History is often treated as an old thing, of events before anyone’s living memory, of days gone by. And yet history is happening all around us, all the time, right now, if we only choose to recognize it.
Clinton County made that choice in 2020 — in a big, bold way — a choice to mark the remarkable life of one of its own, Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson.
Anderson’s bright, shining visage now looks over downtown Plattsburgh, his face beaming from a mural that depicts his pioneering achievements as an American astronaut who flew two missions on a space shuttle. The mural is a tribute to the man who was born in Plattsburgh in 1959.
Michael Anderson was the child of Barbara and Bobbie Anderson, born at the 380th Medical Group Hospital on the Plattsburgh Air Force Base, where his father serviced jets. Bobbie was later transferred to Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Washington, where young Michael Anderson spent most of his youth.
In 1981, Anderson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and astronomy at the University of Washington in Seattle. He joined the Air Force after college and in 1990 received a Master of Science degree in physics from Creighton University in Omaha.
From September 1992 to February 1995 he was assigned as an instructor pilot and tactics officer in the 380th Air Refueling Wing in Plattsburgh, where he was selected by NASA in December 1994 for astronaut training, after logging 3,000 hours of flight time. (He also started a family in Plattsburgh with his wife, Sandra Hawkins, fathering two daughters, Kaycee and Sydney.)
Anderson served as a mission specialist on the STS-89 Space Shuttle Endeavor (January 22–31, 1998) which docked with the Mir, a space station that operated in low Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001. He was then assigned as payload commander and Lt. Commander in charge of science experiments on the STS-107 Space Shuttle Columbia mission (January 16-February 1, 2003). The crew completed a successful 16-day trip where they conducted more than 80 science experiments.
For years, people in Plattsburgh discussed ways to honor Anderson’s memory, and thanks to a partnership of the arts, history and veterans communities, it finally came to fruition in the form of a large mural. Amy Guglielmo and Julia Devine kicked off the project through their group, Outside Art, finding the space for the colossal image.
Outside Art teamed with the Clinton County Historical Association President Geri Favreau and retired Air Force Col. Joe McNichols of the Plattsburgh Air Force Base Museum, who knew Anderson personally from his time on the base. Together, the organizations raised more than $7,000 for the project in a little over a month.
Outside Art enlisted Brendon Palmer-Angell, a Plattsburgh native and world-renowned artist who now lives in New Orleans, to create the mural. He said he wanted to capture the calm demeanor and “sweetness” of Anderson in his work, and he more than succeeded.
The mural was unveiled in October 2020 and on July 4, 2021, the city of Plattsburgh held a dedication at which the Anderson family was given a key to the city and led the annual Fourth of July parade.
The mural not only gives us a sense of this remarkable man and his times, it’s an instant public treasure that celebrates, builds upon and updates our region’s dynamic history. You can find the mural at 23 Durkee Street, in Plattsburgh.
Photos, from above: Michael Anderson during the STS-107 Columbia Space Shuttle mission; and the mural in Downtown Plattsburgh (provided by Outdoor Art).