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Where were you on July 20, 1969? Rock Ward will never forget. 

“My wife Marrion and I were camping at Zermatt, Switzerland,” the lifelong amateur astronomer recalled. “We were outside of town on a little campground, so we walked up the hill that evening to a little local cafe.”

Of course, the American tourists knew that the Apollo 11 mission, launched by NASA four days earlier from the Kennedy Space Center, was approaching the moon. However, in the days before smartphones and instant information, they had to find a place to watch it.

“We opened the door, walked in, there was a group of around 20 people and they were locals,” Rock said. “They were riveted to a small black and white TV that was mounted on the wall. We realized quickly the landing was about to happen.”

With commentary the Wards could not understand dubbed over the English broadcast, they heard a countdown. 

“There was utter silence in the room when that countdown began,” he said. “This was a crucial time and who knew what was about to happen? It was tense.”

Rock and Marrion could barely make out the words “the Eagle has landed” as the German broadcast played over them. 

“At that point the whole room, who had just glanced at us when we walked in the door, turned around, stood up, clapped and cheered,” Rock said. “They all came over and shook our hands. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life.”

The Wards will be among many Black Mountain residents celebrating the 50th anniversary of man’s first step on the moon at the Apollo Party at Black Mountain-Tyson Library at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 20. The event, which will feature activities both in the education room and outside, is a collaboration between the library and Friends of the Black Mountain Library. 

A display by Dawson Hunter, a retired Black Mountain engineer who worked on the lunar module used in the mission while employed at Grumman Corp., will be among the exhibits. 

“Some of these are original items from 1969,” said branch manager Melisa Pressley. “There is a poster, some photos from that era and other items. He put in a lot of work on this exhibit.”

Dawson will give a presentation about his work on the landing module. 

“He’s been so open to sharing his knowledge and experience,” Pressley said of the 90-year-old Dawson. 

Another activity scheduled for the event is an astronaut ice cream tasting. 

“We’ll also have dehydrated fruit, because they took that on the mission,” Pressley said. 

Rock, whose father introduced him to astronomy as a young child, will lead a “space walk” tour of the solar system. 

“We have a 240-foot walkway from the edge of the concrete path in front of the library, all the way through the back parking lot and into the grass,” he said. “That will be the distance from the sun to Pluto and all of the planets will be proportionately, so we’ll be showing the relative distances of the planets from the sun.”

Distinct colors of yarn will mark each planet’s distance from the sun. 

The indoor exhibit will include space-themed artwork from Marilyn Owens and other local artists. 

A board where attendees can write down memories of where they were on July 20, 1969 will be featured as well. 

“It’s such a huge event in our country’s history and here at the library we want to be able to share our community’s stories,” Pressley said. “Today, we’re talking about one day going to Mars and even going back to the moon and this seems so timely.”

For the Wards, it’s a day that will live with them forever. 

“There was so much emotion in that room that night,” Rock said. “From them, from us, and they really appreciated the fact that we were Americans.”

He recalls those feelings in vivid detail 50 years later. 

“Relief, wonder and profound joy to be alive that momentous day, to witness humanity’s greatest adventure and to be American that day,” he said. “All of that was something, and it really feels full circle to have the opportunity to celebrate it at home in Black Mountain.”

For more information on the Apollo Party celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, email blackmountain.library@buncombecounty.org or go to facebook/blmtlibrary.

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