Have you ever discovered something that made your heart race? Something that made you so excited you were bouncing around like a loony? That was how I felt when I first saw the signed copy of First on the Moon: A Voyage with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. I am first and foremost a student of […]
Have you ever discovered something that made your heart race? Something that made you so excited you were bouncing around like a loony? That was how I felt when I first saw the signed copy of First on the Moon: A Voyage with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.
I am first and foremost a student of history and preservation. I enjoy being able to look back into the past and see all of the movements and events that have led to a certain point, for better or for worse. I love being able to make that history accessible to everyone both in the present and for the future. I am also a lover of science and technology and seeing where humanity can go next. Having such a passion for the past as well as for the future made this find all the more exciting.
We came upon the book whilst coming up with items to place in a new exhibit within the library. 2019 is of course the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, and it was decided to make the theme SEMO’s Place in Space. The archives had recently been gifted with materials from Dr. Kala Stroup, a past university president. Some of those materials included photos and papers about Dr. Linda Godwin, a SEMO alum turned astronaut. A collection already held within our repository, the Jefferson Bates Collection, was filled with materials concerning NASA and the space program. Bates had been a speechwriter for many of the people in charge of the program during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Bates Collection was taken in during the late 1990’s, well before any of the current staff began working in the archives so we had a grasp of what the collection entailed but we didn’t know every piece held within.
To help decide what elements from the Bates Collection to pull for the display, the Deed of Gift and original finding aid were pulled to help make the choices. As we went through the Deed, it quickly became apparent that the collection held more pieces of note than we had originally thought. In addition to the many speeches Bates had written for NASA officials, Bates had also donated several books. Many were on the space program but a surprising amount were literary pieces. Regardless of type, the published books were separated from the main collection, catalogued, and kept in Special Collections and Archives.
A quick search of the list of materials led to the realization that some of the books were signed. Most notably, First on the Moon: A Voyage with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. was signed by Neil Armstrong himself. Many are familiar with the name Neil Armstrong but if you aren’t, here is why I got so excited at seeing this on the list. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the Moon. Armstrong took part in one of the most important events in human history. Having this signed book feels like having a little bit of that grand history here in our archives.
Needless to say, but the dash back into our stacks to find the book was both wild and exuberant. Once we pulled the book and gingerly brought it out to the reading room, we waited with bated breath to see the autograph. Lo and behold, the pen had indeed struck the page with a mighty signature. It was at this point in time that a rather embarrassing squeal came from my person. I know, it is just a signature in a book. Neil Armstrong did not manifest in front of me and start a conversation about space travel. Seeing his writing in the book brought the degrees of separation between us down just that little bit.
When you think of Southeast Missouri State University, you don’t automatically think NASA and landing on the Moon. The process of working on this exhibit and seeing that there is indeed a relationship between the two was exciting and eye opening. It doesn’t matter where you start, it only matters about where you want to go. For Dr. Linda Godwin and Jefferson Bates, their ambitions took them all the way to NASA. Now, we have a record of that ambition here at Southeast Missouri State University for all to see.
The Jefferson Bates Collection is available for access in Special Collections and Archives, Kent Library, Room 306. Materials donated by Dr. Kala Stroup are currently being processed. The exhibit on SEMO’s Place in Space can be seen on the third floor in Kent Library outside of Special Collections and Archives Room 306.