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Concord Remembers Christa, Tries To Forget Explosion

January 27, 1987

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ Christa McAuliffe seems to bound off the book cover in the window of a Main Street shop, wearing a bright blue NASA flight suit and the smile that became her trademark. But the title of another book in the window reminds Concord of its grief: ″Challenger - A Major Malfunction.″

Mrs. McAuliffe, the teacher who won a national competition to become the nation’s first ordinary citizen in space, died with six other crew members in the catastrophic Challenger accident last Jan. 28.

Her neighbors cannot forget the smile. Or the loss.

The dilemma facing Concord residents is wanting to remember Christa, the friend and colleague and beloved ″family″ member of thousands, but being unable to forget the terrible flash of smoke that stole her away.

″Driving down the street under a nice blue sky and seeing a plane go by with the nice trail of white smoke really sets me up,″ said Kimball Elementary school principal Clint Cogswell, whose students include Mrs. McAuliffe’s two children, Scott and Caroline, now 10 and 7. ″It’s almost overwhelming, the amount of sad feelings that come back.″

Deborah Provencal, who chaperoned Scott McAulliffe and his third grade classmates to the launch, reflected, ″I’ve been trying to be upbeat and put all of the negatives behind, but just before Christmas there was this whole barrage - the lawsuit, now the new crew for the next launch, testing the SRBs (solid rocket boosters) - and it’s all back in there again.″

It’s been a trying year for a small city that toppled from the peak of excitement to the depth of depression, anger and shock.

″For a year, I’ve used every public occasion I can think of to bring in the grief process and help people get through that process,″ said Mayor James MacKay, a psychotherapist.

″This process is not over,″ he said. ″Now, people seem to be in a stage of sadness and depression and there is a certain dread about what is coming up″ for the anniversary. ″You don’t want to be pulled backward into grief.″

MacKay said Christa McAuliffe reminded people of a mother, sister or ″someone they had lost or potentially could lose, and the loss became very personal.″

Steven McAuliffe, the teacher’s husband, practices law, shops at local markets, accompanies his children to sports events and walks along Main Street with colleagues.

Acquaintances who speak with reporters will say nothing about McAuliffe and his children.

Principal Cogswell said everyone is protective. ″Scott and Caroline have made a wonderful adjustment and we just don’t want to jeopardize that.″

The city and elementary school plan no anniversary activities. The high school plans a private assembly.

In an office filled with shuttle mementos, Concord High School Principal Charles Foley said things generally are normal.

He said the staff retains ″some vestiges of sorrow,″ partly because of media reports and a constant stream of other reminders - ″10,000 letters, and that’s a wild guess.″

″Obviously, people grew to love Christa, then all of a sudden the world loses this woman and people poured out their feelings,″ he said, adding that Mrs. McAuliffe ″was as good as she is being portrayed.″

Betsey Rogers, who accompanied her third-grade son to the launch, began ″thinking a lot about death″ afterward.

″When I drive my car, I’m very aware that in a vehicle like a car, one could die,″ she said. ″I think about that Christa is not here anymore and that I’m here and that I’ve got my family and things in my life to enjoy.″

Ben Provencal, Deborah’s son, has a room full of shuttle models, photos of shuttle launches and a full-page color photo from a magazine showing him looking skyward in bewilderment as Challenger exploded.

School district psychologist John Reinhardt said that soon after the launch, many children reported nightmares in which they lost their own mothers. Ben Provencal had such fears.

″I think I’ve become closer to my mom,″ he added. ″I was 8 then, so I didn’t want to give her a hug in public - my friends might see me, right? But now, I want to come over and give her a hug.″

Reinhardt said that within three months, ″the vast majority of the kids had worked their way through their feelings of grief and loss and were going about the business of being a student. They have bounced back quite well.″

He said staff members, who dealt with their own feelings while helping pupils, healed more slowly.

MacKay said Concord has had a maturing year. ″Those students went through a process that will affect their entire lives. And for the rest of us, it reinforces the way one resolves losses.″

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