By The Greater Astoria Historical Society
It was the dawn of the Space Age, and the man of the hour was Col. John Glenn. On Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn had piloted Friendship 7 on the first manned orbit around the Earth and landed safely despite worries that the capsule’s heat shield might not hold.
Overnight, the astronaut became one of the most famous men in the world. The Star-Journal’s reporters were among the crowd at LaGuardia Airport to welcome Glenn and his wife Anna when they arrived in New York March 1 for the celebratory ticker-tape parade.
“Gotham Goes Wild for Glenn,” the headline read. Another Page 1 story informed readers that “Astoria Girl First to Greet Astronaut.”
Connie Valis, 14, rushed through the crowd of 2,000 at LaGuardia and presented a bouquet of carnations to Mrs. Glenn, who first exited from the aircraft. Col. Glenn, following his wife off the plane, was so impressed that he stopped waving to the people, grabbed Connie’s hand and warmly thanked her and her teacher, Anne M. O’Connor, assistant principal of JHS 10 in Astoria.
The colonel was described in the paper as smiling when a band on the tarmac struck up a march specially written for the occasion. It was called “A-OK, Go-Go,” a reference to Glenn’s words when told that Cape Canaveral was “Go” for his historic space flight. Just before liftoff, Glenn replied “Roger. Cape is “Go” and I am “Go.”
As he reached zero gravity, more than 100 miles above the earth, Glenn said, “Capsule is turning around. Oh, that view is tremendous!”
It was estimated that thousands of people lined the motorcade’s route from the airport to Manhattan. Along the East River, the astronaut was greeted by the whistling of tugboats and ships.
And the parade in the financial district, according to the Star-Journal, was the most uproarious since the tradition began with Lafayette’s return to the United States in 1824, outshining even the welcome home given to Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927.
“Bone-chilling gusts of wind that swirled around Wall Street’s skyscraper canyons did nothing to hold down the crowds,” the reporter noted. “It wasn’t March that came in like a lion but the Marine Lieutenant Colonel from New Concord, Ohio.”
By March 6, the confetti was long gone. The Star-Journal, as an amusing coda, ran a follow-up interview with one Queens resident who had a close-up view of the festivities: “Glenn Day was just a day like any other to Harry Carter. Carter was the man behind the wheel of Glenn’s limousine. He drove the much-feted space hero around town Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. But the 31-year-old Flushingite is a civil servant in a key position to whom parades are nothing special.
“As personal chauffeur to Commerce and Public Events Commissioner Richard C. Patterson, Jr., he has driven such other notables as Winston Churchill, Belgian King Baudoin, and the two princesses from the Netherlands who visited the metropolis last year.
“Even though mobilizing celebrities is old hat to Carter, he admits that Glenn’s parade was terrific. Carter said he rarely chats with celebrities from the front seat. But he did exchange greetings with Glenn, whom he credits with a ‘friendly attitude’ and a ‘terrific personality.’”
For more information, call 718-278-0700 or visit astorialic.org.