When I drove across Ohio and saw that sign for the National Road/Zane Grey Museum, I had no idea it would lead me right into space. New Concord, OH, a mere five miles from the NR/ZG Museum, is the hometown of astronaut and senator John Glenn. I’ve always been a big fan of the space program. When we were little, my brother and I would sit in front of the TV in our jammies to count down with Mission Control and watch the blastoffs. I never dreamed of being an astronaut (and not just because I would have immediately been told, “Girls can’t be astronauts!”) but I have always loved the idea of space exploration.
So a little farther off my drive back to PA, I headed for the John and Annie Glenn Historic Site, housed in John Glenn’s boyhood home on the National Road. The tour started in the basement of the house where we watched a film about Glenn’s Depression era childhood. He met his future wife, Annie, when they were both very small children because their parents were friends. (They’ll celebrate their seventieth wedding anniversary next April.)
Glenn’s life story is well known—a Marine in World War II, he was one of the Mercury (first!) astronauts and the first one to orbit the earth. In the 1970s he was elected to the US Senate and ran for president as a Democrat in 1984. In the 1990s he became the oldest person to go into space.
What is probably lesser known outside Ohio is that both John and Annie believe deeply in public service; together they initiated the John Glenn Institute for Public Service at Ohio State University. That dedication to service remains a high priority for the historic site as well. This appears on their website: “Although we are a popular tourist site, we are primarily an educational facility dedicated to helping children, particularly those in Appalachia, achieve their highest potential.”
After the film, our little group walked up the stairs and into one of the coolest tours I’ve ever been on. We were greeted at the door to the first floor by a young man in a sweater vest. Not a Mister Rogers look, but more Beezy Anderson (look it up!). He introduced himself as Donnie and explained that the year was 1937. He addressed us as people considering renting rooms from the Glenns, who took in boarders during the Depression.
Donnie said the Glenns were out at the moment but he would be happy to show us around. First he explained the hobo sign outside the door (Mrs. Glenn was known for her generosity feeding the hungry) and then led us inside. The first floor of the house looks just as it must have then--modest and comfortable. We learned that John was an only child until he was six, when someone dropped a baby girl on the Glenns’ doorstep, who became his sister Jean.
John’s bedroom and the three rented rooms are on the second floor, as is the space memorabilia (a jumpsuit! Think about Felix Baumgartner when you see it). For the entire tour Donnie never broke character—it was more than just historically interesting, it was fun. I’d like to take the tour again if I’m ever in New Concord.
While the NASA program has taken a break from manned flights, many of us haven’t lost our fascination with space. Every move of the Mars rovers is followed and celebrated, the Big Bang Theory has an entire plotline on astronauts, and space is still the Final Frontier. John Glenn is a huge part of that history and the little home in New Concord, OH, is a fitting reminder.