Photograph of Astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr. in His Mark IV Pressure Suit. Photo from the National Archives.
John Glenn’s “biggest boosters” in his orbit of the Earth were not on his rocket, one newspaper reporter wrote, but those from his hometown of New Concord.
It was 59 years ago this week that Glenn piloted the NASA spacecraft Friendship 7 and orbited the planet three times before safely returning to Earth. The historic achievement made Glenn a household name and one of the most famous Ohioans to ever live.
Glenn was celebrated throughout the United States, but nowhere was he honored as fervently as in Ohio.
Gov. Michael DiSalle proclaimed Feb. 20 to be “John H. Glenn Jr. Day.” Lt. Gov. John Donahey paid tribute to Glenn by comparing his achievements to those of Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers.
“This is a great day for Ohio,” Donahey said. “First in light, first in flight and now first in orbit.”
U.S. Sens. Frank Lausche and Stephen M. Young of Ohio exalted Glenn in the days after the flight. Lausche gave a lengthy speech on the Senate floor referencing many of Ohio’s contributions to science, literature, art and American progress — from Johnny Appleseed to William Holmes McGuffey (editor of the McGuffey Readers series) and all the Ohio natives who became president.
Young said: “As long as mankind exists on this planet, (Feb. 20, 1962) will be remembered not only as a milestone in man’s continuing thirst for knowledge, but as a day when the best in freedom, democracy and an open society was displayed to the world.”
A dozen years later, Glenn himself would take office as a U.S. Senator representing the Buckeye State.
Towns across the nation honored Glenn. He earned a ticker-tape parade in New York City. Towns such as Ottawa, Illinois and Quincy, Massachusetts named him an honorary citizen. The city of Larkspur, California named a park after him.
Glenn’s hometown of New Concord had already named a local park for him and shortly after the flight made plans to name a new consolidated high school for its most famous native. John Glenn High School was dedicated later in 1962, with its namesake giving a speech and signing autographs for students.
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce commissioned a portrait of John Glenn painted by Chagrin Falls artist David Philip Wilson. It was unveiled in November 1962 by Glenn’s parents inside the Statehouse rotunda. The portrait now hangs in the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta.
The Ohio legislature later designated Feb. 20 to be “John Glenn Friendship 7 Day.” Each Feb. 17 is recognized as “Annie Glenn Communication Disorders Awareness Day” to honor his spouse’s lifelong advocacy for those with speech disorders.
Annie Glenn is not the only family member to have been honored in this state. Following John Glenn’s famous flight, his mother, Clara, was named “Ohio Mother of 1962.”
After all, she had raised an American hero and had faith in his abilities as a pilot.
She and husband John Glenn Sr. addressed reporters at a Muskingum College press conference shortly after the flight.
“There never has been a moment since John was chosen for the Mercury project that we had any doubt about his success,” she said.
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