- Associated Press - Friday, June 10, 2016

MITCHELL, Ind. (AP) - Lowell Grissom walked into the unassuming white bungalow on Grissom Avenue on June 3 as he had done thousands of times during his lifetime.

The layout of the home committed to memory, he wandered from room to room. He pointed to his father’s air raid helmet from World War II and laughed about the heaviness of the hat, remarking, “You wouldn’t wear it for long.” He took in a closer view of his late brother’s gun, and he quietly perused the dozens of newspaper clippings that filled the back porch of the house.

He was visiting the Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom Boyhood Home, but truth be told, he was visiting his own boyhood home - the place he was born, raised and spent the decades that followed visiting his parents, Dennis and Cecile Grissom.

The home

Astronaut Gus Grissom wasn’t born in the house. The house he was born in, on South Sixth Street south of City Hall, has been torn down. The Grissom family moved to the home on Baker Street, now Grissom Avenue, in 1926 when Gus was about a year old.

Dennis and Cecile lived in the home until their deaths in the mid-1990s. After their deaths, concerned community members raised money to buy the home. The goal was to turn it into a museum. After the purchase, work was completed to stabilize the house as volunteers, including members of the Hartzell family, worked toward making it a tribute to Gus Grissom.

But interest in creating a museum in the home waned until about two years ago when it was acquired by a new group of volunteers intent on bringing the house back to life to honor the memory of Gus Grissom, who was the second American to fly in space. Gus Grissom and fellow astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee died in 1967 during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission at Cape Canaveral, Florida, when the command module caught fire on the launch pad.

Volunteers brought the appearance of the home back to the time period when Gus was a child. With period furniture, decorations, pictures and kitchenware, they’ve turned a simple house into a boyhood home.

“They got it right,” Bobette Grissom, Lowell’s wife, said of the home. “This is it. This is how it was.”

The visit

It was the first time Lowell Grissom had visited his family home in two years. He and Bobette now live in O’Fallon, Missouri, but they were in Mitchell for the memorial service of a family member who died over the winter.

As he walked through the home, Grissom looked at the framed pictures on the walls with interest.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that picture,” he said. “Wilma (his sister) wanted us all to take some of them, but we told her to keep them. I’m glad she did.”

Jeff Routh, one of the volunteers who has helped build up the living museum over the past few years, explained to Grissom that his sister Wilma scanned many of the family photographs and sent a CD of them to Routh so the pictures could be displayed in the home. Routh then said he’d email Grissom the photographs.

As the two men stepped into the room that was once Gus Grissom’s bedroom, Routh pointed to a military foot locker and asked if it belonged to Gus. When Lowell Grissom said it had, Routh explained there was a uniform tucked inside and volunteers could never get confirmation on whether it belonged to Gus. One look at it, and Lowell said it was indeed his brother’s military uniform.

The home contains many original items that belonged to the Grissom family. Some were found in the garage behind the house and others have come from community members who bought things at the auction after Dennis and Cecile Grissom’s deaths but decided the items belonged back with the home.

“There is still stuff out there, and we always hope it comes back,” Routh said. “As one woman told us, ‘It should be with the house; it shouldn’t be with me.’ We hope more people help us out by donating items back to the home.”

Lowell Grissom said it was his wish that one day the home would become a draw in the community.

“I think it shows you don’t have to have wonderful (beginnings),” he said. “This shows you can come from modest surroundings and do well. What you are is not your surroundings. When we’ve talked to Charlie Walker and Ken Bowersox (both Lawrence County men who’ve flown in space), both said Gus was such an inspiration for them to do what they did.”

He said he’s happy schoolchildren are visiting the home regularly to learn about his brother.

“A few years back, they weren’t teaching kids a thing about Gus,” Lowell Grissom said. “They need to know they can do great things, too.”

To which Routh said, “We’re trying to make an impact. We’re doing what we can to keep his memory alive.”

The memories

Lowell Grissom was attending Indiana University when Gus started in the space program. After college, Lowell landed a job at McDonnell-Douglas, the company that was manufacturing some of the spacecraft, such as the Gemini model nicknamed the Gusmobile for all the input the astronaut had in its creation.

“Those were exciting times, with all those astronauts coming in for the construction of the spacecrafts,” Lowell Grissom said.

Newspaper clippings show the home invaded by television crews. One clipping shows a crew member standing high up in a tree next to the home in order to get a better signal for the broadcast.

“My dad loved it, my mom not so much,” Grissom said. “The first thing Gus told them was to never let the media in their house.”

Asked if the house was anything like what he grew up in, Grissom responded, “It’s a good representation.”

Bobette Grissom said she could almost picture Cecile in the kitchen.

“Somebody’s put a lot of work into this.”


Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, https://bit.ly/1ZuBofP


Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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