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New Hampshire Capital Mourns Christa McAuliffe

January 29, 1986

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ Concord died with Christa McAuliffe.

″Everything just kind of came to a standstill,″ said Karen Nelson. ″People are not moving around like they normally do.″

High school classes were canceled. Legislative hearings and court trials were called off. Flags flew at half staff.

The town cried.

A celebration by McAuliffe’s students at Concord High School turned into a wake.

McAuliffe’s legion of admirers in this state capital of 30,000 did not want to believe she died.

″I wished the whole day were a dream, that it hadn’t really happened,″ said Cindy Prescott. ″I think everybody in Concord feels they know her.″

Like most people in Concord, Mrs. Prescott and her three children, huddled on a couch, hollered and screamed in joy when the shuttle Challenger lifted off Tuesday. Moments later their cheers turned to tears.

″Don’t cry,″ Mrs. Prescott’s 3-year-old daughter, Mary, pleaded with her mother. ″Jesus died and he came back to life. Christa will come back to life.″

″I told her that wasn’t the same thing,″ said Mrs. Prescott. ″She was probably with Jesus.″

Mrs. Prescott had been saving newspaper clippings about McAuliffe for her children. She hoped that when they were older they would write a paper on her.

McAuliffe’s death touched everyone, from the neighborhood grocer to the service station attendant, from her students to her colleagues, from the police to her neighbors, from the attorney to the judge, from the state senator to the governor, from the parish priest to the bishop.

Edward Shumaker, an attorney friend of McAuliffe’s, left a trial in tears, so broken up he couldn’t talk.

″To me it was a catastrophe,″ said Tony Rabbia of nearby Contoocook.

″I was shocked. I didn’t believe it,″ said 16-year-old Brian Birks, a former student of McAuliffe’s. ″She was a nice lady.″

″It’s hard to believe,″ said Bud Roberts, a teacher at the New Hampshire Technical Institute. ″It’s hard to fathom such a thing after all the successes they’ve had in the past. It’s a feeling of helplessness. You can’t do anything about it.″

″I have not felt this way since John Kennedy was shot,″ said Susan McLane, a state senator from Concord. ″You can’t believe it and you can’t bear to believe it.″

Gov. John Sununu said McAuliffe affected everyone with her enthusiasm.

″She involved everyone in this state in this mission,″ he said.

At McAuliffe’s modest, two-story home, less than a mile from Main Street, Patrolman Steve Holdsworth, a friend, sat outside in a cruiser. Only the housekeeper was inside.

On the lawn stacked neatly to be disposed of were two empty boxes. One had contained new luggage, perhaps for the family’s trip to Cape Canaveral; the second had contained a Cabbage Patch Kids show pony, maybe for one of her two children, Scott, 9, or Caroline, 6.

A delivery man brought a handful of Western Union telegrams to the house, leaving them with Holdsworth.

Only a few hours earlier, the patrolman had been at home watching the liftoff on television.

″I think everybody else was,″ he said. ″The whole community was up for this one. I don’t think I or the whole community felt the full impact of her loss. She was deeply loved, I think, for her enthusiasm, for life, for her job, for what she felt was her purpose in teaching.″

Her grocer, Hartley Souther, remembered that at Christmas she always brought his handful of employees homemade cookies, but she skipped last Christmas because she was busy training for the space shuttle flight. Instead, she gave them an autographed photo inscribed, ″To All My Friends at Souther’s.″

″You could almost see that there was something special about her,″ said Souther.

Marilyn Wilson, who lives across the street from the McAuliffes, said Christa didn’t dwell on what might have been but thought about what could be.

″She had terrific verve, energy and enthusiasm,″ said Mrs. Wilson. ″It was not a question of having it all but doing it all.″

McAuliffe jogged. She played basketball. She played tennis. She taught Christian education at her church, St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church.

″It was shock. It was sorrow,″ said Mrs. Wilson. ″It wasn’t going to happen. It did. You know, NASA was lucky to have her. The girl next door was never as complete as Christa. They picked the best possible person.″

At the house next door, neighbors Jeanne Timmons, 14, and her brother, Greg, 13, said they were stunned.

″We still believe she’s out there somewhere,″ said Jeanne.

One remembrance Jeanne will always treasure is an autographed photo.

″To Jeanne - May your future be limited only by your dreams.

″Love, Christa.″

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