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Right Stuff

2003 UACC Autograph Show in Washington, DC

  Photo Credits: Mine and Mary
Astronaut Wally Schirra and I after dinner at the 2003 Sims & Hankow autograph show
Me with Astronaut Wally Schirra after dinner at the Sims Hankow Autograph Show in Washington, DC
Wally Shirra raises a glass of wine to me
Wally Schirra raises a glass of wine to me
Walt Cunningham with Mary after dinner at the Sims Hankow Autograph Show
Astronaut Walt Cunningham with Mary after the autograph show dinner
Walt Cunningham, me, and Dot Cunningham after dinner at the autograph show
Astronaut Walt Cunningham, me, and Dot Cunningham after dinner at the Sims Hankow Autograph
Scott Carpenter, me, and Patti Carpenter after the autograph show dinner
Astronaut Scott Carpenter, me, and Patti Carpenter after dinner at the autograph show
Edgar Mitchell and me after dinner at the autograph show
Mary with Edgar Mitchell after the autograph show dinner
Me with Astronaut Edgar Mitchell
Mary with Astronaut Edgar Mitchell
Me and Jerry Carr after the autograph show dinner
Me with Astronaut Jerry Carr after dinner at the Sims Hankow Autograph Show in Washington, DC

In June of 2003, Mary, Lexie, and I attended the Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Over Memorial Day weekend in 2003, Mary and I were in Washington, DC for the Sims & Hankow Enterprises sponsored UACC autograph show.  Several astronauts were appearing at this show.  For some it was their first appearance at a show.

We flew into Reagan National Airport on Friday evening May, 23rd.  The hotel where the show was being held was the Capital Hilton in Washington, DC.  It was a nice hotel that is located not far from the White House.

We took a cab from the airport to the hotel.  After we checked in, Mary and I went up to our room and got settled.   I then contacted a friend and fellow space enthusiast named Tom Celentano.  Tom was also in town for the autograph show.

Since it was time for dinner we met up with Tom and decided to go to a restaurant.  The restaurant that we chose was a seafood restaurant named Legal Sea Foods.  Their specialty is fresh seafood and it certainly was fresh.  We enjoyed our meals there.  We went for a walk around the Capital Mall after dinner to see some of the sights.  It was a very damp night.  The weather was foggy and misty out.

As we were walking we noticed a huge number of motorcycles.  It took me by surprise as it seemed like a biker convention.  Later on the news, we learned that the gathering was called “Rolling Thunder” and every Memorial Day weekend, bikers gather in Washington, DC to honor our war dead.

With all of this activity going on there were a lot of people all over the mall.  We visited the Vietnam Memorial.  It was apparent that many people were deeply touched by the wall of names.   From there we went to the Lincoln Memorial.  I had never seen that at night.

From the Lincoln Memorial we walked along the reflecting pools towards the Washington Monument.   On a regular day, the Washington Monument is an impressive sight.  At night and with the fog and mist, the Washington Monument was stunning.  It took on a mystical grandeur as it seemed to reach into the heavens.

It was getting late, so we decided to head towards the White House which was on the way to our hotel.   It was neat to see the White House at night.  I wish I could have gotten some decent photos of it, but without a tripod, it really wasn't possible to get any good photos.

Saturday morning, Mary and I got up to see some more of the sights around the mall.  We walked down to the White House and then head East along Pennsylvania Avenue.  As I walked along the avenue, I could sense the importance of this area in our nation's history.

It was a little on the cool side Saturday morning.  Mary and I stopped at a Starbucks coffee shop and had a cup of coffee.   We walked around the FBI building hoping that there would be an opportunity to tour it.  It seemed like touring that building had been shut down.

One museum that we went into was the Museum of Natural Science.  It was great to see their impressive collection of dinosaurs.   We walked through an outdoor art garden and really enjoyed the nature and sculptures.

For lunch Mary and I went to Old Ebbits Grill near the White House.  I had read about this restaurant and it seemed like a good one to try.  We were not disappointed.  The restaurant was historical in its own right having been established in 1856.  Several Presidents loved to dine there.  Those Presidents included Grant, Cleveland, Harding and Theodore Roosevelt.

The outside of the restaurant is done with a Beaux-Arts façade.  Inside the booths are constructed with mahogany and velvet.  The bars are set in marble, brass and beveled glass.  It was not difficult to imagine all of the political wrangling that must have gone on over the years at this restaurant.  We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch.

Saturday afternoon at our hotel, there was supposed to be a special private autograph signing at the UACC show from 2:30 PM until 5:30 PM.  Tickets for this signing were supposed to be limited in scope.  Up front it looked like a great opportunity to have some quality time with the astronauts that were signing.

Mary and I got down to the meeting room where the private signing was being conducted.  We were shocked that there was a huge line of people waiting to get in.  Once we got inside, the lines were terrible.  It looked like there were 50 or 60 people in line for Wally Schirra alone.

This was Schirra’s first autograph show appearance that I was aware of, so I really wanted to get some items signed by Wally.  I got in that line, shaking my head about the private nature of the signing.  If this was a small intimate affair, I hated to see what the public show was like on Sunday.

Another astronaut that was signing at this show was Tom Stafford.  I had a few items that I really wanted to get Stafford signature on.  I dispatched Mary to stand in Stafford’s huge line.  Schirra’s line seemed to take forever.  There were so many people in the small meeting room that the air conditioning could not keep up.  I was sweating like a pig.  I was not alone though; there were plenty of other sweaty pigs around me.

Autograph lines can be the setting for socializing with fellow collectors.  After you stand in line for over an hour with the same people though, it's hard to think of something to say.  I really was not pleased with the way things had turned out.  I paid extra money for a premium experience, and this was the worst autograph show experience in my life.  Like a trooper, I hung on, determined to at least get the autograph of one astronaut this weekend.

Stafford’s line turned out to be a little shorter than Schirra’s was.  That allowed Mary to get to Stafford’s table, well before I would reach Schirra’s table.  One of the items that I wanted Stafford to sign was a first day cover from Apollo Soyuz that had been autographed previously by Deke Slayton, Vance Brand, Alexi Leonov, and Valeri Kubasov.  Stafford’s signature was the only one that I needed.

Mary placed the cover down for Stafford to sign. Stafford’s handler, Gregg Linebaugh, shrieked, that will cost $200!  He asked Mary if she was sure that she wanted it signed.  Of course I had told Mary ahead of time what the price for that signature was going to be.   Mary acted like a seasoned veteran and brushed Linebaugh off.  The cover was completed.

Another thing that I asked Mary to have Stafford sign was a leather bound Easton Press edition of Jules Verne’s “From The Earth To The Moon.”  I wanted to have Stafford add his military rank to the signature so I told Mary to ask him to add General to his name.  When Mary said this Stafford said, “So you want to demote me!”  Stafford is a Major General and it was my error to not tell Mary his full rank.  He laughed though and Mary thought his response was pretty funny.  He did sign the book with his military rank.

Stafford seemed to be in a good mood at this signing.  Mary talked with him some about his museum in Weatherford, Oklahoma and he really enjoyed that.  Mary came back and found me still standing in Schirra’s line.  She reported her success with Stafford and that cheered me up.

I was thrilled to get the ASTP cover completed.  I heard the story from Mary about the demotion of Stafford and I thought that was pretty funny too.  There were some refreshments in this pressure cooker of a room and Mary went to get a drink and brought me one back, while I waited in line.

Mary relieved me of duty of maintaining my spot in the Schirra line.  That freed me up to got ask Richard Gordon to sign my “From The Earth To the Moon” book.  I had him sign it with his military rank as well.  I apologize to Gordon for only having one thing for him to autograph.  I explained to him though, that I had him sign everything else that I had for him at previous autograph shows.  Richard Gordon is always one of the most pleasant people to meet at the shows.

I also went over and talked to Robert Perlman.  He was seated over at the table with Scott Carpenter.  I had several questions for Robert related to the silent auction that would be conducted that evening for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.  Robert relayed my questions to Linn Leblanc with the foundation and then got back to me with the answers.

Mary was still holding our spot in the Wally Schirra line.  I went back to relieve her and dispatched her to get a couple of autographs in Mark Shelton’s book that he had sent with us.  Mary got Mark a bonus autograph of Bill Dana as Jose Jimenez.

I was getting concerned that 5:30 would roll around before we got up to the front of the Schirra line.  It was hot and I was miserable.  I was tired of standing in line, but really did not want to miss out on this opportunity with Schirra.

Finally we got up to Schirra’s table.  He was truly a pleasure.  Even after signing for all of those people that were ahead of us in line, Schirra was still jovial.  I had a lot of things for Schirra to sign.  He joked about throwing in his military rank on the inscription at no charge.  One of the things that I had Schirra sign was an old Turtles membership card that I had acquired on EBay.  Of course he asked me if I was a turtle and I had to respond appropriately.

I handed a ball point pen and asked Schirra to sign a book with it.  He really liked the ball point pen.  The pen was Mary's that she had got from a business seminar or vendor.  Referring to his wife, Schirra said, “Jo would really like this pen.”  Mary told Schirra that he was more than welcome to keep the pen.  Schirra was happy about that.  We paid our bill and left the private signing.

I was thrilled about getting the Schirra and Stafford autographs taken care of.  I was still disappointed in the private signing.  I vowed never to waste money on a private signing again.  Mary and I stopped at the hotel bar and had a glass of wine before heading up to our room.

At the banquet that evening we were seated at a table with Walt Cunningham and his wife Dot.  There were about four other people at the table besides Mary and me and the Cunninghams.

Cunningham and his wife were very friendly.  They took the time to talk with everyone at the table and fielded everyone's questions.  It was a nice dinner.  The number of people attending the banquet was kept small and manageable.  Since it was not too crowded it was a better experience all around.

During the dinner, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation silent auction was proceeding.  It was the first time that the ASF held an auction to raise funds for their scholarships.  I was an active participant in the auction.  A few times during the dinner Robert Perlman came around to let me know the status of some things that I was bidding on.

After our meal was over I went over to talk with several of the astronauts.  I thanked Wally Schirra and Scott Carpenter for being an inspiration to me while I was growing up.   I told them that I got into engineering because of the paths that they blazed.  Wally raised his wine glass up to me in salute.  Mary took some nice photos of me interacting with my heroes.

Mary and I had our pictures taken with Walt and Dot Cunningham.  Dot gave me a hug during when Mary took the photo of me with them.  She was so friendly; it was as if we had known her forever.  We also spoke with Edgar Mitchell and Jerry Carr and had our photos taken with them.

The silent auction was coming to a close and someone had outbid me on one of the items that I wanted.  I increased my bid a couple of times and eventually won the lot.  Bidding in an auction, certainly can be addictive. A few of my fellow space collectors congratulated me and encouraged me during the bidding.  It's not like I needed a lot of encouragement though.

I won several auction lots that evening.  It seemed like a lot of money at the time.  Looking back at it in retrospect, the items and experiences that I won were priceless.  Who today can question the price that I paid to attend the re-release gala for “The Right Stuff” in Hollywood?  There is a limited time window in history when I have this opportunity to interact with my heroes.  I dare anyone to attempt to put a price on that.

On Sunday Mary and I went over to Arlington National Cemetery  to pay our respects to the crew members of Columbia and other astronauts interred there.  For my account and photos of that, follow the Arlington link.

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UPDATED : January 28, 2007
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