​Sputnik Manitowoc—was it real?

frank hermans

sputnik manitowoc—was it real—frank hermans—sept 2020

You can still see the spot where Sputnik 4 (all 20 pounds of it) landed in Manitowoc September 5, 1962. A brass ring marks ground zero right in front of the Rahrs-West Art Museum. Sputnik 4 was “Lost in Space” (get it?) for over a year when the dummy-filled capsule headed back home. The Russians had lost contact with the satellite for some time and considered it lost, when to their surprise, surprise, surprise (Gomer Pyle reference) it turned back up on radar. While most of the satellite was burned away on re-entry, a 20lb blob of metal hit firmly on 8th Street.

The police were called to investigate but it was just considered a piece of scrap metal from a local plant. What? Are you kidding me? I for one would be very concerned if 20lb piece of metal were launched in the air sporadically in a desultory manner by a local aluminum plant.

Just a note: no Sputnik umbrellas were ever produced but I think it's a good idea.

Because of some markings on the metal and due to the release of Russian news of the reentry, the news was the biggest since the Avery episodes on Netflix. The piece was sent the Smithsonian for examination and then sent back to Russia with its tail between its legs, or antennae. Two replicas were made and one can be seen at Manitowoc's Rahr-West Art Museum.

The crash landing of the “Kerplunknik” space junk is perhaps Manitowoc's biggest claim to fame, and it has even been the inspiration for the annual Sputnikfest, a space-themed festival featuring the Ms. Space Debris Pageant, the Cosmic Cake competition, the Alien Drop raffle, and various other extraterrestrial oddities. What's best are the ridiculous costumes that emerge, spanning from cone-heads drinking vodka, to Russians with a hammer and sickle.

Many people think that the Sputnik 4 satellite looked much like the first Sputnik, (remember the one that looked like a ball with wooden dowels sticking out of it?) so that is the picture everyone uses and considers the real Sputnik. Sputnik 4 was, indeed, designed to carry a person.

“What you ask?”

Yes, in fact it held a dummy, not Putin but close. And no, the dummy did not survive re-entry. Subsequent Sputniks would carry dogs and they came back alive, allegedly.

Now, let's take Sputnik, 1962, the cold war, Cuban missile crisis, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Boris Badenov, Natasha Fatale, and the cops from “Car 54” and create a Let Me Be Frank show.

As the former Let Me Be Frank tag line used to say, “Why wouldn't cha?”

Creators Frank Hermans and Pat Hibbard are bringing their newest comedy musical to the stage this September and have taken on the deranged idea of what could have happened after the Sputnik crash of 1962.

So much was going on in the world in 1962: if we had cell phones back then, I believe most everyone would be in jail. JKF was our savoir and advocate for peace, Khrushchev was a Stalin doppelganger and he had the world in a flux. Who would be the first in space? Who had the most tanks? Who had the most nukes?

Kennedy must have been pretty confident because he was the one saying, “Let me show you mine and you be the judge.” For goodness sake, he was married to one of the most beautiful women in the world and still had time to hang with Marilyn!

Even mainstream cartoons were getting into it, for instance Rocky and Bullwinkle (1959-1963). With the characters Boris Badenov, Natasha Fatale, and Fearless leader (who was more SS than KGB if you ask me) the Cold War was everywhere and tensions were high. So let's take all those great characters and the great music of the early '60s and make a show out of it.

Amy Riemer, who did most of the music research for this show, found that because so many songs were recorded about Sputnik and the Space Race, it was difficult to choose.

“I came across a song called 'Sputnik Dance' by The Equadors,” says Riemer. “It was perfect! It's a great dance song that really exudes the feel of the late–1950s-early '60s. The song didn't chart but we had to put it in.

Then I found a song by Louie Prima called 'Beep, Beep' –a peppy song with cool spacey sound effects about an alien girlfriend.”

It was perfect that two Manitowoc police officers found the piece of Sputnik. I thought, who better to play those characters than Office Muldoon and Officer Toody from “Car 54”? The bumbling pair are perfect for this part of the show, Paul Evenson and Tom Verbrick nail their respective characters and there is a lot of the comedy in the show. Paul and Tom are great character actors and always take their parts and push them farther than I ever write them. I laugh during every rehearsal.

Other characters are Amy Riemer as the sultry Russian spy Natasha Fatale, Pat Hibbard as bad boy Boris Badenov, Lisa Borley as the Mayor's Marilyn Monroe-like assistant and Frank Hermans as the Mayor of Manitowoc as a JFK twin known as DFK, (use your imagination).

The band's line-up is a little different this time as long-time drummer Adam Cain has moved on to pursue new ventures. We are pleased to welcome Mr. Andrew Klaus as the newest LMBF drummer. Does the name sound familiar? It should! He is the son of our renowned soundman Kelly Klaus. We will surely miss Adam and he will always be a part of the LMBF family, but we couldn't be happier to replace him with another family member. Tony Pilz is back at keyboards after taking the summer off, with Dennis Panneck on guitar and of course, Pat Hibbard on bass.

The Meyer theatre and Capitol Civic Centre, where the show will play in September and October, will again be using all protocols from the CDC with seating, refreshments and lobby distancing. You can feel safe coming to these large venues as these larger theaters circulate the air more effectively than smaller venues, and are only seating at 25 percent capacity.

For tickets for the Meyer Theatre performance of 'Sputnik Manitowoc' September 17-October 10 (evening shows at 7:30 p.m., matinee's at 1 p.m.) go to meyertheatre.org or purchase at the door. Meyer Theatre doors will open 90 minutes before showtime to accommodate theater goers.

At the Capitol Civic Center, which is only 1 mile away from the original crash site on 8th Street, tickets for the Oct 15 and the October 17, 7:30 p.m. show can be purchased online at cccshows.org or at the door.

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