Major Jennings was on Bloomfield Avenue, a few blocks from Kresge's five-and-a-half-store.
He remembers how many people there were, like at the city's annual July 4th parade, except it was in September. He remembers the red, white and blue flags adorned with the words "The Man of Montclair on the Moon".
And even then, at the age of 12, he remembers that feeling.
"I knew it was something big," he said.
And then he saw it. The man for whom the whole city of Montclair had invaded the streets: Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr.
After the success of the Apollo 11 mission, Aldrin returned home for a parade of sumptuous proportions. Everyone wanted a glimpse of the man of the moon.
"It was prestigious to see some of our community being the second person to walk on the moon," Jennings said.
Indeed, Montclair Mayor Matthew Carter declared it "the greatest day of our city's life".
Aldrin's footsteps in his hometown of 38,000 remains. There is the plaque that marks the house in which he grew up at Princeton Place. The collection of newspaper clippings celebrating his missions is neatly stored in the library.
Then there are the stories.
The executive who grew to a quarter mile from Aldrin and then worked for the company credited with sending American flags to the moon. The police officer who played high school football with Aldrin and then escorted her along the parade route.
And Jennings, who, fifty years after seeing Aldrin on Bloomfield Avenue, is now senior assistant at Buzz Aldrin Middle School (renamed Mount Hebron in 2016).
"The greatest example for our students is here; you have someone from our township who has probably exceeded everyone's expectations. Children can identify with that, "Jennings said. Aldrin and he both went to school.
"When we can identify with someone who has done something very good and who sat in the same classrooms, walked in the same rooms, used the same toilets , ate in the same dining rooms, you feel good and you say: did, why not me?
Inside the school, a generation of teachers and administrators, many of whom have lived in Montclair all their lives, remember to have gathered around small televisions (mainly in black and white) to watch a local hero land on the moon on July 20, 1969. But a new generation of students, who were not alive when the moon landed , discovers Aldrin 50 years later – and in a whole new way.
"It has almost changed humanity," said Sylvie Wurmser, 14, a student of eight graders at Buzz Aldrin Middle School. "It's really impressive that he went to our school and we can know that someone from so local has made such a big difference."
"It says a lot about us too," said Edie Koehlert, 14, an eighth grade student.
Born in 1930 in Montclair, Aldrin attended the schools of Edgemont and Mount Hebron (today Buzz Aldrin Middle). He graduated from High School Montclair High in 1947. He previously acknowledged that the Mount Hebron School aroused his interest in science and technology.
At the time, Montclair was a suburb with much more free space, said history professor Leslie Wilson. While maintaining its size, diversity and tree-lined streets, Montclair has become much more liberal, much more developed, and a refuge for transplants in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
"It has become a much more cosmopolitan city, but it has become a New Jersey pioneer in leading the way for other cities," said Wilson, professor of history at Montclair State University.
Prior to the astronaut Aldrin, there was Aldrin, the star student and the athlete. Voted "most likely to succeed" in high school, Aldrin is remembered for his achievements in pole vaulting and football. He eventually went to West Point and joined the Air Force. He made 66 combat missions in Korea and obtained a doctorate. and was subsequently accepted into the space program.
He stepped into space as an astronaut aboard the Gemini 12 in 1966, and then three years later, standing on the moon, he appeared on the surface after the mission's commander, Neil Armstrong, marveled at the "Magnificent desolation" of the lunar landscape.
In many ways, Aldrin's return to Earth was the beginning of a more difficult mission. Without the structure of the army and NASA, Aldrin said he was struggling with depression and alcoholism, as well as a loss of orientation. His efforts to defeat these demons – he became sober in the late 1970s – were narrated in a 2010 autobiography entitled "Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey of the Moon."
Now 89 years old, Aldrin lives in Florida and defends the cause of space travel, especially to Mars. His representatives did not repeat his repeated requests for interviews. During the parade of Montclair in 1969, there was talk of the triumph of Apollo 11. Even in the midst of this glory and glory, Aldrin has not forgotten where he came from.
In the press, on his return to Montclair in 1969, Aldrin, responding to a sign thanking him for putting Montclair on the moon, said: "You were wrong. Montclair put Buzz on the moon. "
A few days before the start of the summer holidays, Buzz Aldrin Middle students gathered in the school auditorium to view the 90-minute documentary, Apollo 11, about the mission led by Armstrong and Aldrin pilots. Michael Collins.
The students were intrigued. They asked about fuel calculations, spacecraft size, and force G force (gravitational force).
"The takeoff is quite intense," said Daniel Taylor, STEM coordinator (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) at the school. "G forces are what you feel when you're on a rollercoaster and it turns in a circle and you feel crushed against your chair. At the time of departure, these guys were probably very tired and could not move any part of their body. "
Taylor, who has been teaching at the school for 10 years, says that talking about Aldrin's contributions excites students.
"It interests them more to know how you can go to the moon? And how do you travel in space? And recognize that science, technology, engineering and mathematics are behind all that. Without one of these, you can not do it, "he said.
For Sylvie, the connection to the real world is tangible. She met Aldrin in grade six when he visited the school during the name change ceremony.
"We were shocked to be in this school and even more shocked to be in the room with a celebrity astronaut," she said. "It's so cool to be a pioneer of civilization."
Having grown up in the age of political divisions and technology, it is difficult for some students to imagine the unity brought by Aldrin's space missions and the idea of a captivated crowd gathering around small televisions through the country.
"We are so divided right now. At the time, people were coming out of their homes to watch or they were gathering around a television to watch. We have several devices at once, so there would be no place where everyone would parade and all together, which is sad, "said Edie.
Maddox Camacho said he did not know much about Aldrin before watching the movie.
"It makes me feel a bit special to go here," he said.
For some long-time residents, renaming the school – or whatever – after Aldrin has taken far too much time.
"The inspiration of the individuals did not translate into action by the city's leaders," said Mark Porter, former editor of the Montclair Times. Porter has long asked the city to give Aldrin his name.
Even without the titles, Aldrin's legacy was still felt.
"For many young people, it was a point of aspiration," Porter said.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Montclair plans to proclaim the proclamation of the Buzz Aldrin Day, a spokeswoman said. Buzz Aldrin Middle School said she hoped the children would become familiar with Aldrin and Apollo 11 before the summer holidays.
"When they go home after the summer, they will hear it on the news and I want them to have a frame of reference for what it means," said director, Jill Sack. The school wants to push further space education in the coming years.
For many children, however, their best resource can be among the staff, some of whom still clearly remember that day.
Jim Zarrilli, a school paraprofessional, said that he had heard the moon land on the radio while he was 21 years old at the shore.
"Time is running out and people who remember it are becoming less and less numerous," Zarrilli said. "There are not many people living here for 71 years. As the event moves away from the event, fewer and fewer people remember it.
Karen Yi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi Or on Facebook.
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