Moonday 50

T Plus Fifty Years

The Irish Echo’s front cover that greeted the July 20, 1969 moon landing


By Ray O’Hanlon

Fifty years ago this weekend the earth stood still as astronauts walked on the moon.

And the Irish Echo honored the exploits of the Apollo 11 crew – two of them with Irish ancestry – with the front page illustration reproduced above.

Buffalo, New York-born R.J. Duffey, who today lives in upstate New York close to the Canadian border, was the Irish Echo’s chief illustrator when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins gave us that small step and giant leap.

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As the Apollo 11 mission got underway the world watched in amazement and with more than a fair degree of trepidation. There was no guarantee at all that, to paraphrase President Kennedy, the mission would get the men to the moon and return them safely to the earth.

But the Echo was no different than any other paper on the planet in having to plan for a story for the ages.

“Time was short but the three of us came up with the idea of a front page illustration that would be flexible and cover all eventualities,” Duffey recalled in an interview some years back from his home in Chateugay.

The three in question, the Echo’s mission leading version of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, were Duffey, publisher John Grimes and editor, John Thornton.

“So I stayed up all night of the landing and worked on the illustration as I was watching the landing on TV,” said Duffey.

“It was a very exciting thing to do. The next morning I had it done. They had landed on the moon by then so I dashed into the Echo office with the completed work.

The Echo went to press that week with Duffey’s portraits of the three astronauts on page one and a headline to match: “When Sunday Became Moonday.”

The Irish Echo banner atop the page was printed in red instead of the usual green. Then again, it was a standout day in a standout year in a standout time, fifty years ago this weekend, July 20 in the United States and the 21st if in Ireland or points east of there.