Forty years ago this evening dozens of people gathered around a 12-inch TV screen in Manteca’s Powers Tract neighborhood sandwiched between the former Spreckels Sugar plant and Manteca High to see history in the making.
“The landing on the moon was just so beautiful to watch,” retired school secretary Sally Williams recalled.
The entire neighborhood living on Powers Avenue in 1969 joined her and her husband, Manteca High football coach Ed Williams, to see the Apollo 11 crew touch down on the moon from the Williams’ front lawn in the 300 block of South Powers Avenue.
It was a dramatic time for the citizens of Manteca and the country as a whole to witness live TV coverage of Apollo astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong travel through space for their historic moon landing.
It was an unusually cool mid-July night in Manteca and everyone was talking about the adventure of U.S. astronauts about to make world history.
Manteca was under 15,000 residents. It was a time when neighbors would sit together on the summer nights eating watermelon in their front yards.
It was probably one of the best scenes of Americana created in Manteca in the 1960s while the neighbor kids played hide and seek kick-the-can in the street and “didget” behind the bushes and between the houses.
It was “absolutely wonderful,” Sally said, remembering how she served coffee and lemonade. Sally has always been known to be the perfect hostess. That night she kept one eye on her children, Jeff and Sally, who were playing with the other neighborhood kids and the other on her guests and a lone TV.
“It was so much fun to watch the kids just be kids,” she said.
Ed set up their 12-inch television set on a flimsy TV tray that he put on the grass using an extension cord that took the plug of a washing machine in their home. Sally remembers it was about 10 p.m. and a cool clear night for the middle of July.
Families that gathered around included Joann and Ren Woods, Doris and Del Landreth, Jean and Buster Dowhower, the Ueckers and many others.
In fact Dean Uecker was among the kids playing in the area and attempting to climb on the roofs, she recalled. Uecker is currently in the insurance business in Ripon where he is also on the Ripon City Council.
Sally Williams was first a half-time secretary between Yosemite and Lincoln schools in the ‘60s before going to Lindbergh School and finally to Shasta School when it opened. Ed had moved on to East Union from Manteca High teaching math in addition to his coaching. They were the first couple to retire together in the same year, 1988.
When the astronauts returned to earth their capsule was recovered by crew members of the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Hornet – now docked as a museum in nearby Alameda.
The Hornet museum will celebrate “Splashdown 2009” in a three-day celebration featuring astronaut Buzz Aldrin. It is scheduled to be held Friday through Sunday.
On Sunday, NASA’s Ames research Center in Mountain View hosted “Moonfest 2009: From Apollo to LCROSS, and Beyond,” that focused on Apollo moonwalks and NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission – presently searching for water on the moon.