On August 13, 1969, New York City welcomed Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Lt. Col. Michael Collins, Col. Buzz Aldrin with an exuberant ticker-tape reception to applaud their moon landing three weeks earlier on July 20. The City, and the nation, had to wait until the astronauts emerged from an isolation ward at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory in Houston before celebrating their triumph.
It would be a hectic day for the astronauts. New York City had three and a half hours for the ticker-tape parade; then it was on to Chicago for another parade. Their day ended with a state dinner hosted by President Richard Nixon in Los Angeles.
For many decades the New York City ticker-tape parade had been recognized around the world as the ultimate accolade for a job well-done. But by the 1960s, there had been so many parades (130 between 1945 and 1965 alone), that they came to be viewed as synthetic and routine. In lieu of building tenants throwing ticker tape, the City had to deliver confetti and shredded paper to buildings along Broadway to ensure an appropriate cascade of paper. Businesses in lower Manhattan complained of disruptions. When Mayor John Lindsay took office in 1966, he announced that his administration would discontinue the ticker-tape parade in favor of more informal receptions tailored to the special interests of the guest. However, the spectacular success of America’s Apollo space program in 1969 cried out for ticker-tape celebrations and Lindsay couldn’t say no.
Lindsay’s first parade, on January 10, 1969, hailed Apollo 8 Astronauts, Lt. Col. Frank Borman, Lt. Col. William A. Anders, and Capt. James A. Lovell, Jr., the first men to see the far side of the moon. Riding with the astronauts in the motorcade, Mayor John V. Lindsay was reported in The New York Times to have overheard them say, “It’s a forbidding place… gray and colorless… It shows the scars of a terrific bombardment… certainly not a very inviting place to live or work.” Thinking they were talking about New York, he broke in and told them, “If you’re going to talk like that you’re not going to get your gold medals.” They’d been describing the moon. And they got their medals.
Just seven months later, on July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 promise to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, giving Lindsay another opportunity to host a ticker-tape celebration. For both Apollo parades, Lindsay broke with tradition and rode with the honorees in their motorcades. Previous mayors had waited at City Hall to greet the guests, who were escorted up Broadway by the City’s chief of protocol.
For the Apollo 11 astronauts their busy day started with a flight to New York from Houston aboard the Presidential Jet, Air Force One. They landed at Kennedy Airport at 9:45 a.m. where a marine helicopter met them for a quick trip to the Downtown Heliport on South Street. From there, a motorcade brought them to Bowling Green and the start of the parade. Thousands of spectators cheered the astronauts along the traditional parade route up Broadway to City Hall where they received the City’s Gold Medal.
After the City Hall festivities, the motorcade continued uptown stopping in front of the General Assembly Building at the United Nations for an 11-minute ceremony. And finally, right on schedule, at 1:15 p.m., the astronauts reached Kennedy Airport for the flight to Chicago and another parade.