The Unusual, the Unexpected, and the Downright Strange: Object from the Spiro T. Agnew Papers (A Blog Series: Part 2)

As stated in an earlier blog post, members of the Maryland and Historical Collections unit at the University of Maryland libraries have been creating an inventory of memorabilia within the Spiro T. Agnew papers.  In this blog post, we will be looking at some of the fascinating items in the collection related to space travel.

When Agnew entered office on January 20, 1969 the space race between the United States and the USSR was in full swing.  Just a month prior, the Apollo 8 mission had successfully become the first spacecraft with a human crew to leave the Earth’s orbit.  Six months into office, Agnew would be able to celebrate the first man to walk on the moon with the success of the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969.  The Nixon/Agnew administration would forever be associated with this success and the prevalence of space memorabilia in the collection shows that Vice President Agnew had quite an interest in the subject.

As Vice President of the United States, Agnew had access to a number of unique space memorabilia.  He had signed photographs from crew of the Apollo 7, 8, 9, and 12 missions.  The signed photograph from the Apollo 8 mission is a print copy of the famous photograph called “Earthrise” which astronaut Bill Anders took from lunar orbit.  The Agnew papers includes the commemorative certificate which indicates that Agnew watched the takeoff of Apollo 11 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where he sat next to President Lyndon B. Johnson.  Agnew even received a model of a US space rocket ship.

Earthrise_Apollo8

“Earthrise” photograph by Bill Anders, signed by the three members of the Apollo 8 crew.

Agnew’s enjoyment of these accomplishments of space flight must have been well known by his supporters because they sent Agnew a number of items related to space exploration.  One of these items is a commemorative coin and stamp celebrating the Apollo 11 mission, which was sent by the company that manufactured them.  Another gift was a poster that featured the front page of a newspaper from every state on the day that the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon.  Agnew also received drawings and paintings depicting astronauts on the moon from various citizens.

Crockett_cartoon

Political Cartoon by Gib Crockett of the Washington Star, 1969.  Gib Crockett’s drawings are protected by copyright.

Agnew’s interest in space was not just a hobby, but became part of his Vice Presidential duties.  In February 1969, Nixon created a Space Task Group to create an outline of a post-Apollo spaceflight strategy, with Agnew chairing the group.  This group drew up some rather ambitious plans, such as the establishment of a near-Earth space station, further explorations of the lunar surface, and a manned landing on Mars by 1986.  Not all of these plans came to fruition, mainly due to monetary concerns.  However, the group was partly responsible for the creation of the shuttle program which began on January 5, 1972 (1).  Some files relate to Agnew’s time on this group, including a press release on the report of the Space Task Group from September 17, 1969, and a transcript of a speech he gave to invited contributors to the Space Task Group from July 17, 1969.  Agnew was also head of the National Aeronautics and Space Council, for which the Agnew papers also provides an access point.

The reactions to Agnew’s rather wild Mars plans can be seen by two political cartoons that were sent to the Vice President.  In one, Agnew can be seen wearing a space suit and holding a briefcase which reads “Mars or Bust.”  The cartoon was drawn by Gib Crockett from the Washington Star, a newspaper in Washington D.C..  The other cartoon shows a Mars populated with aliens whose faces look like Agnew and at the bottom the cartoon reads “Our Earth Contact, Spiro, is pushing for a landing here by 1986.”  This cartoon was drawn by Pat Oliphant while he was at the Denver Post.

Oliphant_cartoon

Political Cartoon captioned “Our Earth Contact, Spiro, is Pushing for a Landing Here by 1986” by Pat Oliphant of the Denver Post, 1969.  Pat Oliphant’s drawings are protected by copyright.

The items discussed here represent just a small portion of the hundreds of linear feet of materials in the Spiro T. Agnew papers.  Interested researchers may visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library to view the memorabilia collection in person, and a preliminary inventory of the Agnew memorabilia is available upon request.  Please be sure to contact the Maryland Room at least 3 days in advance of your visit so that we can accommodate memorabilia requests in a timely manner.  If you want to learn more about the Spiro T. Agnew papers, please consult the finding aid for the collection.

  1. Kluger, Jeffrey. “NASA’s Final Shuttle: The End of an Error?” Time, 5 July 2011.

Harrison Gage is a second year MLIS student in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland.  She works in the State of Maryland and Historical Collections at UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives.

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