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Old Time Kentucky: At the beginning of the Space Age, Aurora’s honorary mayor was ‘out of this world’


By Berry Craig
KyForward columnist

Aurora had an honorary mayor who was out of this world.

“Astronaut Malcolm Scott Carpenter was officially appointed mayor of Aurora, Ky., Thursday, shortly after he entered orbit,” the United Press International reported on May 25, 1962.

Aurora is a small resort community on Kentucky Lake in Marshall County.

“The job is vacant,” the Associated Press quoted County Judge John F. Rayburn. “And the town bears the same name as Carpenter’s spacecraft.”

Scott Carpenter, who died in 2013 at age 88, evidently had no connection to Aurora. He was from Colorado but like the other astronauts, he was honored as a national hero (Photo Provided)

Scott Carpenter, who died in 2013 at age 88, evidently had no connection to Aurora. He was from Colorado but like the other astronauts, he was honored as a national hero (Photo Provided)

The judge told the AP, “We’d like for him to be sworn in and carry out his duties.” 
There were no duties and no mayor’s office. Aurora, home of Kenlake State Resort Park, is unincorporated.

At any rate, Carpenter, the fourth American in space, thrice circled the globe aboard the Aurora 7 capsule.

The AP and UPI dispatches were printed in newspapers nationwide. Rayburn’s special appointment of Carpenter was attested by court clerk W.J. Brien Jr., the UPI report said.

Carpenter, who died in 2013 at age 88, evidently had no connection to Aurora. He was from Colorado but like the other astronauts, he was honored as a national hero.

The UPI quoted the appointment order: “Marshall County Court, in re Malcolm Scott Carpenter: It appears to the court that there exists a vacancy in the office of Mayor of Aurora, Ky., and it further appearing that there is an eminent American who is who is now traveling in ‘Aurora 7’ in outer space: now the court doth order and direct as follows, that Malcolm Scott Carpenter be and is hereby appointed mayor of Aurora, Marshall County, Kentucky and upon his return he shall be duly and properly sworn in to carry out his duties as such.

“Given under my hand as judge of the Marshall County Court this 24th day of May, 1962, at the hour of 7 a.m. (CST) signed, John F. Rayburn, Judge.”

Carpenter spent a little less than five hours in space before splashing down safely in the Atlantic Ocean.

The astronaut never took Rayburn up on his offer, though he evidently had an impish sense of humor.

Carpenter is famous for saying “Godspeed, John Glenn,” as America’s first astronaut to orbit the earth blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard Friendship 7 on Feb. 20, 1962.

Before that oft-quoted bon voyage, Carpenter, Glenn’s backup pilot, reportedly quipped of the spacecraft, “Remember, John, this was built by the low bidder.”

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Berry Craig of Mayfield is a professor emeritus of history from West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and the author of five books on Kentucky history, including True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo and Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase. Reach him at bcraig8960@gmail.com


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