1969: man on the moon, a dry waterfall and a whole lot more

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Niagara Falls went dry in 1969

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Man on the moon 1969

On July 20, 1969 man landed on the moon as United States astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface uttering those famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Back here on earth, in Niagara Falls, the US Army Corps of Engineers had constructed a coffer dam – shutting off the American waterfall – in order to study the erosion of the rock face behind the waterfall.

Man on the moon, no water for the waterfall. One an enormous scientific step forward for the world the other a mere – albeit interesting – blip on the radar screen of American natural history and man’s meddling in same.

As interesting as the moon landing and dewatering were plenty more of national significance occurred in that incredibly vibrant year in American history, 1969.

The very first troop withdrawals from Vietnam happened in July of the year. The war had raged for more than five years and showed its first signs of moving the other way as those troops headed home. It wouldn’t be until 1975 that we’d withdraw completely and head home for good.

In Los Angeles a strange character, named Charles Manson, with dreams of a career as a pop singer sent his team of Manson Family killers on a mission that entered the history books as the Sharon Tate murders.

In Woodstock New York several hundred thousand young people participated in the most famous rock concert and extended rock music event in American history. The film, Woodstock, captured the sound, images and spirit of the festival and is well worth viewing today.

On the other side of the nation, later in the year, a rock concert at Altamont, California made headlines for very different reasons: violence and death caused the festival to be seen as – no pun intended – the death knell of peace, love and innocence that had been associated with rock festivals.

Richard Nixon took office as president for his first term after having defeated Hubert Humphrey, the “Happy Warrior” from Minnesota who had served as Lyndon Johnson’s VP.

Midnight Cowboy won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

51N1GE2PD2L1969 is considered by some American historians to be “the year” in contemporary American history. That’s because those 365 days produced dramatic scientific breakthroughs, saw the first move to end the nation’s painful involvement in Vietnam, ushered in a presidency that culminated in an historic resignation of the president six years later and witnessed both the highpoint of and the ending of the proverbial peace and love generation.

You could say that in one year – 1969 – the nation collectively went to the moon and back. Such was the depth and breath of the American experience in those 12 months. While right here at home the city of Niagara Falls puzzled over the shutting off of the water creating the world’s most well known waterfall…the confluence of four of the five Great Lakes tumbling 178 feet over a hard rock precipice to the delight of millions of annual visitors.

It’s now 2016, 1969 is 47 years in the rear view mirror, and it does appear that the powers that be are once again preparing to shut off the falls. While the world has changed in many ways over the near half century, the politics, the bad planning and the foolishness in Niagara Falls continue unabated. Local elected officials and tourism professionals are parroting the state’s mantra that the shutoff of the falls will be good for the tourism industry. Shutting off the very thing that makes Niagara Falls a wonder couldn’t possibly be good and to say it is, is worse than shared madness…it’s purposely deceptive.

One more thing about 1969: Jennifer Aniston, the immensely popular actress of film and television, was born on February 11.

It was quite a year.


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