water use caused pressure to build up in the pipes.
Add that to your untold stories of the moon landing file.