50 Years Ago Today

“But the world all stopped to watch it, yeah, on that July afternoon,

They watched a man named Armstrong walk upon the moon"  John Stewart, "Armstrong"

 

Has it really been fifty years?  It doesn't seem that long ago.  But the calendar and the television specials all say that fifty years have passed since that fateful day on July 20th.

On May 25th, 1961, President Kennedy had said "First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."

America rolled up its sleeves and got out its slide rules.  We had put Alan Shepard into space and John Glenn was slated to go next.  The Mercury Astronauts caught not only the imagination of the country but of the world.  Every little boy and girl it seemed wanted to either be the Beatles or an astronaut.

I wanted to be an astronaut but slide-rules and math confounded the crap out of me.  And they still do.

We rolled out of bed in the early, early hours of the morning to watch the launches, breaths held as the countdown went down to zero and the button was pushed.

Televisions were rolled into schoolrooms around the country, including Las Vegas, so that we could track their progress.

The Mercury astronauts gave way to the Gemini Project and Ed Whitebecame the first American to walk in space.

Each step brought us closer to the goal of going to the moon.  All of this during a decade of turmoil and conflict the likes of which this country hadn't seen in a hundred years.  The Civil Rights movement, the loss of JFK, the Vietnam War, the youth movement, free speech, the anti-war movement, the silent majority are part of our history of the 1960s.

But through it all, even in the dark days (and we had our share of dark, dark days back then), the resolve to complete JFK's dream of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade stayed strong. 

We lost Mercury astronaut Virgil "Gus" Grissom, the beloved Ed White and Roger Chaffee on the launch pad in the  Apollo One fire in 1967 and for a brief moment our resolve wavered.  But instead of scraping the idea, NASA and the country moved forward determined to solve the problems and hold the course.

In December of 1968, Apollo Eight with Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Williams Anders became, not only the first Americans, but the first ever to orbit the moon.  That Christmas Eve they read Bible passages to the world from outer space.

As the 1960s were coming to a close, the decade seemed to be imploding on itself.  What had once seemed like a shining, optimistic beacon had become the very opposite.  Death, violence and drugs had taken over and the decade seemed like it was spiraling out of control.

But on a July afternoon in 1969, that shining optimism was recaptured and reborn as the Lunar Module with Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin landed on the moon.

Around the world, people stopped what they were doing to watch history being made.

In Las Vegas, it was a Sunday afternoon/early evening..  At our house in Charleston Heights, we stopped and watched.

In the casinos on Fremont Street and on the Las Vegas Strip, gamblers were doing what they do best, gambling away.

Televisions had been set up around the casinos on both Fremont Street and the Strip so that patrons could watch if they wanted to.

Growing up in Las Vegas, we all know how difficult it is to get gamblers away from the tables and we know the stories of how it is next to impossible to get people to leave slot machines.

But on the Sunday up and down Fremont Street and up and down the Strip, they did just that. 

They stopped gambling to watch Neil Armstrong descend from the lunar module and "take one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" before erupting in applause and tears.

It was a shared historic moment felt the world over and that included Las Vegas. Over a half million people shared the moment.

I know what you're thinking.  They could have gone upstairs to their rooms and watched.

But it was one of those moments in history when you wanted to be with other people and share the experience.

The Space Race which had begun twelve years earlier with the launch ofSputnik One by the Russians ended with Americans landing on the moon.

We had completed the dream that President Kennedy had set forth eight years earlier with slide rules, mainframe computers and American ingenuity.

And the world held their breath and then cheered with delight as Neil Armstrong set foot upon the moon, July 20th 1969.

The 1960s would all but officially come to a close two and half weeks later with the Manson Family killing spree in Los Angeles.

But, for a brief shining moment on that fateful July afternoon/early evening,, we reminded ourselves and the world of what the best of America could be.



Credit: Airboyd and NASA





Presentation and Book Signing August 1st!!!!

I am thrilled to announce that I will be returning to the Clark County Library on Flamingo on August 1st for a new presentation and book signing.

My presentation will be on the “Las Vegas Strip We Once Knew” at 7:00 pm. The talk will feature rare and wonderful images and cover the early years of that famed boulevard, the hotels, the stars, the glitz and the glamour!

Immediately following the presentation, I will be signing copies of my new book, “Gambling on a Dream: The Classic Las Vegas Strip 1930-1955”.

So please save the date and we hope to see you there!!!!!

Thursday, August 1st, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Clark County Library

1401 E. Flamingo Rd.
Las Vegas NV 89119


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Talk and Book Signing at the Mob Museum

SAVE THE DATE:

I am thrilled to announce that I will be giving a talk at the Mob Museum on Saturday, April 27th at 2:00 pm. Afterwards, I will be signing copies of my new book, Gambling on a Dream: The Classic Las Vegas Strip 1930-1955.

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The Mob Museum

300 Stewart Ave.

Las Vegas, NV 89101

Saturday, April 27th

2:00 pm

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The Las Vegas Strip We Once Knew

Las Vegas has changed a great deal over the last twenty-five years. Growing from the sparsely populated city many of us grew up with in the 1960s into a sprawling metropolis of over two million.

Back then, the Las Vegas Strip was revered as the “Entertainment Capital of the World”. Up and down that five- mile stretch of Boulevard, some of the greatest names in entertainment played the hotel showrooms. From Frank Sinatra to Judy Garland to Lena Horne and Harry Belafonte, they entertained guests twice night, first at the 8:00 dinner show and later in the night, at the 12:30 am Late Show (there was even the occasional Late, Late Show on Saturday nights). They often were booked for two weeks or more and the hotel marquees were in constant rotation.

Performers such as Louis Prima, Keely Smith, Sam Butera and Freddie Bell and the Bellboys and the Mary Kaye Trio kept the various lounges jumping from late night to early in the morning. They often rotated throughout the night with comedians such as Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett and Shecky Greene.

There was no walking the Strip back then. In those days the hotels catered to tourists in automobiles. There were often large expanses of desert between hotels. Gas stations, bars, diners and family run motels dotted the landscape between the larger hotels.

Giant neon signs that could be seen up and down the Boulevard danced in the dark night skies providing a show all their own.

Back then, people dressed up to go to a show, with the men sporting tuxedos and the women draped in sparkling evening gowns and draped in furs and jewelry.

It was a party that was never supposed to end.

Today that has all but vanished from the famed Las Vegas Strip as giant resorts built out to curb appeal to the modern tourist in search of fun, shopping and fine dining.

You can revisit those days in the new paperback version of my book, Gambling on a Dream: The Classic Las Vegas Strip 1930-1955 which covers the histories of the first 10 hotels built on the Strip in those years. The companion DVD offers video interviews with the men and women who were there and helped to make that history.

You can get a personally autographed book and the companion DVD here:

http://classiclasvegas.com/shop

In the meantime, enjoy some images of the way it used to be:

Images courtesy of the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, UNLV Special Collections, Joel Rosales, and the As We Knew It: Classic Las Vegas Collection