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Apollo annually celebrates the historic landing of the spacecraft of the same name

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

When men from Earth first landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, Alan Morgan was 12 years old and remembers his town's fire whistles sounding in celebration.

"The whole world basically came to a standstill," said Morgan, now 52. "It was a big thing."

The landing meant even more for Apollo, Morgan's hometown and where he has lived his entire life. From the start, the tiny Armstrong County borough has associated itself closely with the space program that culminated in successfully landing men on the moon and returning them safely to Earth.

Then-tax collector Charles Leidy and Mayor Duane Guthrie wanted their town to capitalize on the space program and the borough being named after the ancient god.

Originally called Warren, the borough's name was changed to avoid confusion with another Pennsylvania town also named Warren.

It is believed to be the only town named Apollo in the entire nation.

"As the name Apollo struck Americans, it struck Apollo, Pa., in a very unique way," said Bill Kerr, 57, of Kiski Township, a member of the celebration committee. "I remember watching the newscast about the moon landing. Like everybody else, we were so excited about the national accomplishment. We shared the same name as the Apollo space program."

Guthrie named Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin Aldrin as honorary citizens of Apollo, declaring that "The first men on the moon were men of Apollo."

The day after the moon landing, on July 21, 1969, Apollo celebrated with what Kerr remembered as a "very jubilant" and "huge" parade.

It grew into a weeklong celebration the next year and has been held every year since.

"We really enjoy it," council President John Ameno Jr. said. "We're the only community in the country named Apollo. They took it under their wing at the time the moon landing happened. This was something that was very historic and definitely progress for the United States. It's something that's near and dear the hearts of people living in Apollo."

Besides a street named Astronaut Way, the Apollo Area Historical Society's museum features artifacts and memorabilia of the space program and the borough's celebrations, including a model of an Apollo spacecraft, a piece of the heat shield from the Apollo 11 spacecraft and a letter to the community from Neil Armstrong. The museum is regularly open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays.

The museum even has a sample of "moon" soil -- it's actually dirt that Apollo firefighters, dressed as astronauts, retrieved from Moon Township in Allegheny County.

The borough has keyed into the interests of stamp collectors, offering special envelopes and stamp cancellations for Apollo mission stamps.

For the Apollo 11 stamp, the borough was the site of the second day issue on Sept. 10, 1969; the first day issue went to Washington, D.C.

Only one Apollo astronaut, Ron Evans Jr., visited the borough, in 1973. He was the command module pilot on Apollo 17, the sixth and final lunar landing mission of the Apollo program in December 1972. Evans died in 1990.

"It's hard to believe it's been 40 years," Morgan said. "In some ways it seems that long, in other ways it doesn't seem that long ago.

"I wish more people were interested in it. It was and still is one of the biggest things our country has ever done. It seems people have forgotten it.

"I guess that's why Apollo does what we do," Morgan said. "We want to keep the memory alive."

Additional Information:

Coming up

Who: Apollo Area Historical Society

What: One-hour program commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing including video of moon landing parades, slides of past celebrations and the 1973 visit by Apollo 17 astronaut Ron Evans

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: W.T.C.U. Building, 317 N. Second St.

Cost: Free

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