Purdue Libraries celebrates gift of Armstrong papers

November 21, 2014  

Carol Armstrong

Carol Armstrong speaks during an event Friday (Nov. 21) afternoon in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center to recognize the donation of papers from her late husband, Neil Armstrong, to the university. (Purdue University photo/Charles Jischke)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University on Friday (Nov. 21) recognized Carol Armstrong for the gift of papers valued at more than $3.4 million from her late husband, Neil A. Armstrong, a 1955 Purdue graduate and the first person to step on the moon.

Carol Armstrong, along with alumnus astronaut Gene A. Cernan, the most recent person to walk on the moon, attended a private event honoring the gifts at the Purdue Libraries’ Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center.

“Neil Armstrong epitomized in a very literal sense just how far an education could take a person. He came to Purdue with natural talent and a dream, and through hard work and a strong code of personal value, became an American icon,” said Purdue President Mitch Daniels. “Only a few achieve such status. But he is an example to all young people to dare to dream.

“We’re truly grateful that his wife, Carol, chose to further honor his legacy and Purdue with these gifts. And it is fitting that Gene Cernan, another example of a Purdue Boilermaker who imagined the possibilities, is here to share in this special occasion. Neil and Gene are forever linked as Purdue alumni and the first and – for now – last people to walk on the moon.”

Neil Armstrong, a 1955 Purdue graduate, began donating personal papers to the Purdue Libraries’ Division of Archives and Special Collections in 2008 after carefully considering repository options, said Sammie Morris, head of the Archives and Special Collections Division and associate professor.

“Neil carefully interviewed us to be sure the papers would not sit in storage, but rather be made available for scholarly research and access to students,” Morris said.

While Armstrong donated a portion of his artifacts and papers before his death in 2012, Carol has since given the bulk to Purdue Libraries per his wishes. The papers span Armstrong’s lifetime and have undergone archival processing. The collection is now part of the Barron Hilton Flight and Space Exploration Archives and is open for scholarly research.

In celebration, the Division of Archives and Special Collections has mounted the exhibit “Steps to the Moon: Selections from the Neil A. Armstrong Papers and the Eugene A. Cernan Papers.” The exhibit in the Karnes Research Center, which is on the fourth floor of the Humanities, Social Science and Education Library in Stewart Center, will be on display through Feb. 27.

Open house events featuring the exhibit for parents and children are scheduled for Dec. 6 and Jan. 17 from 1-3:30 p.m. both days. Visitors will be able to tour the exhibit and participate in a space facts scavenger hunt. Parking in the Grant Street and Marstellar Street parking garages is free on Saturday. For information, contact Tracy Grimm, archivist for the Barron Hilton Flight and Space Exploration Archives, at grimm3@purdue.edu.

Armstrong’s papers include items from grade school, his participation in the Boy Scouts of America, his college years and NASA career. Documents from his work on various commissions and boards, as well as hundreds of speaking engagements, also are included.

The papers include approximately 70,000 pages of fan mail, the bulk of which Armstrong received in the months and years following the moon landing, Grimm said.

Eugene Cernan

Gene Cernan, a 1956 Purdue graduate and the most recent person to walk on the moon, also spoke during the event.  (Purdue University photo/Charles Jischke)
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“Expressions of awe and the global reaction to the first human to walk on the moon are vividly represented in the fan mail, which often included personal photographs, drawings, poems and musical compositions in addition to notes of congratulations and gratitude,” she said.

The papers also include Armstrong’s extensive subject files, photographs, prepared speeches, awards, news clippings, and commemorative artwork and memorabilia. The materials span his test pilot work at Edwards Air Force Base through his Apollo 11 command and his final NASA assignment as deputy administrator of aeronautics.

“They highlight his contributions as an engineer to the developing U.S. space program,” Grimm said. “Much like the Eugene Cernan papers and those we hold of other astronauts and engineers, the papers reflect the unique perspective of an individual who played one of many key roles in the space program during an exceptional period in its history.”

The Hilton Flight Archives also holds the George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers and the Eugene A. Cernan Papers, as well as those of other aviators, engineers and astronauts. The Hilton Flight Archives was established in 2011 with a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to endow an archivist for flight and space with particular attention to the Neil Armstrong and the Eugene Cernan papers. Cernan, a 1956 Purdue graduate, served as pilot for the 1966 Gemini 9 spacecraft, lunar module pilot for Apollo 10 and commander for Apollo 17.

“The support and generosity of Neil and Carol Armstrong and Eugene Cernan were key to the establishment of the endowment for the Flight and Space Archives and to the ongoing growth of the Flight Archives,” said Purdue Libraries Dean James L. Mullins. “Engineers, former test pilots and astronauts, and administrators have placed their papers in the Hilton Flight Archives in no small part because Neil and Gene have done so. We’ve been entrusted also because of the tremendous support for the established endowment and the high priority the university places on the preservation of these unique records of human achievement.” 

Writer: Jim Bush, 765-494-2077, jsbush@purdue.edu 

Sources: James L. Mullins, 765-494-2900, jmullins@purdue.edu

Tracy Grimm, 765-496-2941, grimm3@purdue.edu

Sammie Morris, 765-494-2905, morris18@purdue.edu

Mitch Daniels: president@purdue.edu

Related releases:

Purdue continues enhancement of Armstrong papers, those of other historical flight figures: http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2012/Q3/purdue-continues-enhancement-of-armstrong-papers,-those-of-other-historical-flight-figures.html

Alumni astronaut Cernan donates mapbook from Apollo 17 lunar mission


Note to Journalists: Video B-roll from the private event will be available Friday evening at ftp://news69.uns.purdue.edu/Public/ArmstongGift/. For more information, contact Jim Bush at 765-336-1909 or jsbush@purdue.edu.

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