I was having a hard time settling on a topic for this week’s column until I ran across a story in the February 21, 1962 Noblesville Daily Ledger that describes local reactions to astronaut John Glenn’s history-making flight on board the Friendship 7.
Fifty-nine years ago next Saturday, Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth.
According to the Ledger, during the four hours and 56 minutes Glenn was in space, everything in Noblesville came to a screeching halt. The streets were said to be so empty, Noblesville looked like something out of a science fiction movie.
All over the city, crowds were glued to television sets and radios “almost anywhere an electrical outlet permitted a communications receiver to be set up.”
One of the downtown stores (it’s not identified, but considering the paragraph that followed, it must have been the Corner Drug Store) set up a TV and was soon visited by about a dozen people who worked nearby. They supposedly came for coffee, but the Ledger pointed out their coffee turned “ice cold” long before it was drunk.
Richard Stevenson, the Corner Drug’s pharmacist, debated whether he should charge admission for seats at the store’s lunch counter, or simply close up since nobody was buying anything. (He apparently opted to just wait it out.)
City employees, including Mayor Dale Hanshew, either caught the action on a TV in Police Chief Harry Horn’s office, or they joined the men of the fire department around their set. (Back then City Hall was on South Eighth Street and the fire station was right next door on Maple Avenue.)
Meanwhile in the county courthouse, people were packed in like sardines at the counter of Auditor Frank Burris’ office as they tried to keep track of events on a television someone had placed on a table near the window.
Even folks in the country paused to watch the spectacle. Rural postal carrier Amos Howard noted that it was the first time he could remember passing only a couple of farmers on his delivery route.
Many teachers and students brought televisions and little transistor radios to school. Some of the junior high classes doubled up to share a radio, while in the high school, halls that were usually noisy between classes and during lunch were so quiet “you could hear a book drop.”
I have a hazy memory of televisions being wheeled into my grade school classrooms during major events like that, but I can’t honestly recall watching Glenn. I guess I was young enough I didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of what was taking place.
There was so much in that Ledger article about the effect Glenn’s daring feat had on the people of this area that it seemed like a good idea to go back and read about their reactions to the first two Project Mercury missions. (Glenn was the third American in space.)
That was the plan, anyway.
I was surprised to discover the Ledger didn’t run comparable local accounts when Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom went up in space. The newspaper just used the standard wire stories.
I guess I can understand the lack of attention to Grissom. Even though he was a Hoosier and even though his mission came close to ending in tragedy (he nearly drowned when his hatch popped open prematurely,) his flight basically duplicated Shepard’s.
But, Shepard was the first American ever to fly in space. I really expected the Ledger to cover him like they did Glenn.
Oh well. The Ledger did report on some other local angles to Shepard’s and Grissom’s missions, as well as to Mercury missions that came after Glenn. I’ll get to those next week.

Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears each Wednesday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com