Thursday, July 09, 2009

Notes From My Knapsack 7-23-09
Jeff Gill

From the Earth to the Moon, and To . . .

Forty years ago this week, many of us were holding our collective breath.

We were counting down, a phrase still new back then (10, 9, 8, 7 . . . 2, 1, blastoff!), counting down the days and hours until the utterly amazing yet long predicted conclusion of the Apollo 11 mission, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

From the Atlantic coast of Florida, where Jules Verne had “launched” his moon shot in an 1865 novel, Ohio native Neil Armstrong (and Purdue University grad), Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins rode the mighty Saturn IV-B booster rocket that carried the Command Module and Lunar Module, Columbia and Eagle, into Earth orbit, on to the Moon, and ultimately to Armstrong and Aldrin landing in Mare Tranquillitatis, the “Sea of Tranquility,” which Armstrong named Tranquility Base on July 20, 1969.

When Armstrong, an Eagle Scout, says that he said “a” in that first transmission from the surface of another heavenly body, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” I believe him. The radio signal was spotty, the TV picture more so, but given that less than ten years before this was all just a wild tale told by 19th century French novelists and 20th century American science fiction writers, they did pretty well.

I don’t recall Walter Cronkite saying much about poor picture quality. We were watching on a 12 inch black and white set with rabbit ears, Channel 2 in Chicago, where we sat on a back porch of a three story brownstone on the South Side hoping for a breeze while praying for the astronauts.

My ninth birthday was coming up in a month, and it turns out about a mile away, the future Michelle Obama was watching the same unfolding drama on a similar porch hoping for a cool breese on a warm Chicago night. (Barack was watching from Hawaii, his ninth birthday right around the corner, but it wasn’t after his bedtime as we all waited for someone to come down the ladder of the LEM.)

Robert Heinlein sat in with Uncle Walter, a name I recalled from having recently read “Space Cadet” (yeah, yeah, laugh if you must, but go back and read it – what a book, what a story); the night spurred me to want to read more of Heinlein’s work.

Engineers, explorers, scientists, pilots, politicians, even writers . . . how many people, of whatever age, watching that night, were inspired by the awe and wonder and complexity of what the moon landing meant, to go on and attempt and achieve something they couldn’t have imagined before July 20, 1969?

We haven’t been back to the lunar surface, not to leave human bootprints, since 1972 and Apollo 17. There are many earthly challenges that evoke the phrase “if we could put a man on the moon, why can’t we . . .”

And I have to admit I’m one of those who thinks, when that’s said, “. . . put someone on the moon again?” There’s a multiplier effect of the dollars spent on an effort like the Apollo program, but it’s the multiplier effect on dreams and vision that pays the real benefit down the line.

I hope we go back in my lifetime, and I salute this week our fellow Buckeye, Neil Armstrong, and all the thousands who stitched the spacesuit gloves and hammered the bolts for Grumman and drove the trailers at Canaveral, in the vast effort that put him, and us, on the doorstep of the cosmos.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you called him a space cadet, you would not be the first. Tell him a tale of science fiction or fact at or follow Knapsack

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Notes From My Knapsack 8-6-09
Jeff Gill

Few Dollars, Careful Decisions, Timeless Implications

With massive budget cuts slicing through the infrastructure of Ohio this way and that, and with almost that random a pattern, it’s hard to know what impact to bemoan or be bothered by first.

Human services, cuts that reduce the ability of agencies like Job and Family Services to protect children, rebuild families, or aid recently unemployed persons, those really hurt. Mental health seems to be kicked to the curb big time, even though untreated mental illness sure seems to be a major cause of many other issues that end up with the state and counties and communities spending major dollars whether they want to or not (jail, for one).

Developmentally disabled folk, both children and adults, have a marvelous group of people working for their interests here in Licking County, but they’ve been short the allocation they need to fully support everyone they would like since before electric lights became all the rage.

And education receiving actual cuts, not just “as adjusted for inflation” reductions, seems like the cruelest cut of all. The only way to create the jobs that we need in manufacturing and engineering, to start building and making and crafting actual things again is to support education, and not just youth warehousing, either.

But it’s the sweeping, devastating cuts to the Ohio Historical Society that I want to talk about in the space I’m offered here, not because I think the social services above or the library services not even mentioned here are less important, but because I worry that OHS has so many fewer advocates than any other public purpose on the chopping block. You will no doubt hear more about the Licking County Historical Society and the budget impacts from the county commissioners reduction than you will about OHS, even though the latter owns four major properties in this county.

(By the way, this is written long before the actual figures and decisions will be made, most of which will be finalized and irrevocable, for this year at least, by the time you see these words on newsprint.)

Given that the emotionally distraught, the mentally disabled, the immediately hungry and hopeless must be served first, where does that leave a state entity like OHS?

In my next “Knapsack” column, I want to ask you to join me in a “blank sheet of paper” walk through the question of what a state absolutely must have and still be worth calling a state with a history and a story worth telling.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if Ohio was burning down, what history would you grab on the way out the door? Tell him about your choice of an armload at or follow Knapsack

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Notes From My Knapsack 8-13-09
Jeff Gill

Picking Up and Preserving the Pieces

When I try to think through a “blank sheet of paper” assessment for an Ohio Historical Society budget, asking “what absolutely must be done, even in trying times?” the list I come up with goes like this:

The state archive has to be protected; the documents and papers and books and pictures that make up the primary sources of the Ohio story have to be preserved. Ironically, not allowing access to them might help preservation a bit, and the state does not require that OHS have certain visiting hours, just that there are certain public records they are legally and duty bound to protect.

So there too, no library hours to speak of . . . well, three hours on Sunday afternoon. But the humidity is kept under control, the lights kept dim, and the archival boxes of acid-free cardboard sit on their shelves.

Properties must be preserved for future generations – when I’ve done student groups and class field trips out at Flint Ridge and Great Circle, I would always remind them that the Ohio Historical Society exists to 1) preserve, and 2) present the story of Ohio for the people of Ohio. I’m a big believer in 2), but if you don’t do 1) then you won’t have anything to present.

That means mowing, snow plowing, and roof repair, plus a little security to make sure no one snuck in a basement window of a historic building or interpretive museum. There would need to be some landscape architectural oversight of earthen and semi-buried structures.

And for all the treasures of the past that turn up on a near daily basis even as excavation and construction continue on a slower basis, you need a few archaeologists to help figure out what’s been found, and what to do to preserve, which is to say stabilize the locations that often don’t look like anything from the side of the road.

The scary part for people like me is that my back of the envelope calculations say that doing just that much, the least they absolutely must do, probably maxes out the best case scenario of what they can expect in state government grants and aid.

To do anything more by way of restoration, education, or recreational educational activities, may take us beyond the budget dollars from the state and also beyond what local supporters can raise (nickles). Seriously, how many golf events and raffles and car shows and 50/50s can one area support?

Bill Laidlaw, OHS executive director, and local leaders here in Licking County helped to show how a new model of partnership could help keep properties owned by OHS open. The Licking County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and The Ohio State University’s Newark Campus’ Newark Earthworks Center have helped maintain much of the educational and interpretive programming at Great Circle Earthworks. Getting that museum renovated, renewed, and shared with LCCVB staff means that a tourist attraction closed for some five years is now open and greeting visitors from around the world. When the pace quickened, and Flint Ridge looked on the verge of closure (already having a newer, up to date museum), the Licking Valley Heritage Society jumped into the gap and is holding things together.

You will hear more in the coming weeks about the next “Newark Earthworks Day,” October 17, which will come at the end of a remarkable week of pilgrimage, with a party of walkers making their way on foot from Chillicothe’s ancient mounds and embankments and Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, some 75 miles by road and 60 miles as the thunderbird flies to the Newark Earthworks. Much is being held together, if only by careful application of metaphorical and actual duct tape.

People from around the world are coming, have been coming, will come. How shall we greet them? And for coming generations who will be on the scene someday to assess how we have cared for our past and theirs (which will include us!), how will they look back on our stewardship?

There are no easy answers, but much to be discussed, let alone plenty to be done.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; if you have ideas for how to preserve and present Ohio’s past into the future, tell him at or follow Knapsack

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