The Reason Visitors Leave Bananas, Not Flowers, On the Grave of America’s Original Astronaut
Buried there is a history-making squirrel monkey known as "Miss Baker," the first American animal to fly in space and return alive.
Two years before any humans flew into space, on May 28, 1959, Miss Baker and her colleague Miss Able, a rhesus monkey, were strapped into a Jupiter rocket and shot 300 miles into the sky. Their-16-minute flight ended with a safe landing in the Atlantic Ocean—a first for America's burgeoning space program.
The monkeys were instant celebrities.
Though Miss Able died four days later during surgery to remove an electrode, Miss Baker went on to live another 25 years. And oh, what a life it was.
In 1962, while on display at the Naval Aerospace Medical Center in Pensacola, Florida, Miss Baker was wed to a squirrel monkey named Big George. According to AL.com, the wedding ceremony was the idea of a keeper who "determined that they should not live together in sin while on public display."
The couple was moved to the new U.S. Space & Rocket Center in 1971, where they lived in wedded bliss until George's death in 1979. Three months later, Miss Baker was wed to Norman, in a ceremony presided over by Alabama District Court judge Dan McCoy and attended by more than 500 school children.
"She would get 100 to 150 letters a day from schoolchildren," Ed Buckbee, a former director of the center, told NPR. "She was very prominent in the story of our early spaceflight ventures."
Miss Baker passed away from kidney failure on November 29, 1984 at the age of 27. She holds the record of oldest known squirrel monkey in the world. More than 300 people attended her funeral service. Her headstone, located near the entrance of the main building, is next to her first "husband," Big George.
If you visit her, be sure to bring a banana.