Gus Grissom Spacesuit Gallery.
Gus Grissom's spacesuit was out for cleaning when we visited the museum -- but we saw his helmet and gloves.

Virgil I. Gus Grissom Memorial Museum

Field review by the editors.

Mitchell, Indiana

Anyone who's read Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff or seen the 1983 movie knows the story of Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, America's hard luck astronaut hero. He was always in the wrong place at the wrong time: as one of the original Mercury 7, his mission was after Alan "First American in Space" Shepard Jr. but before John "First American in Orbit" Glenn; Grissom was the only astronaut whose capsule sank; he was the man who commanded the forgettable first Gemini mission, and who was going to command the first Apollo mission -- until a horrible fire broke out in the capsule during prelaunch tests in 1967, killing him and his crew.

Molly Brown Gemini capsule.

Gus Grissom's home town of Mitchell, Indiana, honors its most famous son in ways suited to a guy who seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

In Spring Mill State Park stands the Virgil I. Grissom Memorial Museum. The museum was dedicated in July 1971, ten years after Gus's first flight, and four years after his death.

Almost everything here is from the Molly Brown, Grissom's Gemini mission capsule. This is understandable, as the Liberty Bell, his Mercury capsule, was at the bottom of the Atlantic until 1999 (now exhibited at the Kansas Cosmosphere, Hutchinson, Kansas). The Molly Brown itself is on display, behind a plexiglass shield, suspended above the ground floor gallery. Gus's Mercury spacesuit -- a big draw -- was out to Washington DC for a cleaning when we visited, but we were still able to ponder the helmet worn by Gus during his Mercury flight, its foam rubber pads disintegrating into a pile of yellow dust on the bottom of its glass box.

One of Ours Historical Marker.

The displays make no mention of the moment dramatized in The Right Stuff, when Gus may have panicked, blowing the hatch on his Mercury capsule, and sinking it. It is, however, addressed briefly in a video showing in the mini-theater. "The mishap," says the narrator, "taught NASA much regarding recovery techniques." After the capsule was finally fished out of the Pacific, the narrator says, "most experts agree that Gus Grissom did not blow the hatch" -- but of course that was much too late for Gus to see his version of the incident confirmed.

Grissom Rocket Monument in Mitchell.

Of all the early astronauts, Grissom was known for his sense of humor. He wryly named his Gemini capsule "Molly Brown" -- after a passenger who didn't sink when the Titanic went down. The video narrator notes "NASA was not amused" and from then on forbade mission commanders from naming their capsules.

Many artist's renderings are displayed on the walls of this small museum, showing what it will look like after a major expansion -- some day. A wood box sits outside the entrance for donations (and we hope they amass the money), but unless every visitor stuffs that box with a hundred dollar bill, the museum's plans will remain beyond the financially sound barrier.

In downtown Mitchell stands the Gus Grissom Monument, a scaled-down limestone carving of Gus's Gemini rocket. Limestone is plentiful in this part of the world, as the nearby abandoned Great Pyramid in Needmore and Joe Palooka statue in Oolitic attest. But limestone isn't as pretty as marble or as permanent as granite, and rain and snow have stained the rocket a dull gray. It was erected on the spot once occupied by Gus's elementary school (its bricks were used to make the surrounding wall). A sign in front, honoring Gus, is titled, "One of Ours" -- erected by the local Masons.

Mitchell downtown mural detail.

Down the street, on the outer brick wall of the Three Hearts Flowers And Gifts shop, is an ambitious mural that also honors Gus Grissom. We were told it was painted by a local high school student. On a backdrop of a rippling American flag are a paddlewheel steamboat, a school bus, empty railroad tracks, and the Gus Grissom limestone rocket memorial. Not a portrait of Gus, or the rocket blasting off into space, but of the limestone carving of the rocket -- which is within sight, only three blocks away.

Which, of course, makes it perfect. If Gus was still around, we think he'd have a chuckle at that.

RoadsideAmerica.com Team Field Report

Virgil I. Gus Grissom Memorial Museum

Spring Mill State Park

Address:
3333 State Rd 600 East, Mitchell, IN
Directions:
On the north side of Hwy 60, three miles east of town, just inside the entrance to Spring Mill State Park. Tell the person at the Park entry guardhouse that you're going to the museum.
Hours:
Daily 9 am -4:30 pm. (Call to verify)
Phone:
812-849-4129
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Gus Grissom Rocket Monument

Address:
409 S. 6th St., Mitchell, IN
Directions:
Downtown, on the west side of S. 6th St. between College and Grissom Aves.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Painting of the Gus Grissom Rocket Monument

Address:
6th St., Mitchell, IN
Directions:
Downtown, on the northwest corner of 6th and Main Sts.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Obsessive Sign BuilderObsessive Sign Builder, Bedford, IN - 10 mi.
Joe Palooka StatueJoe Palooka Statue, Oolitic, IN - 12 mi.
Cursed Pyramid RuinsCursed Pyramid Ruins, Needmore, IN - 13 mi.
In the region:
World's Oldest Santa Statue, Santa Claus, IN - 49 mi.

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November 23, 2014

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