Highlights from Ohio State's massive collection of memorabilia donated to the university by the late senator and astronaut
The preface to John Glenn'sautobiography begins with an eight-word sentence: “It was a sin to throw anything away.” Jeff Thomas can vouch for that. Thomas is the guy in charge of the John Glenn Archives, housed at Ohio State University. The archives were established in 1998, with Glenn's pending retirement from the U.S. Senate. In January 1999, three semi truckloads of Glenn's papers and artifacts rolled up to the University Archives building at 2700 Kenny Rd. Three months later, Thomas was hired to sort and catalog the materials. It took him five years. “He's the nicest guy I've ever met,” Thomas says of Glenn. “For being an American hero, an icon, he was always a very approachable guy; the kind of guy that when you talked to him, he listened.” With Thomas' help, we dug through the public collection shortly after Glenn's Dec. 8 death. Here are some of our discoveries.
1. The Glenn Archives contain more than 250 buttons, spanning his career from astronaut to politician, including a number from his unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1984 and his brief consideration as Michael Dukakis' running mate four years later. Glenn was passed over for Lloyd Bentsen.
2. Glenn, a U.S. Marine, flew 59 combat missions over the Marshall Islands in the Pacific during World War II, piloting a F4U Corsair and rising to the rank of captain. Here is a pair of his military-issued flight goggles.
3. Every vehicle comes with an owner's manual. The Mercury capsule was no exception. Here's the manual that Glenn studied. It didn't make the trip to space—there was no glovebox in Friendship 7.
4. The archives include this silk map of Korea, printed on both sides, which Glenn carried with him during his service during the Korean conflict. Glenn flew 63 combat missions over Korea in an F9F Panther, in addition to 27 more missions in an F-86F Sabre. The silk maps were military-issued to help fighter pilots navigate their way to safety should they be shot down.
5. Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams was Glenn's sometimes wingman in their Marine squadron during the Korean conflict. This Williams-signed baseball was given to Glenn's daughter, Lyn.
6. A jeweler's envelope holds remnants from a ticker-tape parade thrown in Glenn's hometown of New Concord on March 3, 1962, just days after the historic flight in which he became the first American to orbit the Earth. More than 75,000 were said to have descended on New Concord, a town of about 2,300, for the parade.
7. The most unique Parker pen ever created? George Parker presented Glenn with this Parker 75 fountain pen in 1962, made from a fragment of the rocket that boosted Glenn into space.
8. Even as Project Mercury astronauts were training for their space missions, they still found time for their first love—flying. They were, in fact, required to maintain their flight hours every month to earn their Marine pay. This is Glenn's flight helmet and oxygen mask, used during those flights in his F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bomber
9. The Senate Great Lakes Task Force was organized in 1987 by senators from states bordering the Great Lakes. It was co-chaired by Glenn from its inception until his retirement from the Senate at the end of 1998. He sponsored the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance prevention and Control Act of 1990, which, among other things, helped halt the spread of the notorious and damaging zebra mussel.
10. What's a politician without a rubber stamp? No one knows. Sen. Glenn was not immune. Here's his.
11. In 1962, Joe Cronin, the president of baseball's American League, issued Glenn—referred to as “Mr. Orbit”— a pass to any A.L. game that season. There was no corresponding pass from National League president Warren Giles, though we have a hard time imagining Glenn being turned away at the gates from any ballpark in the summer of his historic space flight.
12. A Long Island woman crocheted a 5-foot-by-7-foot American flag for Glenn as she watched the Friendship 7 space craft orbit the earth. A photo of the Glenns displaying the gift in front of their Arlington, Virginia, home appeared in the Washington Post. Glenn said it was one of the most prized gifts he'd received in that historic year.
13. The senate staffs often fielded their own softball teams. Glenn's was cleverly named, “The Right Staff,” and the one game of the year that mattered most, according to archivist Thomas, was the annual showdown against fellow Ohio Sen. Howard Metzenbaum's staff.
14. In the fall of 1961, John Glenn sat down with his wife, Annie, and two children, David and Lyn, in their Arlington, Virginia, home and brainstormed names for the upcoming Mercury mission—the third manned space flight for the U.S. As indicated by the checkmark, the family settled on Friendship 7.