Purdue Libraries getting ready to open Neil Armstrong exhibit

It may only be about 600 square feet of space, but it is packed with history. Purdue Libraries is opening its Neil Armstrong exhibit on Monday, March 18th.

Posted: Mar 15, 2019 4:53 PM
Updated: Mar 15, 2019 6:20 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - It may only be about 600 square feet of space, but it is packed with history. Purdue Libraries is opening its Neil Armstrong exhibit on Monday, March 18th.

"It's the perfect time right now," said Tracy Grimm, Associate Head of Archives and Special Collections. She is also the Barron Hilton Archivist for Flight and Space Exploration.

2019 is a big year. It's been 50 years since Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon and 150 years since students first stepped onto Purdue's campus. This new exhibit is about celebrating these milestones.

Grimm is in charge of putting this exhibit together. She said it took several years to go through all the boxes of papers and artifacts that were donated to Purdue.  As an archivist, she said she appreciated Neil's "pack rat-like" tendencies.

"It is really exciting to work with Neil Armstrong's papers because he kept everything," she said. "He was a bit of an archivist himself."

You can find letters he wrote to kids and fans, notes from when he was a Purdue student studying Aeronautical Engineering, a model plane magazine he kept as a boy, even his report card from his first semester of college.

"He got a C in Calculus II, which the students and children love to see because it means you can still sometimes get a bad grade but still do great things," said Grimm.

Neil and his wife donated all this history to Purdue with a specific purpose.

"Neil wanted to make sure his papers would be used by students and by scholars," she said.

Grimm said she has gotten to know Neil through putting this exhibit together. She has come to know him as a man of many talents. He kept old scripts of theater plays he used to write, that he had a deep knowlege of history, and she said he had a quick wit, which was evident in several of the speeches that are on display. But the exhibit is about more than just him.

"It's about his colleagues, it's about the cosmonauts," she said. "You can see pieces of history peeking through in all of the different pieces of things that Neil saved."

Probably the most shocking artifact on display, a telegram from the Russian space program congratulating Neil and his team on making it to the moon. A space program, and a country, the United States had high tensions with at the time during the Cold War. Probably the most sentimental artifact, the Purdue Centennial flag that he brought with him to the moon, and later gifted to the university when he was awarded his honorary doctorate. 

Grimm said she hopes this exhibit inspires our next generation of explorers, as well as gets kids excited about the STEM fields.

"We helped tell a story that will hopefully inspire young kids and our college students to really get excited about history," she said. "This stuff isn't boring, it's exciting."

The exhibit can be found in the Stewart Center inside the HSSE library on the fourth floor. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. During the exhibit debut, they will also play a video that shows more of the collection, demonstrates the scholarship of Armstrong Papers and includes NASA and Purdue archival video of Neil. It will be open through August. 

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