Neil Armstrong Visits Vancouver
For more than 30 years in Vancouver, starting in
the 1960s, a creative fellow named Tom Butler was practicing
the art of Public Relations. He wasand, as a newspaper columnist
at the time I was around to witness thiseverywhere. The visits
of Charlton Heston, Billy Carter and Ginger Rogers?
Tom handled them. The Belly Flop contest at the Bayshore and the
Coach House Inn, which got U.S. TV network coverage? His idea. The
unveiling of the sculpture Girl in Wet Suit in Stanley Park?
Tom. He took a live beaver from Stanley Park to New York, San Francisco
and Los Angeles to promote convention travel to B.C. (the result
was 20 new conventions worth millions in fresh dollars). He was
there, too, when Neil Armstrong of first-man-on-the-moon
fame came to Vancouver in 1977 to help celebrate the opening of
the Harbour House Restaurant on top of what was then known as the
Sears Tower, and is today called Harbour Centre.
The Armstrong event is part of an autobiography that Tom has written,
a book that details the events that he managedand often originated.
Province columnist Himie Koshevoy called him the
man with the roman candle mind.
Weve asked Tom for permission to reproduce the part of his
book that deals with Armstrongs visit. We think youll
The futuristic saucer-shaped revolving restaurant
and observation deck that soars halfway to the moon in the night
sky over Vancouver was opened by a man who went all the way.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the lunar
surfaceon Sunday, July 20, 1969was the perfect choice
to christen the Harbour House Restaurant atop the Sears Tower. Opening
ceremonies with Mayor Jack Volrich and the projects German
owners were held at 10:01 a.m.eight years, 22 days, 14 hours
and five minutes after Armstrong stepped his left boot onto the
moon and electrified a world-wide television audience with a message
from space that will live forever in the annals of exploration:
Thats one small step for a man, one giant leap for
This historic moment, which climaxed a 240,000-mile voyage aboard
the Apollo 11 spacecraft was followed shortly by the descent from
the Eagle landing vehicle of astronaut Edwin Buzz Aldrinwhile
astronaut Michael Collins remained in the orbiting command module.
Armstrong then read aloud the text of a small stainless steel plaque
attached to one of Eagles landing legs: Here men from
the planet earth first set foot on the moon. July, 1969, A.D. We
came in peace for all mankind. It was signed: Richard Nixon.
Armstrong placed the same left foot, this time clad in a Gucci
tassel-loafer size 9 ½ B, in a flat of fresh cement, preserving
with a shoeprint the ceremonial occasion in perpetuity. As he did
so, the l5th Field Artillery Regimental Band played America
From concept to fruition, Armstrongs visit took some doing,
with phone chases to Houston, Washington, New York and finally,
Armstrongs home in Lebanon, Ohio (he was by then a professor
of aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati). Along
the way, I encountered another newsmaker, though a bit-player in
a tragedy that occurred the same July weekend as the Apollo flightan
event which sank a U.S. senators presidential aspirations.
At the National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters
in Washington, my queries were handled by a public relations person
who identified herself as Rosemary Keough. Do they call you
Cricket?, I ventured. She replied in the affirmative
and expressed wonderment that a Canadian caller from Vancouver would
know her nicknameand I assured her we had cable TV in our
igloos. Cricket, I remembered, was one of the cook-out
girls on Chappaquiddick Island the July 18/19 night Senator Ted
(Aquaman) Kennedy drove off the Dyke Bridge, resulting in the drowning
of Mary Jo Kopechne and ending forever Kennedys quest for
the White House. I refrained from quizzing Ms. Keough about the
evening in question and she steered me in the right direction to
contact Armstrong through his New York agent who asked for and was
given $5,000 and two first-class air tickets.
Id been cautioned that Armstrong was shy and reticent, not
an easy to man to know. On the limo ride in from the airport, he
fussed about formal remarks he would make the following day, noting
that it was his first visit to Canada about which he knew little.
I thought he might appreciate some inspiration from a previous visitor
En route to his hotel we detoured into Vancouvers famous
Stanley Park where stands a memorial to the first U.S. president
to visit Canada while in office. On a granite tablet, erected by
the Kiwanis Club of Marion, Ohio, are the words of President Warren
Gamaliel Harding, spoken before a crowd estimated at 50,000 on July
26, 1923, a few days before his fatal illness in San Francisco.
What an object lesson of peace is shown today by our two
countries to all the world. No grim-faced fortifications mar our
frontiers, no huge battleships patrol our dividing waters, no stealthy
spies lurk in our tranquil border hamlets. Only a scrap of paper,
recording hardly more than a simple understanding, safeguards lives
and properties on the Great Lakes, and only humble mile posts mark
the inviolable boundary line for thousands of miles through farm
and forest. Our protection is our fraternity, our armor is our faith,
the tie that binds more firmly year by year is ever-increasing acquaintance
and comradeship through interchange of citizens; and the compact
is not of perishable parchment, but of fair and honorable dealing
which, God grant, shall continue for all time.
Fortified with this reference, Armstrong relaxed and gave a warm
and charming speech the next day, quoting the sentiments of his
fellow Ohioan. Far from his reputation of being stand-offish, he
mixed in at the reception to follow, taking the time to shake a
hundred hands, chat cordially and pose for snap-shots. He spent
extra moments with elderly ladies, his equally-gracious wife, Jan,
by his side. Vancouvers glitterati were dazzled.
Celebrities dont often leave a lasting impression with me.
But I had saved the front page of The Vancouver Sun, which
changed its masthead to The Vancouver Moon for its July 21,
l969 issue, bearing the headline Man Walks on Moon.
Armstrong signed it: To Tom, with appreciation for the hospitality,
Neil Armstrong. That one is a keeper.
A postscript: a few years afterward, I happened to enquire of
a young waiter at the restaurant as to where the historic shoeprint
was on display. His reply: Huh?
(Forgive them, for they knew not what they had.)
* Incidentally, my source for Armstrongs famous message
from the moon, often misquoted (dropping of the a) is
the December, l969, volume 136, no. 6 of National Geographic,
official journal of the National Geographical Society, Washington,
Tom Butler, Summerside, PEI
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