Originally published in the July 2009 print edition of Autograph magazine.
My quest started in 1979. While browsing in a bookstore, I picked-up a copy of The Book of Autographs by Charles Hamilton. The large and impressive Neil Armstrong autograph on page 95 blew me away. I was hooked.
Although I grew up in Houston near NASA, I was not a space enthusiast, much less an autograph collector. But there was something worth investigating in that signature and in autograph collecting. Soon thereafter, Linn’s Stamp News published an article on the First Man on the Moon numbered prints by artist Paul Calle, the lithograph that was the model for the First Man on the Moon stamps. I purchased one print for a nominal $50. In the same year, I joined the UACC and haven’t stopped collecting since.
Initial inquiries revealed that Armstrong had left Houston and was no longer a member of the space program. When I asked how to obtain his autograph, people stared as if I was from the moon. Stories surfaced that he was very private but would honor through the mail requests. In the early 80s I sent a large matte board that was returned unsigned. But the following day, I received a White Space Suit photo (WSS) inscribed and autographed by Armstrong in now fading blue ink. Shortly thereafter I sent the First Man on the Moon print and it was returned signed in pencil. I was ecstatic and my obsession to surround myself with items from the first man on the Moon slipped into high gear.
In 1983, on a trip to the Air and Space Museum, I visited the gift shop and was stunned to see a Paul Calle lithograph of Armstrong, signed by Armstrong. It was mine for $125. Interestingly, these signed prints could never quite sold and the balance of the inventory was eventually purchased by a friend of mine for only $35 each.
The Elevator Encounter
In the mid-80s, I ventured to NASA and was given numerous unsigned photos. I became friends with Mary Lee Meider, the secretary to the astronauts. In one case, I asked for the ‘Snoopy’ picture, a photo of a smiling Armstrong inside the Eagle. NASA was out of the print but gave me a copy of the negative from which I printed a 16×20. At a 1989 signing for his book Men from Earth, Buzz Aldrin was shocked to see the large print of the famous photo. He carefully examined it and then signed it along with a copy of his book.
That same year NASA held the 20th anniversary of the Moon Landing. It was one of Armstrong’s rare appearances. I arrived, bundle of materials to be signed in hand, most importantly the ‘Snoopy’ picture. Scouting the hotel premises for nearly an hour, I spotted him waiting for an elevator. I joined several collectors on the elevator with Armstrong and impatiently asked for his autograph. He was as shocked as Aldrin at the size of the photo and hesitated. Then he asked my name and provided my first in-person autograph with Armstrong.
The Twelve Moon Walkers
There were twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, Hercules had twelve labors and twelve men walked on the moon. In the mid-80s I embarked on a plan to obtain autographs from the twelve Moon walkers on an 11×14 matte upon which my wife, Lydia, drew a picture of the moon. Alan Shepard and Gene Cernan were easily obtained at Houston area golf tournaments. For the balance of the Moon walkers, I used address lists published in the UACC Pen & Quill. Where company information was available, I contacted their secretaries in advance.
Within a short time, I had the majority of their signatures on one dynamic page. Now it was time for Armstrong. A friend at NASA provided his office number and I hesitated for several weeks before calling. Finally, I dialed and waited for a secretary to answer. “Armstrong,” announced the voice on the line and I almost dropped the phone. I politely described the item I wished signed and requested his autograph. He asked that I send it with a note reminding him that we had talked to his Lebanon post office box. It was returned signed.
11×14 matte of all 12 Moon Walkers, signed by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Charles “Pete” Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, Jim Irwin, John Young, Charlie Duke, Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt
The Two-for-One Plan
The Roman philosopher Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” In 1992 and 1993 Armstrong participated in the Doug Sanders Charity Golf Tournaments in Houston. As the Regional Representative for the UACC, I notified my membership of his presence there. One Houston mega-collector left a four-letter message on my phone recorder stating that it should have been kept a secret. At the tournaments Armstrong signed “one per customer” with a smile.
This satisfied many collectors, but those who had pursued Armstrong for years (such as myself) were not content to call it a day. My two-for-one plan was conceived and, although physically exhausting, the end result was beyond belief. With a satchel filled with photos, I approached a couple at each hole and asked if they wanted the autograph of the first man on the Moon. Who could refuse? I provided two photos if they promised to return one to me as soon as Armstrong left the area. Many of the signatures were rushed but the critical strokes were in place. I also attended the galas in the evenings where I had the opportunity to engage Armstrong in casual conversation and discuss some of the unique items in my collection.
No More After 94
It was announced in 1994 that Armstrong would no longer sign through the mail. I remembered his words after that first telephone conversation—“remind me that we had talked.” And I thought of our discussions at the galas, so I sent him several items in the late ’90s and they were returned signed. I am certain that under unique circumstances where the autograph is not the perceived objective but the sharing of the historical item is, Armstrong will probably sign.
Armstrong has always been uncomfortable with his celebrity status yet realizes that most have never met a modern day Columbus. On August 5, 2009 the first man on the Moon will be 79 years old. He believes that everyone was born with a pre-determined number of heart beats. His papers will soon be delivered to his alma mater, Purdue University. In 2000, Armstrong came to Houston to receive the Rotary Club’s highest award. After the ceremony and dinner he remained for more than an hour shaking hands and posing for pictures. With a whisper, he politely refused all autograph requests.
In January of this year, I journeyed to the Northeast braving a snow and ice storm to purchase a remaining collection of the First Man on the Moon prints including No. 1 of 1,000 signed by Armstrong. Thirty years after my first print purchase, I was in possession of a dream come true. And 30 years after my introduction to the UACC, the UACC will publish a Neil Armstrong signature study, authored by me, but the brainchild of UACC President Michael Hecht.
Where my quest will lead me tomorrow or next year, I don’t know. But I can say that the journey has been one of the greatest in my life and I look forward to many more years and more opportunities to cross paths and pens with Neil Armstrong.