1969: Personal Recollections

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Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Chris Murray of Govinda Gallery admire Andy Warhol artwork. Photo by Chester Simpson.

Woodstock Was All About Community

By Chris Murray

My then-wife, Kim, and I were at Woodstock. I rented a cottage there for the summer with my Georgetown University pal Michael Netter and our wives. Netter went on to work with Andy Warhol that fall, and he is a big part of my introduction to Andy. I also did a Woodstock Exhibition at Govinda Gallery in July of 1994, the 25th anniversary, called “Woodstock Images 1969.”

We went to the festival the first day, no problem. Swami Satchidananda blessed the event with some chanting. Then Richie Havens took the stage and it was off from there — and the rest is history. It was great. Since we had a cottage in Woodstock itself, we drove back from Ellenville, where the festival actually was, to spend the night at our place.

Little did we know, we could not return the next day as the roads shut down. We had about a dozen friends from Washington crash in the field outside our cottage, so we had our own mini-Woodstock as well! I also ended up becoming friends with everyone in the band Santana, as they too had a house for the summer in Woodstock, down the road from us. I took them to the best swimming hole in the Catskills all summer, the reservoir there.

The thing about Woodstock is that it was all about community. That’s why it was magic. It had a spontaneous element to it that was tremendously exciting. With the focus on the remarkable music of those times, and the musical artists who created that music, the Woodstock festival was driven by inspiration and joy. It was all about creativity and, believe it or not, courage. They were the days of hope and dreams.

Who would forget the moon landing on TV? The great thing about that for me was meeting Buzz Aldrin years later at a fundraiser in Houston for the Challenger mission, which turned out to be a tragedy. We helped establish the Space Education Center as a memorial. I met Buzz there with Brooke Shields and others. I got permission for the benefit concert to use Andy’s last print — “Moonwalk” — as the event image on invitations, media, etc. When I met Buzz, I suggested he visit Govinda Gallery if I could arrange to get him one of Andy’s “Moonwalk” prints. Buzz came to Govinda in Georgetown and it was an amazing day. Buzz and I have remained friends to this day, and it is a great source of joy to me.

Chris Murray is the owner of Govinda Gallery.

 

The Moon Landing, Seen from Mexico

By Susan Pillsbury

On the day of the first moon landing, I was living in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, studying classical guitar with my then-husband, who was teaching at the famous art school, Instituto Allende. We didn’t have a TV. So Mexican friends invited us to come and watch the moon landing at their home. They made a very special party out of the occasion, serving margaritas and fantastic food, which I couldn’t enjoy because I was newly pregnant with Miguel.

Afterwards, the whole town seemed to be in party mode, with mariachis playing in the streets and fireworks set off. Those Mexicans certainly know how to make a momentous historic occasion even more memorable.

Georgetown resident Susan Pillsbury is a philanthropist and an art collector.

 

The News Reaches Morocco

By Tom Birch

In 1969, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, living in a small mountain village with no news sources except for my Sylvania shortwave radio that picked up two Moroccan stations and Radio Portugal. Events in the outside world pretty much passed me by. On July 20 that year, I didn’t know about the moon landing until after it happened. No one had thought to tell me that all the men in the village would be watching the Apollo landing that afternoon on the mayor’s TV set — the only one in town. So, after the fact, people passing by my house congratulated me for “their” American’s accomplishment. A few skeptics suggested that the whole thing was staged on a Hollywood studio set. When I saw pictures a few weeks later, I could see their point.

News of Woodstock in August that year didn’t reach me until September, when I received a letter from a friend in the States whose family owned a house in Woodstock and went to the festival. My friend in New York reported on the traffic jams getting to the concert site, the crowds and the amazing number of musicians on the program — and an understanding that something significant and memorable had happened there. The letter came to me at the Peace Corps office in Rabat; I read it sitting on the terrace of the Hotel Balima, drinking a Campari soda.

Georgetown resident Tom Birch is a former chair of the Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

 

Working for NASA in the 1960s

By John C. Webster Jr.

It was a very exciting time to work for NASA. President Kennedy had said in 1962 we would get a man on the moon by the end of the decade — and we achieved that on July 20, 1969.

Although everyone working for NASA in the 1960s was working toward this goal at the time, I didn’t work directly with the Apollo 11 project. I mainly worked with the OAO 2 project, nicknamed “Stargazer,” which consisted of four launches during the 1960s. The OAO (Orbital Astronomical Observatory) had four missions. The OAO 2 project was the predecessor of the Hubble Telescope.

During one of my trips to Grumann Aircraft in Long Island, New York, when we were working at the OAO testing, we got a chance to view Apollo’s landing module, known as the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), which was the component that landed on the moon. NASA gave me a plaque for my services during this time of the Apollo program. Co-worker and good friend Ed Chin was an optical engineer who solved an instrument problem with the LEM, just a couple of weeks before the July 1969 launch to the moon.

John C. Webster Jr. was employed by NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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