Looking at her Forsyth County High School yearbook from 1969, local resident Linda Echols says she still loves the book, possibly now more than even when she was its editor.
It isn’t perfect, she concedes that, but even after all these years the book is a testament to the wonder and excitement sparked by the Apollo 11 lunar landing on July 20, 1969.
"Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it in a long time,” Echols said. “Then I pulled that book out, and I've had it sitting here on the table. I keep looking at that astronaut on the front.”
Echols says that being a teenager during that time in American history was a strange experience. On the one hand, she and many of her peers saw the monumental things going on around them, and on the other hand, they were teenagers living in rural Forsyth County of the late 20th century. What was going on seemed too big and alien for them to really picture.
"Nobody could imagine it because most of us had never flown on an airplane before," she said. "And we were teenagers then, so I guess the next Friday night ballgame probably took importance over a man on the moon."
But just months after astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on the moon, Echols, the Forsyth County High School yearbook editor and her team of staff were tasked with coming up with a theme for the 1969-70 school year. She said that immediately the topic of a space theme came up.
"At the time there was a lot of hype in the media, and
we were talking about ideas for different themes, and that one just jelled with
us because it was such an epic event and such bravery," she said.
The idea of a space theme was cemented for them when a traveling group of scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Cape Kennedy visited Forsyth County, bringing with them a full presentation on rockets, astronaut equipment and the science of space.
"The whole school was herded out to the gym, and they talked to us about space and had an astronaut suit and helmet," she said. "And I thought, 'This is probably the smartest person I've ever heard speak.' They were bringing it home and making it real."
Seizing her opportunity to literally step into the shoes of a NASA astronaut, Echols said that after the presentation she rushed down to speak with the presenters and asked if she could try the spacesuit.
She told the presenters what the yearbook staff was doing; they happily allowed her to don the suit to pose for photos.
"It fit, but I remember thinking how in the world can you walk," she said. "I was thinking about being constricted in it for days.”
Energized by the NASA presentation and ready to try something new, for the cover of the yearbook, they decided on an abstract silver drawing of an astronaut on a black background, drawn by a talented student artist named Kiwp Tolbert, with a quote from legendary aerospace engineer Robert H. Goddard: “It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow."
She said that while the staff, many students and advisors were happy with the cover, others weren't so keen on the design, not liking that the school’s bulldog was missing from the front.
"Personally, I felt like people thought I was a traitor because it wasn't the bulldog, and that's tradition," she said. "You didn't dare veer too much off-center back then or do something different … but we wanted to do something different, and it just all tied together nicely."
But the scrutiny didn’t faze them too much, she said. They felt the design and bucking of tradition was true to the spirit of the time."I mean a man landed on the moon, for Pete’s sake,” Echols said