The moon landing and Chappaquiddick: How this week in 1969 unfolded in the pages of the Globe
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Fifty years ago this week, two major stories broke at nearly the same time. The news of Senator Ted Kennedy leaving the scene of a car crash that killed Mary Jo Kopechne was emerging, and just days later the United States made history when astronauts set foot on the moon with the successful Apollo 11 mission.
Here’s how the week played out on the front pages of the Globe:
Saturday, July 19, 1969:
Page One of Saturday’s Globe was heavily focused on previewing the moon landing. The crash on the Martha’s Vineyard island of Chappaquiddick had already taken place Friday evening, though Kennedy’s car would not be discovered until 8 a.m. Saturday morning.
Sunday, July 20, 1969:
Page One of Sunday’s Globe told dual stories: the crash and subsequent death of Robert F. Kennedy staffer Mary Jo Kopechne dominated the entire front page “above the fold,” with three stories on the crash. Meanwhile, the anticipated moon landing received second billing.
Monday, July 21, 1969:
By Monday’s paper, the news of humankind’s first steps on the moon had swept the Chappaquiddick crash off the front page. Page One featured a huge, full-width photo of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the American flag on the moon’s surface. Below the fold, the majority of the space was devoted to quotes from the astronauts describing what they saw and felt.
Evening of Monday, July 21, 1969:
The Globe’s evening edition (which ran only on weekdays) similarly featured a huge photo of the astronauts, under the headline “Job Done, Astronauts Take Off.” The front-page story from staff writer Victor K. McElheny described the critical moments after the two astronauts departed the moon’s surface:
“If astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin had not achieved orbit there would have been no hope of their ever rejoining Michael Collins, who was piloting Columbia above them,” he wrote.
Tuesday, July 22, 1969:
On Tuesday, the men’s trip to the moon was still dominating much of the front page, including a gripping account of a tense few moments during which the moon lander docked to the command ship Columbia.
But the Kennedy crash was coming back into focus, and Edgartown police chief Dominick Arena’s pursuit of charges for Kennedy was the subject of a Page One story below the fold.
President Nixon’s steps to open China to some US trade and tourism — a hugely consequential development — was also front-page news that day.
Evening of Tuesday, July 22, 1969:
Tuesday’s evening edition led with speculation about the future of lunar travel as the world awaited the astronauts’ Thursday return to Earth. Below a photo showing efforts to prepare for the crew’s splashdown was coverage of Kopechne’s funeral, featuring a now-famous photo of Kennedy arriving for the Mass with his wife, Joan. Kennedy wore a brace around his neck.
Rounding out the busy page was a story dressing down Ted Williams for his absence from an MLB 100th anniversary party, Nixon’s foreign travel, and the latest moves out of the State House.
Wednesday, July 23, 1969
As the Apollo 11 mission began to fade from the top of the front page, the Kennedy crash — and questions still surrounding it — rose.
A large photo of the Kopechne funeral ran on Page One on Wednesday, plus a story headlined “Kennedy Vows Full Statement,” as questions arose about whether Kennedy would face additional charges in the crash.
Another Page One story described with amazement a broadcast from the Columbia in which Buzz Aldrin made a sandwich for Neil Armstrong in zero gravity.
“What could be simpler?” writer Robert Anglin asked. “Yet what could more profoundly and emphatically bring home to millions of earth-bound television viewers the nature of the awesomely alien environment the three men had conquered.”
Evening of Wednesday, July 23, 1969
The night before the splashdown of the astronauts, a front-page story in Wednesday’s evening edition previewed their arrival and Nixon’s plans to greet the trio. Meanwhile, the RMV had suspended Kennedy’s driver’s license. A Registry official found Kennedy “at serious fault” for the fatal crash.
Kennedy would go on to plead guilty to charges of leaving the scene of an accident causing injury and receive a suspended two-month sentence. He continued to serve in the US senate for decades and died in 2009 at the age of 77.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, Ted Kennedy’s wife was misidentified in an earlier version of this article.