I always sat on the left upstairs by the window, so I could watch the people going by on the near side path. (Once I saw Toby Jones, but that’s another story.)
One morning, we were at a bus stop in Kennington Road and I spotted a name tag on a tree, just below my normal eyeline, so probably about 10 feet above ground level. It looked like the plaques they put on park benches to commemorate someone who’s died who used to sit there.
It said: “Eugene A. Cernan”.
I thought it must be a memorial of some sort, but I googled the name and he turned out to be an astronaut – in fact, the commander of Apollo 17 and the 11th man (second last) to set foot on the moon.
The next day, I spotted plaques on other trees, all along the west side of the same road. There seemed to be about seventeen names, including Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, all men who took part in Apollo moon missions – not just those that actually touched down, but also Apollo 13’s crew which famously didn’t.
The Kennington Road trees hadn’t got the names of all the astronauts from the Apollo 11 to 17 crews, but there were more than just the ones who actually walked on the moon. Maybe there was a reason some had been chosen and others left out? Or maybe some plaques had fallen off.
I searched online a second time for “astronaut trees Kennington Road” and found a number of references to the phenomenon, and a number of suggestions, but no definite explanation.
One suggestion on a south London online forum was that the trees had grown from seeds taken to the moon in Apollo 14 by Command Module Pilot, Stuart Roosa. But there was no conclusive proof. Someone on the forum had actually been in touch with NASA, and even they weren’t sure.
I read that NASA representatives sent the 500 seeds to different parts of the USA and the rest of the world, but when the Apollo programme was cancelled, no-one thought to keep the records.
More online searching showed that the Kennington Road trees are sycamores, one of the five varieties of seed Stu Roosa took to the moon and back.
Meanwhile, some versions of the Moon Trees story say that the 500 seeds that went to the moon got mixed up on return with the 500 that were kept behind as a control set. So even if they were Roosa’s trees, they might not have been to the moon anyway.
So, who put the names of astronauts on the trees in Kennington Road? Search on the internet and you’ll find it’s still a mystery. If you have any information on Moon Trees, email it to NASA. But please don’t mention the Captain’s Log…
There are various pictures on Flickr of the trees and their plaques, but here are the ones I took.