Several years ago I heard about a local entertainer who collected vintage slides and put on comedic shows featuring them. It sounded like a lot of fun so my friends and I attended the Charles Phoenix Retro Slide Show and I was instantly smitten. His hilarious commentary combined with a gaggle of vintage slides made for a most entertaining evening. After that night I became an honest to goodness fan and in the interim have attended multiple slide shows and events including last Saturday when I just could not miss the Apollo lighting ceremony in Downey.
Did you know that Downey played a big part in the space race? Located in the heart of the city was a huge NASA complex responsible for creating the very rockets that sent us to the moon. On December 24, 1968 the Apollo 8 mission was the first manned rocket to orbit the moon when three astronauts inhabited a ship identical to the one above and spent their holiday circling it. Since this momentous event happened at Christmastime and the Apollo rocket looks very much like a Christmas tree Charles Phoenix suggested to Benjamin Dickow the director of the adjacent Columbia Memorial Space Center that it be lit for the holidays. Luckily, he thought it was a great idea and on Saturday, December 3rd was held the first Apollo Lighting Ceremony.
The rocket strung with lights is not the one sent to the moon but an earlier test module that helped to ensure the astronauts would have a safe trip. It sits in front of the Columbia Memorial Space Center, a museum that I’d long been intending to visit. I didn’t make it in that night but definitely plan on going in the near future. Instead I contented myself with watching the Apollo lighting and munching on a delicious donut.
Charles requested everyone bring a dozen and there was plenty to go around. I grabbed my dozen from Dunkin’, added it to the pile and helped myself to a delicious snack. I couldn’t resist these perfect donut shaped cookies. Way to think outside the box!
As soon as it got dark the ceremony began and after a few words from Charles and Ben the Apollo was lit.
We all cheered at the beautiful lights and enjoyed festive carols on the chilly evening. And had donuts. Lots and lots of donuts.
It was a uniquely retro way to start the Christmas season and one that couldn’t have occurred anywhere but SoCal. Seriously, where else would you find such a wonderfully novel attraction. Here’s to Charles Phoenix, the Columbia Center, the Apollo astronauts and the NASA employees who made it all possible. Merry Christmas!