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
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
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”
every Memorial Day weekend, bikers gather in Washington, DC to honor
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
From the Lincoln Memorial we walked along the reflecting
pools towards the Washington
Monument. On a regular day, the Washington
Monument is an
sight. At night and with the fog and
mist, the Washington Monument
was stunning. It took on a mystical
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
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
I walked along the avenue, I could sense the importance of this area in
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
would reach Schirra’s table. One of the
items that I wanted Stafford to sign was a
cover from Apollo Soyuz that had been autographed previously by Deke
Vance Brand, Alexi Leonov, and Valeri Kubasov. Stafford’s
signature was the
only one that I
Mary placed the cover down for Stafford
to sign. Stafford’s handler, Gregg Linebaugh,
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
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
To The Moon.” I wanted to have Stafford
add his military rank to the signature so I told Mary to ask him to add
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
too. There were some refreshments in
this pressure cooker of a room and Mary went to get a drink and brought
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.