American hero John Glenn died yesterday after an action-packed 95 years. Glenn was a decorated fighter pilot who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross five times, the first American to orbit the Earth in the Friendship 7 capsule, a 24 year public servant as a Senator from Ohio, and the oldest person to ever fly in space when he flew aboard the shuttle Columbia in 1998. It would be hard to underestimate Glenn’s impact on American culture. His legacy was cemented for many during his first historic space flight in February 1962 – the same year as Seattle’s World Fair, Century 21.
Century 21 opened on February 21, 1962, a mere two months after Glenn’s achievement. As a celebration of science and technology, Century 21 was a natural outlet for celebration of this triumph. John Glenn visited the Fair on May 21, 1962 and that’s when a fascinating intersection with Washington State Library occurred.
At the urging of the Washington Library Association, the American Library Association had sponsored a Century 21 exhibit on the library of the future, which was called “Library 21.” Employees from the State Library staffed the exhibit through a deal with the U.S. Office of Education that was brokered by Senator Warren Magnuson. Former State Librarian Maryan Reynolds takes up the story in her book about the history of the State Library, “Dynamics of Change”:
In May 1962, the State Library hosted the Western State Library Conference in Olympia. Naturally, a visit to Library 21 was on the agenda. In the middle of the conference I was summoned to take a call from Senator Magnuson’s office; lo and behold, Magnuson had arranged for the celebrated astronaut John Glenn to visit the Library 21 exhibit and wanted me to be present. Library conference or not, there was no refusing this request. I was present as the famous man toured the exhibit. I recall remarking, near the end of Glenn’s visit, ‘I’m never going to participate in another mob scene like this!’ A newsman, overhearing me, gleefully commented, ‘Oh, yes you will!’
Most of the details about Library 21, as well as Glenn’s reaction to it, are currently lost to history. But several photos of Glenn touring the exhibit with Maryan Reynolds remain. The prints are stored in Manuscript 321, which contains the draft and source materials for “Dynamics of Change.” The one below appears in the book, but we’re partial to the top image that shows Glenn examining something (or perhaps signing an autograph) while a beaming Maryan looks on, decked out in a fine paisley suit (possibly space inspired), hat, and beaded necklace. If only the photo was in color – that outfit must have been amazing.
The Washington State Archives has posted additional photos of Glenn’s visit to Century 21 on its Facebook page. Godspeed, John Glenn.