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Full text of "Starlight Nights"

<*~*r^li 



THE ADVENTURES OF A STAR-GAZER 




A. 



by Leslie C. Peltier 



Starlight Nights 




Starlight Nights 



LESLIE C. PELTIER 



Illustrated by the author 



MACMILLAN 
London ■ Melbourne 
1967 



© 1965 Leslie C. Peltier 



First published in the United States of America in 1965 
First published in the United Kingdom 1967 



MACMILLAN AND COMPANY LIMITED 

Little Essex Street London WC2 

also Bombay Calcutta Madras Melbourne 



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY 
LOWE AND BRYDONE (PRINTERS) LTD.. LONDON. N.W.iO 



Contents 





1 


A Starry Night 




2 


First Sightings 




3 


The Comet Year 




4 


The Farm 




5 


Early Days 




6 


Friendly Stars 




7 


The Strawberry Spyglass 




8 


Sky Exploring 




9 


Variable Stars and Tropic Isles 




10 


School Days 




11 


June Spectacular 




12 


Copus Hill 




13 


Cow Pasture Station 




14 


We Build an Observatory 




15 


The Comet Seeker 




16 


Friday, the Thirteenth 



1 

8 
13 
19 
28 
38 
45 
58 
68 
79 
88 
97 
109 
117 
124 
132 




vi 


CONTENTS 




> 


Southwestward Ho! 


139 


18 


Cave Dwellers 


148 


19 


Hyalite Hunting 


156 


20 


Night on Mt. Locke 


163 


, 


The Merry-Go-Round Observatory 


171 


22 


Records and Recollections 


180 


23 


Sky Visitors 


187 


24 


Country Life in Town 


200 


25 


The New-Old Observatory 


209 


26 


The 12-inch Clark 


217 


27 


Comet Carvings 


225 


28 


Observations 


232 



To DOTTIE 

who arrived on a comet 



Acknowledgments 




STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



I wish to offer my heartfelt thanks to all those who, through 
their many acts of kindness over the past three score years, 
have helped to make my stars shine brighter. 

In particular, to Edwin Way Teale, eminent naturalist, wise 
counselor, and steadfast friend, my debt of gratitude is quite 
beyond expression. 








1 A Starry Night 



There is a chill in the autumn air as i walk down the path 
that leads along the brow of the hill, past the garden and the big 
lilac, to the clearing just beyond. Already, in the gathering dusk, 
a few of the stars are turning on their lights. Vega, the brightest 
one, now is dropping toward the west. Can it be that half a year 
has gone since I watched her April rising in the east? Low down 
in the southwest Antares blinks a red-eyed sad farewell to fall 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 



while just above the horizon in the far northeast Capella sends 
flickering beacon flashes through the low bank of smoke and haze 
that hangs above the town. Instinctively I turn and look back 
toward the southeast for Capella's co-riser. Yes, there it is, Fomal- 
haut, the Autumn Star, aloof from all the others, in a sky made 
darker by the rising purple shadow of the earth. 

At the center of the little clearing the path ends abruptly for 
here, right at the top of the low hill, sit two stark-white struc- 
tures. One of these is small and squat, no higher than my head, 
no wider than my outstretched arms. The other, standing boldly 
out against the sky is, by comparison, quite imposing. All day 
long they sit there side by side— these two-in sun, in rain, in 
snow, without a sign of life about them. It is only when the stars 
come out that they begin to stir. Then, like some snowy owl and 
owlet waking for a night of dark marauding, they spread apart 
their tight-closed wings, open wide their big round eyes and peer 
about in all directions. The prey they seek is hidden somewhere 
in the skies— for these are my observatories. 

To the casual eye they would appear simply as a couple of 
oddly shaped buildings constructed of quite ordinary wood and 
metal, concrete and stucco. To me, these observatories and the 
telescopes housed within them are vital and alive, for they are 
compounded of the visual delights, the unexpected thrills, the 
lasting friendships, the expressions of good will and the multitude 
of kindred blessings that have come to me, all mixed with star- 
light, from the skies of three score years. 

It is not yet dark enough to start the night's observing but I 
raise the windows and open wide the shutters of the dome to let 
the warm air trapped within escape. When I neglect to do this at 
the end of a sunny day the star images, which should be small 
and round and steady, will seethe and boil and frustrate until the 
cooler night air flows inside and makes them simmer down. To- 
night, I notice that something more than just the daytime warmth 
is imprisoned in the dome. It also holds the daytime smell, the 
smell of fall, the smell of burning leaves. 



A STARRY NIGHT 3 

To anyone who closely holds communion with the earth, each 
of the mild months of the year must have its own distinctive 
smell. To me April smells like freshly plowed ground; May recalls 
lilacs; the aroma of strawberries brings back long June days; July 
smells like new-mown hay; and other smells in season are musk- 
melon, chrysanthemum, and lastly, of course, October's pungent 
scent of burning leaves. These are all heady, potent smells and I 
close my eyes and inhale them deeply— with one exception. New- 
mown hay is one smell-of-the-month that I cannot abide. 

Let Maud Muller rake her meadow. Let the lyric writers long 
for their fields of new-mown hay. I want no part of the hayfield, 
not even the smell! To me, hay has a hot heavy smell that brings 
back, all too vividly, hot, heavy work in the haymow. To this day 
I hold my breath when driving past a hayfield. 

It now is eight o'clock, just dark enough at this time of year to 
start my prowl among the stars. Tonight the sky is clear, the stars 
are brilliant, and the definition, that all-important factor, should 
improve steadily hour after hour as the darkened earth gives up 
its store of accumulated heat. Already, even though some laggard 
light still lingers in the west, the southern Milky Way is flooding 
out around its murky midstream islands while here and there 
about the sky other kindling fires begin their silent clamoring for 
me to turn my telescopes on them. 

I am fortunate in having two good telescopes at my disposal 
for this very purpose. One of these is a 12-inch refractor sixteen 
feet in length; the other, a mere midget by comparison, is a 6-inch 
instrument just four feet long. The 12-inch is thus about four 
times more powerful than the 6-inch for its lens has four times the 
surface area of the latter. However, each telescope has its own 
particular sphere of usefulness. Each one can perform its own 
specific duties much better than could the other one so there is 
really no cause for any rivalry between the two and I, for my 
part, have always done my best to insure domestic tranquillity by 
allotting them equal observing time. 

I recall that in one of my old grade school readers there was a 



4 STARLIGHT NIGHTS 

poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson entitled: "The Mountain and the 
Squirrel," which began— 

The Mountain and the Squirrel had a quarrel 
And the former called the latter, "little prig." 

But the squirrel finally got in the last word— 

"If I cannot carry forests on my back. 
Neither can you crack a nut." 

Sometimes, perhaps in the wee small hours of the night long 
after I have gone to bed, these two scopes may carry on just such 
a verbal battle with the 6-inch delivering the final squirrelish 
blow— "If I cannot see sixteenth-magnitude stars, Neither can 
you catch a comet." 

On a night such as this, with its exceptional transparency, a 
special effort is always made to look for those objects which have 
eluded me on previous nights of only mediocre seeing. Tonight I 
glimpse an old and now long-quiescent nova at slightly below 
sixteenth magnitude and then I faintly glimpse a recently re- 
ported outburst of another star in a stellar universe far removed 
from ours. My next effort is even more successful as I watch a 
close pair of faint pulsating stars in Cassiopeia sparkling side by 
side as sharp and distinct as two tiny diamonds set against the 
velvet of the sky. 

With the 6-inch I search for comets for nearly an hour low in 
the eastern sky where the late-rising moon will soon be coming 
up. It now is nearly midnight and so, as a final curtain to a gala 
spectacle, I let the scope glide slowly upward until, guided more 
by habit than by conscious help from me, it comes to rest on a 
misty little group of stars. Once again, as on uncounted other 
nights, I see: 

. . . the Pleiads, rising through the mellow shade, 
Clitter like a swarm of fireflies 
Tangled in a silver braid. 

-from Locksley Hall by Alfred, Lord Tennyson 



A STARRY NIGHT 5 

So clear and sparkling is this autumn night that, with averted 
vision, I can see quite readily the wraithlike wisps of nebulosity 
that festoon and enmesh this entire little cluster. Something else I 
see too. Something wrapped in wisps of memory. Something that 
I always see each time I look at the Pleiades. I see a small Ohio 
farmhouse, a little boy, and a tall kitchen window that faced the 
east. 










First Sightings 



It was just after dark in the autumn ok the year. As usual 
we— my father and mother, my older brother and sister, and 
I— were all in the dining room for here was the big Round Oak 
wood-burning stove, the center of our cool-weather universe. 
Here too was the large dining table which was always cleared 
after supper to make an arena for the evening's activities of 
school work or sewing or playing Flinch or Authors or dominoes. 
And frequently, as on this particular evening, this table also 



FIRST SIGHTINGS 7 

featured a most tasteful centerpiece— a large dishpan full of 
popcorn. 

Popcorn, when properly salted and buttered, has one insepa- 
rable companion-water. And at this particular moment I just 
had to have a drink! Sometimes, in anticipation of these frequent 
yearnings, a pitcher of water and some glasses would also grace 
the table but on this occasion these accessories had not been 
provided so I went into the kitchen to get my drink. Now when 
one did this at night in a 1905 farmhouse one did not pause at the 
kitchen door and snap on a light switch. There was no light 
switch, for electricity was still twenty dark-years from the farm. 
So I just left the door wide open and, aided somewhat by the 
feeble glow that managed to struggle through from the shadeless 
kerosene lamp in the dining room, I groped around until I lo- 
cated the water. Farmhouse kitchens in the year 1905 were also 
completely uncluttered with any such folderol as sinks and fau- 
cets. At our house the last chore of the day was for Dad to bring 
in a large bucket of water and set it up on the kitchen table. 

Quite often, however, this table was already fully occupied and 
the bucket of water got no farther than the floor and sometimes 
on these occasions, when we all were busy around the table in the 
dining room, through the open kitchen door would come an 
unmistakably liquid, "Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night." Then would 
come the measured tread of toenails on the kitchen linoleum and 
our black terrier, Buster, would stroll back in with a telltale drop 
of water still clinging to his graying chin, give us a look filled with 
gratitude for our thoughtfulness, then stretch out back of the 
stove and return to his panting, paw-twitching dreams of chasing 
rabbits. 

On this night the water bucket was on the table but it had been 
placed somewhat beyond my modest five-year reach. Just a few 
months before I had encountered this same situation and that 
night I had assayed to climb right up on the table in my quest for 
water. Unfortunately, I had climbed up on the opened table leaf 
thereby promptly upsetting the entire table. I got the water, all 
right, along with a crashing avalanche of pots and pans. All this 



8 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 






was still quite fresh in my memory so this time I sent out an 
appeal for aid. My mother, who also remembered, came to my 
assistance at once. She got me the glass of water and, as I stood 
there drinking it in the shadowy dark of the room, I could see the 
stars shining brightly through the east window before me. About 
halfway up the sky I noticed a little group of stars and pointing 
to it I said to Mother, "What's that?" Her eye followed along my 
outstretched arm; "Oh," she replied, "Those are the Seven Sisters, 
sometimes they are called the Pleiades." This was my first meet- 
ing with the stars. 

Two years later when I was seven my orbit once again crossed 
that of a star, or, to be more exact, a planet. On this occasion we 
had all been away from home in the afternoon and it was quite 
dark when we returned. On a farm there were still the regular 
chores to do so I went along with Dad and carried the lantern 
while he fed and watered the stock. We had just finished feeding 
the pigs and were about to start back to the house when Dad 
suddenly stopped and pointed high up in the southeastern sky. 
"Look up there, son," he said, "there's another lantern-that's 
Jupiter." 

These two early encounters with the things in the sky must 
have left me somewhat star-struck for I still remember how 
thrilled I was when I went to school that September to find, on 
the last page of the Second Reader, the picture of a sweetly 
smiling moon and beneath it these lines: 

"Lady Moon, Lady Moon, where are you roving?" 
"Over the sea, over the sea." 

"Lady Moon, Lady Moon, whom are you loving?" 
"All that love me, all that love me." 

It was the beginning of a long and happy friendship. 

Sometime during these years, 1 can not recall just when, I made 
the acquaintance of the Big Dipper. This is by far the best known 
of all the star figures and must surely be familiar to nearly every- 
one who has ever lived in the country. For many of the farmers in 
our region the Big Dipper served as a weather indicator. As a 






FIRST SICHTINGS 



9 



child, even before I knew this constellation, I can remember 
being intrigued and mystified whenever I would hear such re- 
marks as, "It'll surely rain today, the Big Dipper was turned 
upside down last night." Or, "Watch out for bad weather, the 
Dipper bowl is turning over." Strange remarks indeed from those 
who live so close to nature as the farmer. How few there are who 
have ever watched the circling of the stars about the pole. 

To the fanner the weather is a vital thing and here on the farm 
we had many weather signs and portents and most of them, 
unlike the Dipper's doings, were logical and reliable. I had early 
learned the familiar rhyme: 

Red sky in the morning, 
Sailors take warning. 
Red sky at night, 
Is the sailor's delight. 

I found that it was seldom wrong. I also knew that a heavy 
morning dew and fleecy flat-based clouds were both signs of fair 
weather and that whenever the telephone wires hummed louder 
than usual or when the train whistle half a mile away sounded 
extra clear then we could expect either rain or snow. My brother 
and I had a weather sign of our own that no one else seemed to 
know about. We shared a small upstairs bedroom during all our 
youthful years and sometimes at night, after we had blown out 
the lamp and gone to bed, we would notice that suddenly all the 
roosters in the surrounding country had started to crow. Their 
clamor would continue for perhaps ten minutes and then gradu- 
ally die out. Invariably, an abrupt change in the weather would 
take place before morning. 

I have no recollections of any significant sky happenings during 
my eighth and ninth years, other than those that took place in the 
skies of earth, for it was in this period that I followed with intense 
interest the fickle fortunes of the rival airmen, Hubert Latham 
and Louis Blcriot, in their efforts to fly the English Channel. It 
was shortly after this milestone in aviation history had been 
achieved, in 1909, that my cup of joy and anticipation quite ran 






10 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



over when I learned that an airplane— a real airplane— was 
coming to the nearby town of Delphos and would make a flight 
from there on Labor Day. This was only three weeks off and, in 
spite of the fact that school would begin on the day after, I could 
hardly wait until that Labor Day arrived. This was, I am sure, the 
one and only time that I ever displayed any such eagerness for 
the end of vacation. 

The Great Day finally came and with it came perfect weather. 
Shortly after noon a freight train pulled into the station and 
there, on a flatcar, looking, I thought, somewhat humiliated by 
such down-to-earth transportation, was the airplane, the first that 
1 had ever seen. The plane was rolled down a ramp to the ground 
and from there it was picked up bodily by about twenty husky 
volunteers and carried about eight blocks down Main Street to 
the city park where a makeshift runway had been roped off in an 
adjacent field. Here the airplane carriers set down their burden. 

A crowd of the curious immediately began to form around the 
plane for this was a first for nearly all of us. Gradually, I wormed 
my way through the milling wall of spectators and finally 
emerged, as I had hoped, near one wing tip. Here I had, quite 
appropriately, a good worm's-eye view of most of the plane. 
Fascinated, I feasted my eyes on every detail of the plane that I 
could see; the light wood framework, the cloth wing covering, the 
crisscross maze of piano-wire braces, the tail and rudder, the 
three bicycle landing wheels, and finally the single pusher-type 
propeller. Then with a sudden daring thought, I stole a look at 
the crowd around the plane. No one seemed to be watching me. I 
looked for the pilot; he was busy adjusting something on the 
opposite side. I edged just a little closer then quickly reached out 
and up until my hand made contact with the wing. A dream had 
just come true. I had touched— actually touched— an airplane! 

When everything was finally in readiness for the take-off we all 
were shooed back to a respectful distance and the pilot, a young 
man named Bud Mars, started up the engine after a few pulls on 
the propeller and mounted to the flat seat just in front of it. Here 
he put on his black leather gauntlets, reversed his cap, pulled 






FIRST SICHTINGS 



11 



down his goggles, and waved to the cheering crowd. With a roar 
the engine blasted back its small cyclone, there was a forced take- 
off of all the straw hats behind the plane and then the machine 
started rolling down the runway. After a spurt of not more than 
two hundred yards the wheels left the ground and the crowd gave 
out a lusty cheer. The flight proved to be completely without 
incident. At no time was the plane more than three hundred feet 
above the ground and the entire distance covered could not have 
been more than two or three miles. But everyone seemed more 
than delighted with our air-age premiere. I know I was. 

Too much credit can never be given to these early bird-men. 
They were pioneers in the truest sense of the word. They 
gambled everything on the uncertain performance of these crude 
machines— and frequently they lost. Many of them— including 
Bud Mars— were to die with their goggles on. 

Actually, when I first watched from my grass-top viewpoint, 
the plane, a Curtiss biplane, had made me think of a two-story 
Chinese pagoda. It had none of the graceful lines of the An- 
toinette and Demoiselle monoplanes whose flights I had been 
following. But nevertheless, to me that day, it was a thing of 
beauty. By the time we reached home that evening my mind was 
fully made up; my future career was now a certainty. I too would 
be an aviator. 

In less than a week I was in the air. I could look down over the 
edge of my wing and there was nothing but empty space and the 
dark earth down below. I could look to the right or to the left and 
see the woods, the cultivated fields, the farmhouses in the dis- 
tance all around me. I could turn my rudder and make a com- 
plete tight circle. I could push forward my elevator lever and go 
into a steep nose dive. 

What did it matter that I had no ceiling— that a thick canopy 
of oak leaves closed in my entire sky— I could always fly blind. 
What did it matter that I could only enter my plane by crawling 
out on the big oak limb and sliding down the rope by which the 
plane was suspended. Some day I would fix all that with a block 
and tackle. What did it matter, in fact, that a single sheet of 



12 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



corrugated roofing made the wing of my plane, that a wide plank 
furnished a fuselage and a pilot's seat, and that an oil drum lid 
became a rudder? No plane was ever built which served its 
purpose better. My flying time logged only happy hours. 

All over the world this had been a tranquil era. There had been 
peace on earth and also in the heavens. But those placid skies did 
not prevail for long. Already something had been sighted. 
Strange and awesome nights lay just ahead. 







The Comet Year 



IN 1910, ALL OVER THE WORLD, CURIOUS AND OFTEN FEARFUL EYES 

were turned to the heavens. There was much to see and ponder. 
In the middle of January a comet, known simply as 1910a, 
unannounced by any trumpets of the sky, came suddenly from 
behind the sun. On January 18 astronomers at Lick Observatory 
in California saw it at midday just east of the sun and estimated 
its brightness as exceeding even that of the planet Venus, which 
was only a short distance away. Here on the farm, by the time we 

13 






14 



STABLICHT NIGHTS 






learned of the comet from our twice-a-week newspaper it had 
moved much to the east and north and its light was considerably 
diminished, though it still was quite conspicuous in the western 
sky and our entire family watched it for many nights. I still have 
a vivid mental picture of this comet just as I saw it then, through 
the leafless branches of the young walnut trees near our house. 
The trees have long since grown to man's estate but the image 
has not aged. From it and a host of other images of later comets 
my mind's eye can estimate with confidence that when we saw it 
then, the object was still of first magnitude and I can still see that 
long feathery tail that curved upward to the east and south. 

In almost any other year Comet 1910a would have been 
justly acclaimed as a magnificent comet, but in that spring of 
1910 the world was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Halley's 
Comet, the most famous comet of them all and the first one 
definitely known to be periodic. Previous to the appearance of a 
bright comet in the year 1682 all comets were believed to be 
strangers from the depths of space who, in passing, paid the sun a 
brief visit and then departed never to return. The man who 
completely unmasked the visitor of 1682 and forced it, and a host 
of other comets as well, to reveal their solar family ties was the 
famous English astronomer, Edmund Halley, one of the great 
observers of all time and a genius of the highest order. 

By his accurate observations of the comet that year Halley was 
able to show that it was traveling in an elliptical orbit. Since an 
ellipse is a closed orbit this meant that eventually the comet 
would return and that, like the planets, which also travel in el- 
liptical orbits, it too was a captive of the sun. He determined the 
period of the comet to be about seventy-six years and predicted 
that it would return in 1758 or 1759. 

During the course of all this investigation Halley noted that 
similar bright comets had previously appeared in 1607 and 1531. 
As all of these dates were separated by the same interval of 
seventy-six years he announced that they all were apparitions of 
the same comet but that final proof would have to wait until the 
predicted next return. 






THE COMET YEAR 



15 



On December 25, 1758 the comet made its reappearance, 
though Edmund Halley was not there to see his Christmas 
present to the world. He had died sixteen years before at the age 
of eighty-five, after a long and useful life of service to astronomy 
and to humanity as well. 

Two trips later we watched the comet from the farm. At this 
latest return it had been sighted by large telescopes as early as 
September 1909 while it was still far, far out in space and during 
the months that followed it had been approaching the sun with 
ever-increasing speed. 

Here on earth the majority of those who knew of the coming 
event awaited its arrival with eager anticipation. But there were 
others, the timid and the superstitious, who followed the nightly 
advance of the comet with dread, refusing to accept the common 
knowledge that the visitation would be but a repetition of what 
was known to have occurred at seventy-six-year intervals ever 
since the object was first recorded in 240 b.c. Suicides were said 
to have been numerous that spring. Many persons disposed of 
their property in anticipation of the end of the world and the hell- 
fire preachers made the most of a visible sign in the heavens. 

It was truly a noble comet and, though seen best from the 
earth's Southern Hemisphere, even here we saw it well, both in 
the east before sunrise and, a few nights later, in the western 
evening sky. For us it was a more spectacular comet than 1910a 
had been but, nevertheless, I still have a more vivid mental image 
of the earlier comet because of the greater impact of a first 
impression. They both are cherished memories. 

The orbit of Halley's Comet is a long narrow ellipse which 
rounds the sun well inside the orbit of the earth, while the oppo- 
site extreme lies somewhat outside the orbit of Neptune. The 
most amazing thing about an orbit of this type is the extreme 
variation in the speed of the comet that travels it. In 1910 
Halley's Comet circled the sun at a speed of about thirty miles 
per second, while in 1948, at aphelion— or its greatest distance 
from the sun— it had virtually come to a standstill. Then slowly, 
almost imperceptibly, it began the long progressive speed-up that 






I 



16 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



finally will culminate at its next reunion with the sun in 1986. 
Nearly half of its period of seventy-six years is spent in making 
the cold, dark, outer loop that extends beyond the orbit of 
Neptune. 

As this is written the comet is still moving along this outer loop 
that it began to make* in 1930. In 1966 it will recross Neptune's 
orbit now headed toward the sun and with only twenty years 
remaining before its scheduled arrival. The sun, if viewed from 
the tremendous distance of the aphelion, would appear simply as 
an extremely bright star without any perceptible disk. The comet 
itself would, in all probability, be a dark, invisible body made up 
of a more-or-less porous aggregate of smaller particles. 

It is presumed that in the case of a comet such as Halley's, with 
a long, narrow, elliptical orbit, nothing but the nucleus of the 
comet ever makes the complete round trip. The other parts, the 
tail and the coma— which is the nebulous envelope surrounding 
the nucleus— are manufactured from the nucleus only as the 
comet nears the sun. The amount of solid material in the nucleus 
must either be small or widely scattered for comets have been 
observed to pass directly over stars without appreciably dimming 
the star's brightness. On May 18, 1910 Halley's Comet crossed 
directly between the earth and the sun. An expedition had been 
sent to Hawaii to observe this transit with a 6-inch refractor but 
could find not the slightest trace of the comet's passage. This 
would seem to indicate that the nucleus is of a porous nature for 
a solid body no larger than twenty-five miles in diameter would 
have easily been seen as a black speck moving across the face of 
the sun. 

After 1966 the comet will spend the next decade in traversing 
the vast void between the orbits of Neptune and Uranus. A few 
years later, when it is somewhere between the orbits of Saturn 
and Jupiter, the emulsioned eyes of the great reflectors, both on 
earth and in orbit, will hunt the comet down and within the 
following few weeks its future nightly course will be precisely 
plotted. 

Within historic times twenty-eight visits by Halley's Comet 






THE COMET YEAR 



17 



have been recorded. On an early trip it witnessed the defeat of 
Attila's Huns in a.d. 451. It arrived in time to preside over the 
Norman Conquest in 1066. In the year 1456 the menacing ap- 
pearance of the comet so alarmed Pope Calixtus that he decreed 
several days of prayer and established the midday angelus. With 
a great clanging of bells he then besought the comet to visit its 
wrath solely on the invading Turks. In 1607 it was watched by 
both Shakespeare and Kepler and I like to think that it was also 
seen by Captain John Smith and Pocahontas in the frontier skies 
of Jamestown. On its following trip around in 1682 the comet was 
observed by Halley himself, who probed into its periodic past 
and bequeathed to it an honored name that it can bear with pride 
throughout the solar system. By 1835, when it returned, affairs of 
earth had speeded up. Many a canal boat traveler, looking down, 
could see the comet glowing on the surface of his highway. Man 
himself had taken to the skies when the comet last appeared in 
1910, for he was making fledgling flights of perhaps one hundred 
miles. In 1986 our historic visitor will be visited in turn, for in 
that year a spacecraft from the earth will hold a rendezvous with 
Halley's Comet out in space! 

Who would venture to foretell the wonders and achievements 
which the comet will witness in that distant year of 2062? Or will 
man himself prove periodic? Will the Huns be back again? 

Inasmuch as Halley's Comet is such an infrequent visitor to our 
celestial shores it is no small attainment for a person to observe 
and clearly recall two appearances of this noted voyager. Only an 
octogenarian could hope to qualify for such an honor and even he 
(or she) would have to be very discriminating in their selection 
of the proper year in which to be bom, in order that they be old 
enough to remember the first apparition and then not too old for 
the second. 

On one of those May mornings in 1910 we had watched the 
great tail of the comet shimmering in the eastern sky just before 
dawn. So swiftly did the comet dash around the sun that when 
next we saw it two nights later that tail was glowing in the 
western evening sky. We later learned that during that interven- 



18 



STABLIGHT NIGHTS 



ing night, while we all slept, the earth had passed right through 
the outer reaches of the comet's tail. 

Four miles away on that same night, while all the earth was 
wrapped in this frail filament, another event had taken place. But 
of this, until later, I shall not tell, for its full import I was not to 
know until a score of years had come and gone and another star 
attraction was shining in my skies. 




The Farm 



Were i to write my own set of beatitudes i would place near 
the top of the list: "Blessed are they who are raised on a farm." 
Nowhere else in the whole wide world can one acquire a keener 
appreciation for the things in life that are really worthwhile. 
Nowhere else can one achieve a deeper sense of freedom and 
independence than on a farm, and I seriously doubt that anyone 
who has been brought up on a farm and who loves the farm and 
farming can ever be completely happy in any other environment. 

a 19 



20 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



Our farm is located in northwestern Ohio, about twenty-five 
miles from the Indiana line. It lies in a region known in pioneer 
days as the Black Swamp. A region where malaria was so preva- 
lent and so severe that it is said that this area could never have 
been settled without the aid of quinine. Local histories state that 
even the dogs belonging to the settlers constantly suffered from 
fever and ague. Now, all this is changed. The swamp has been 
drained; the trees and dense undergrowth have been cleared 
away. It now is a land of small and fertile and well-kept farms. It 
is a land of corn and hogs, of cows and clover. A land of wheat, 
soy beans and sugar beets; of Granges, Ladies Aids and country 
churches. Also, of late, it is a land of price supports, allotments, 
and controls. 

For generations my ancestors had been farmers. On my father's 
side they were among the first settlers in this region and I have, 
as a prized bit of proof of this, the original land grant, signed by 
President Polk and dated February 1, 1849, giving title to a 
portion of this area to my great-grandfather. 

We had about fifty acres under cultivation— most of it in 
rotational crops of corn, followed by wheat or oats, and then by 
clover. The com made its way to market in the form of fattened 
hogs, and the clover either as seed or turned into cream by our 
five or six cows. Until the tractor took over in the early twenties 
we always had three or four draft horses and hay and shredded 
fodder filled the barn's huge mow. The farm fronted on a good 
country road, now black-topped, but, even in earlier days, always 
well maintained. Half a mile to the south is the Pennsylvania 
Railroad and right beside it— until the late teens when it con- 
ceded to the automobile— was an electric interurban line where, 
for a fare of ten cents (five cents for children), we could ride the 
four miles west to the town of Delphos, or for fifteen cents we 
could make the twelve mile trip east to the county seat at Lima. 

Our house was a simple and practical two-story six room 
structure resting on a well-masoned foundation of flat stones 
which had been quarried from the nearby river bed. Both the 
house and the red-painted barn were well located among large 






THE FARM 



21 



elm and maple trees and there was a single linden tree just 
behind the house which, each blooming season, was loud with the 
humming of thousands of honeybees working on its pendant 
flower clusters. As children, we evoked other, shriller sounds from 
this same tree by making wooden whistles from its branches. We 
would select a branch about half an inch in diameter and cut off a 
section about three inches long. We would then gently pound this 
section all around with the handle of the knife until the bark was 
entirely loose and could be slipped off the wood core. This core 
was then cut to the proper whistle shape and then the bark cover 
was pulled back on. Dad told us that it was from the polished 
smoothness of this wood core that we got the expression, "as slick 
as a whistle." 

Along the west side of the yard was a row of walnut trees that 
Grandpa had planted long ago by simply digging a hole for each 
one and dropping in a walnut. He once told me that he had to do 
this operation twice for just as he had finished planting the last 
hole he discovered that a couple of his hogs had been following 
him, rooting out and eating every walnut. Between the house and 
bam we had a thriving young orchard of apple, peach, and 
cherry trees, while back of the house was a fenced-in chicken 
yard. My mother's quite extensive rock garden lay along the 
western border of the yard beneath the walnut trees and the 
remainder of this grassy front area was devoted to our various 
games and athletic endeavors. One summer day this front yard 
also became, for me, a disaster area. 

Nearly all of our daily traffic lay between the house and bam 
and here we always had a good all-weather cinder path, but no 
one had ever bothered to build a walk of any kind out to the road 
and the mailbox. This oversight was always quite annoying in wet 
weather so one day I decided that I would do something about it. 
After much careful thought I laid my plans for a walk of irregu- 
larly-shaped stepping stones, to be made of cement molded right 
in their permanent location. I dug out a strip of ground about 
two inches deep and the width of my walk-to-be. I then built the 
low forms, spacing them all about two inches apart so that I 



22 



STAHLICHT NIGHTS 



could fill these spaces with dirt planted with grass seed and 
eventually have a narrow strip of grass between each stone. With 
our steel-tray wheelbarrow and a long-handled shovel I started 
out to mix up the first batch of cement. My first stop was at the 
barn where we usually kept some sacks of cement in a corner of 
the storeroom. Next, at the sand pile outside, I added the proper 
proportion of sand. Then on to the well near the house where 
the water was poured in with the aggregate and thoroughly 
mixed by hand. Finally the soupy mixture was wheeled on to the 
front yard and shoveled into the forms until they were filled to 
the brim. This same ritual had to be repeated many times and I 
finished just in time for supper. 

Next morning I went out to remove the forms and plant my 
grass seed between the stones. When I knocked off the first form 
I noticed that the edges of the stone crumbled badly. I poked the 
stone with my finger; it was the same mushy mixture it had been 
the night before! Completely puzzled, I reviewed in my mind 
each step of the mixing process. There seemed only one possi- 
bility; I might not have allowed sufficient time for the cement to 
set. With a sudden thought I dashed out to the barn. Perhaps the 
cement sacks had the setting time imprinted on them somewhere. 
Over in the dark, windowless comer of the storeroom I picked up 
one of the empty sacks and carried it out to the light. I found not 
a word about setting time but I did find, in big, bold, sickening 
letters, the words armour's fertilizer. 

About two hundred yards to the west from our house the road 
spanned the leisurely Auglaize River over a high, plank-floored 
iron bridge. Somewhere on the opposite side, no one knows pre- 
cisely where, the present road crosses a now obliterated path that 
roughly followed the winding course of the river. This was one of 
history's highways. Doubtless first marked out by the herds of 
buffalo that long ago roamed this region, it later became a well- 
traveled trail for successive tribes of Wyandotte, Miami, and 
Shawnee Indians. This trail has known the tread of Little Turtle 
and Tecumseh and the Prophet. Here, passing in pursuit of 
renegade or Indian, have gone the scouts, Lew Wetzel and the 



THE FARM 



23 



Zanes. Finally, in 1794, came General Anthony Wayne who, with 
his army, built a string of forts along the river and soon brought 
lasting peace to all this border region. 

On the north side of the road, just before it crosses the river, 
lies a long, narrow strip of river bottom land that follows along 
the stream for about a quarter of a mile. This strip of wasteland 
was a part of Grandpa's farm and the large farmhouse where my 
father, his three brothers, and two sisters all were born and 
raised, still sits on a commanding site at the crest of a long hill 
near the road. It was along this winding plot of pasture and 
woodland that I spent many summer hours of my early boyhood 
for during all these years I was our family's keeper of the cows. 

On a level, highly productive grain farm it does not pay to 
devote much acreage to pasture for livestock, especially when, as 
in our case, there was plenty of free grass down along the river. 
So, each morning right after milking time, it was my pleasant 
chore to escort our little herd of half a dozen cows down the 
dusty road to their river pasture. On arriving there the cows 
always went directly to the river, then, after standing knee-deep 
in the shallow water for a long drink, they gradually scattered 
out to whichever part of the pasture most appealed to their fancy. 
They usually ate quite contentedly for a couple of hours which 
left me free to read a book or hunt English sparrows with my air 
rifle or to just wander around and engage in a great miscellany of 
early endeavors. 

It was during these bovine breakfast hours of my early years 
that I learned to swim; caught a six pound carp; stayed under 
water for a full minute; captured a sleeping snapping turtle by 
the tail; ate too many green apples; memorized Thanatopsis; and 
played my fife. 

This fife had loomed large in my boyhood days. I had "sent 
away" to a mail order house for it at a total cost, I well remem- 
ber, of just twenty-three cents— including postage. It was a 
simple tin affair that could be played by anyone with a pair of 
lungs and a total of six fingers and when Grandpa heard me 
playing it to the cows down along the river I had to order him 



24 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 



one just like it. Grandpa had soldiered under Sherman through 
the Civil War and he took to fifing like a duck to water. The fife 
was great company for him and, no doubt, it brought back a lot 
of martial memories. For many years, on balmy evenings when 
the wind was right, the strains of "Marching through Georgia" 
and 'Tenting on the Old Camp Ground" would come to us across 
the field from the darkened porch of the big house where he lived 
all alone. 

About midway in my long pasture paradise was a high knoll 
which here formed the east bank of the river. Innumerable 
springtime floods had cut the bank at this point to make a steep 
cliff about fifteen feet high. Here, at the summit of this knoll, was 
my lookout. From this lofty vantage point I could survey the 
winding river banks in both directions and if I happened to be 
watching at just the right time I could usually forestall the all-too- 
frequent attempts of my charges to wade across the river to 
sample the neighbor's succulent green com in the field on the 
other side. 

This idyllic little knoll had a most intriguing name. It had 
always been known as 'The Indian Graves." About ten feet back 
from the edge of the bluff, surrounded by tall oak trees, were 
three graves. Two of these were side by side, the third lay about 
six feet to the north. Although they must have been very old the 
outlines of all three graves were still plainly visible and each 
spring the low mounds were covered with a carpet of deer- 
tongues and spring beauties. Widiout a doubt they were Indian 
graves and somehow, from my early childhood, I had nurtured 
the understanding that here on this little hilltop were buried some 
of my own early ancestors. 

Whether there is any factual basis for this belief I do not know. 
It could have stemmed from something told me as a child, or it 
might simply have been a wishful thought of my own. I will 
never be certain. I only know that it was well within the realm of 
possibility for on both sides of my family some of the earlier 
stalwarts had become quite involved in Indian affairs. Early one 
morning in the year 1812 my mother's great-grandfather was shot 



THE FARM 



25 



and killed in a surprise Indian raid on his little log cabin in 
central Ohio. His family was rescued by soldiers from a nearby 
fort. On my father's side, in contrast to this carnage, one of his 
remote forefathers went to quite the opposite extreme and mar- 
ried an Indian girl, and from somewhere along this ancient 
branch of my ancestral tree, I liked to believe, came those three 
fallen leaves that rested on my hilltop. 



EARLY DAYS 



27 




Early Days 



Standing out clear and sharp in the misty dawn of my 
earliest recollections is a ladder. This was a ladder about twelve 
feet long and quite ordinary in every respect save for its loca- 
tion—it was indoors. It was our only means of reaching the three 
bedrooms on the second floor of our still unfinished farmhouse. 
To an active three-year-old this ladder was far more fun to climb 
than any stairs could ever be. 

All too soon Dad got the stairway built and the ladder went 
back outside to lean against the cherry tree. The new stairway 

26 






was a thing of beauty and it had some features that helped to 
make up for the loss of a ladder. It had wide treads and low risers 
and in winter those steps made the warmest seats in the house for 
the stove was just below. It had fancy turned spindles and a 
smooth hand rail that provided a fast but all-too-brief slide that 
ended with impressive finality at a very solid newel post. 

As soon as the stairway was usable the plasterer came and 
plastered the walls and ceilings of the bedrooms. One day I heard 
Dad address the white-overalled mason as "Mr. Chambers." I 
reached up and gave a tug at Dad's sleeve, then, pointing to the 
old gentleman wielding the trowel, I looked up at Dad and 
whispered, "Mr. Pots." 

Dad had designed and built our house. He was quite adept at 
carpentry or, in fact, at anything requiring manual dexterity. 
Along with this he had an abundance of artistic talent for a 
number of his oil paintings hung on our walls. His was a well- 
balanced make-up for he combined both the practical and the 
aesthetic. He had an equally keen eye for tall corn, a well-grown 
porker, a Harrison Fisher cover on the Saturday Evening Post, 
or a game of billiards at the Masonic Hall. For years he was 
master of both the lodge and the local grange, he never missed 
a Farmer's Institute, and he was the first in all this region to try 
out that newfangled crop— soy beans. 

Dad was six feet tall, slender, and erect. He had clean-cut 
features and his coal-black hair was still dark and heavy at 
seventy-five. In his younger days he sported a neat mustache and 
was said to have cut quite a dashing figure at the handle bars of 
his shiny high-wheeled Columbia bicycle. 

My mother was of medium stature, a little on the plump side, 
and had light auburn hair. She had taught school for several years 
prior to her marriage and was exceptionally well versed in history 
and American literature. She could quote from the New England 
poets and from the Bible on any and all occasions. Even after 
twenty years' absence from the classroom she still remembered all 
the important dates of history and all the capital cities of the 
world. One of her most outstanding traits was her unfailing 
optimism. She always saw the brighter side of everything and 



B* 



28 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



everybody. In her garden it was always the flowers that she 
saw— not the weeds nor the aphids. "In the long run," she often 
said, "things usually happen for the best." 

Mother and Dad always seemed to be in complete harmony. 
They even had pet nicknames for one another which they fre- 
quently used around home. She was "Judy" and he was "Deacon." 
I know of no reason for the Judy for her name was Resa, but I am 
sure that the Deacon earned his title by having served in that 
capacity either in church or in lodge— probably both. 

Our house on the farm had no plumbing, no running water, no 
central heating, and no electricity but, as neither had any of the 
other farmhouses, we all were quite contented. Like most farmers 
we always had plenty to eat and I think that it was quantity that 
we appreciated much more than variety. In our early years, par- 
ticularly, our suppers sometimes would consist simply of mush 
and milk, but I do not recall that we ever complained of this fare 
for it was good and it was filling. We butchered twice each 
winter and throughout the year we had all the milk, butter, eggs, 
and cottage cheese that we could possibly use. We raised our own 
fruit and vegetables and, of course, canned most of the things we 
needed to tide us over the winter months. 

About a mile from our farm was the large country church 
which also served as the cultural and social center for the 
community of several square miles of farms. We all attended 
every Sunday. Both Mother and Dad were teachers in the Sunday 
school and were extremely active in all the affairs of the church 
with one exception— the revival meetings. Every winter these 
rousing get-togethers were held nightly for two long weeks as a 
sort of faith tonic for the faltering; a booster shot for backsliders. 
Some of those old-time preachers could work up quite a storm 
and I always felt that the success of each night's meeting was 
judged on a sound basis. Mother and Dad usually attended these 
revivals but they watched them from a neutral corner. In fact, 
Dad, on more than one occasion, had voiced his opposition to this 
whole business of seasonal religion. He always noted that the 
fieriest testifiers were the ones who cooled off the quickest when 
the meetings finally came to an end. 






EARLY DAYS 



29 



It was during this same renascent era that, out of curiosity, we 
drove fifteen miles in our family carriage one night to see and 
hear the famed evangelist, Billy Sunday. At the height of his 
career as a baseball player Billy had forsaken the National 
League outfield in favor of the sawdust trail. But he took all of 
his big league energy right along with him and he made those 
meetings something to be long remembered. Only a sound cam- 
era—still uninvented then-could have properly preserved the 
drama of Billy's violent assaults against the citadels of sin. 

Mother was a life member of the Woman's Christian Tem- 
perance Union and proudly wore her little white satin bow on all 
occasions. She also was a zealous leader in the affairs of the 
Woman's Foreign Missionary Society and was deeply concerned 
with the welfare of the heathen— particularly those in China, 
Korea, and India. This interest was, in a way, passed on to me on 
one occasion, for it was on a Sunday morning, amidst surround- 
ings of missionary motif, that I made my debut as a public 
speaker. On this particular morning a returned missionary from 
India had addressed the Sunday school congregation. He had 
talked at length about foreign missions in his field and had gone 
into considerable detail about the caste system then prevailing 
throughout India. His lecture was followed by an informal dis- 
cussion between the speaker and various interested members of 
the congregation. It now was nearly noon so, at the first brief lull 
in the questioning, the superintendent arose and, in an attempt to 
terminate the affair, asked in a negative tone if there was anyone 
who had anything further to say on the subject. Indeed there 
was; I had somethingl 

My mother, some time before, had read me a little poem which 
I thought quite funny and I had memorized it. This seemed to me 
the perfect time to deliver it. I was about six years old and, along 
with a number of contemporaries, was sitting in the front row of 
seats. I quickly mounted the two steps to the rostrum, turned 
about, made my little bow and gravely recited 

The poor benighted Hindu 
He does the best he kin do. 



30 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



He sticks to his caste, from first to last. 
And for pants he makes his skin do. 

It was a most appreciative audience and I got a big hand. 

Considering the fact that we spent our youth in a world with- 
out radio, television, movies, record players, and automobiles a 
youngster of today may well wonder how we passed our time and 
what we did for entertainment before these modem marvels 
came along. Actually, I am sure that our days were just as filled 
with living as are any present days. But they were not supervised 
days; they were not organized days. We were left to our own 
devices and we provided our own entertainment. 

We had games, we had pets, we had projects and wc had a 
multitude of hobbies. Best of all we had lots of books, for we all 
loved to read and we subscribed to a good many magazines. Each 
Sunday, at church, we were given the two juvenile magazines, 
The Classmate and The Advocate. Then, on the way home we 
would exchange our Saturday Evening Post for a neighbor's 
Youth's Companion. Here at home we took The Farm Journal, 
Green's Fruit Grower, Farm and Fireside, and The Ladies Home 
Journal. Of this last I can only recall the one full page which each 
month showed the doings of the Brownies, by artist Palmer Cox. 

For years we took a family magazine named, or perhaps I 
should say, misnamed Success. Dad thought he saw a long-range 
bargain here and took out a life subscription on this for which he 
paid about twenty-five dollars. A year or so later Success was a 
failure and stopped publication. Still another of our magazines 
took the final count in this era. Dad had always been an ardent 
admirer of the great Teddy Roosevelt and consequently the 
political news magazine, The Outlook, which was published in 
the interests of Teddy's Progressive party, was a regular visitor to 
our house until the elections of 1916 when both the Bull Moose 
and The Outlook dimmed and went out. 

In our living room at the farm were two bookcases filled with 
books. One of these, a homemade affair beneath a window, held a 
twenty-five volume set of an early edition of the Encyclopaedia 



EARLY DAYS 



31 



Britannica. The other was a high, golden-oak combination desk 
and bookcase that stood in a corner of the room and contained a 
great diversity of books. On the topmost shelf, where they were 
unopened from one year to the next, were volumes by Charles 
Darwin, Henry Drummond, DeWitt Talmadge, Dwight L. 
Moody, and many others of similar depth and profundity. Most 
of these must have been acquired by inheritance for I am sure 
that my own parents would not have bought them. 

On the second and third shelves one might find any of the 
books that we were currently reading and along with these were 
other such varied titles as The Three Musketeers, Freckles, Hans 
Brinker, A Certain Rich Man, A Tour of the World in 80 Days, 
Black Rock, and The Friendly Road. Here was a copy of Lives of 
Our Presidents, which included the just-elected Theodore Roose- 
velt. Here too was an old copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin which was 
modem fiction compared to our New England Primer hidden in 
the little desk drawer just below. 

On the lowest shelf just above the desk compartment, for rea- 
sons of both convenience and appearance, were all of our really 
big books. Foremost of all, a giant in command of all the English, 
ready to give the Snal word to all these lesser tomes, stood Web- 
ster's Unabridged Dictionary. An enormous twelve-dollar leather- 
bound book, it was fully seven inches thick and so weighty with 
words that in my earliest days of its perusal Mother had to take it 
down for me and then later replace it on the shelf. But it was not 
this wealth of words that kept the book and me lying on the floor 
face to face for hours at a time. It was, instead, those thousands 
of illustrations that filled its final pages. 

Here, arrayed before me page on page, were treasures from the 
entire world and from throughout all history. Here were colored 
pictures of the flags of every nation; the official seals of every 
state. Here seemed to be our planet's entire fauna— birds, mam- 
mals, fishes, insects from every comer of the earth. On display 
here were weapons from the arsenals of the ages and sailing ships 
from every sea. Webster and I spent many happy hours wander- 
ing through space and time and never left the living room. 



32 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 






I once read that some noted man of letters— I have forgotten 
who— was asked which three books he would choose to have with 
him if he were to be shipwrecked on some deserted island. His 
choices were, the Bible, Shakespeare, and a star atlas. In later 
years I was to come to a complete concurrence with these 
choices— with the one proviso that my Bible be the beautifully 
written King James Version, not the prosaic revision— but in 
those early years my own first choice would have been that book 
of childhood wonders— the dictionary. 

Standing right beside the dictionary, and leather bound to 
match it, were the three large volumes of Ridpath's History of the 
World. These too afforded enthralling entertainment with their 
hundreds of illustrations depicting scenes from the building of the 
pyramids right down to the world of 1885, when the set was 
published. The works of the great poets were also well repre- 
sented on this shelf with large well-bound editions of Shake- 
speare, Tennyson, Lowell, Whittier, and Longfellow. 

We were never a family to just sit and talk; even less were we a 
family to just sit. We were a family of readers, even though our 
reading was often done in a vicarious way. Nearly every evening, 
especially when the weather was cold and we were all together 
around the stove, Mother would read aloud to the whole family. 
In this way we eagerly devoured all the works of such writers of 
that day as Harold Bell Wright, Ralph Connor, Rex Beach, Gene 
Stratton-Porter, William Allen White, Jack London, Zane Grey, 
and many others. These writers all were tremendously popular 
and their books were the best-sellers of that day— the books that 
all America was reading. 

In recent years I have reread many of these same books which 
once had held our rapt attention. I found in all of them a rare 
and most refreshing feature. Every one. of those books was a 
wholesome book. A book that could be read to anyone of any age 
without censoring a single word. 

There was no public library in our vicinity at that time so we 
had to buy nearly all the books we read. While this may have 
curtailed the extent of our reading to some degree, it also gave us 






EARLY DAYS 



33 















an even greater appreciation for each individual book. Each 
purchase we made was a distinct event in our lives and was 
made only after much careful deliberation. We learned to value 
books and to treat them with respect. For Christmas gifts we 
would buy books for one another. In this way we gave something 
which we all could enjoy and, as the average book cost only fifty 
cents, we had a long-lasting Christmas at a most reasonable cost. 
One could always be certain of getting to read precisely the book 
one wanted simply by giving it to someone else. If I just hap- 
pened to give my sister, Tom Swift and His Motorboat I was also 
just as likely to receive one of the Little Colonel books from 
her. 

We still have many of those books that we acquired in that era. 
My own first gift book was Robert Louis Stevenson's, A Child's 
Garden of Verses, dated, Christmas 1907. But the one I prize 
above all others is inscribed, "Christmas 1913, from Mother." This 
book, Rolf in the Woods, was written by artist-naturalist Ernest 
Thompson Seton. It is the story of how Rolf, a white orphan boy, 
was raised in the ways of the woods by the Indian, Quonab. To 
me the book was an open door into the world of nature. 

Rolf became my hero and I sought, in every way possible, to 
follow in his moccasined footsteps. In order to pass him off as 
an Indian boy, Quonab had dyed Rolfs skin with a concoction 
made by boiling walnut hulls. I did the same. One Saturday 
morning, when all the family had gone to town, I got a small 
kettle from the kitchen and with it sallied forth to the front yard. 
There, beneath those walnut trees that Grandpa had stubbornly 
replanted, the trees that just three years before had framed a 
mighty comet, I found a little heap of walnut hulls that the 
squirrels had left there over winter. With these I soon had my 
little cauldron bubbling into a pungent inky stew which, when it 
had cooled sufficiently, I applied externally with generous aban- 
don. Later, when I looked in a mirror, I hardly knew myself. 
Whether our Ohio walnuts were of a richer vintage than Rolf's 
Connecticut variety; whether my remote ancestor's rendezvous 
with a redskin had made me more receptive to the treatment, or 



34 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 



whether I was just more thorough in the application I do not 
know but, at any rate, the over-all effect seemed considerably 
more African than Early American. Fortunately, it all turned out 
all right. After they recovered from the initial shock my parents 
thought the whole thing awfully funny and I was even excused 
from Sunday school attendance for two or three weeks. 

Rolf slept each night in an Indian wigwam and cooked over an 
open campfire. I draped some discarded carpeting over some 
poles to make a tent and slept there on warm nights and I 
impaled bacon or ham on a long wire and broiled it over a small 
fire and then baked potatoes in the hot ashes. 

The adventures of Rolf awoke in me an intense desire to learn 
all I could about the various forms of nature which, all my life, 
had been flying, crawling, blooming, swimming, and twittering 
quite unheeded all around me. Fortunately, among our books, we 
had a set of nature guides— pocket-size books with colored illus- 
trations—and these were exactly what I needed, for our four 
volumes covered butterflies, wild flowers, trees, and birds. 

I particularly favored butterflies and wild flowers. The butter- 
flies and moths were easy to identify for I simply caught them 
in my home-made net and then compared them with the pictures 
in the guide. Wild flowers were even more obliging. I would find 
them in the woods, identify them from the pictures and then, 
whenever possible, I would dig up and bring home a specimen or 
two to plant in our rock garden for further observation. The 
birds, I soon found, were the least cooperative of all. I had no 
field glasses for close-up views of them and no bird could possibly 
have been stupid enough to mistake me for St. Francis and zoom 
in for a nearby landing where I could clearly see its markings. 

I found, too, that the birds had still other complications in the 
matter of their identification. Now, in the. order Lepidoptera, if 
you see one Cecropia moth, for example, you've seen all Cecrop- 
ias. There is never the slightest doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Cecropia 
belong to each other. With the birds it often is quite a different 
story and any family resemblance between the male and the 
female and their immature offspring is purely incidental. Further - 



EAHLY DAYS 



35 



more, to add to the complexities, birds, like bird watchers, like a 
seasonal change of attire. Many of the birds that we see heading 
south in the fall migration have "suffered a sea change" since last 
we saw them and are but a travesty of their springtime selves. 
Bird watching, definitely, is not to be taken lightly. 

In my more reflective moments I came to feel a bit elated with 
the little things that I had found along the outdoor trail that Rolf 
had pointed out. It gave me the vague sense of belonging to some 
small inner circle to know that our box elder was really a 
misnamed maple tree; that a closer look among the Monarch 
butterflies sometimes showed up a masquerading Viceroy, or that 
the aerial acrobats of my summer evenings were not swallows but 
chimney swifts instead. I got the satisfying feeling that I too, like 
the old Soothsayer, now could read a little in "Nature's infinite 
book of secrecy." 

But all the while that I was thumbing through those pages, 
reading a word here, a sentence there, the grandest chapters of 
that book lay there right before me, quite unseen, quite un- 
touched. 













6 Friendly Stars 



Who has not, at some time oh another, had a fhesh new idea 
suddenly strike him and then wondered in amazement, "Why did 
I never think of that before?" One May evening, when I was 
fifteen years old, I was standing out in the front yard when just 
such a new thought came to me. The night air was soft and 
warm, there was no moon, and all the brighter stars were shining. 
Something-perhaps it was a meteor-caused me to look up for a 
moment. Then, literally out of that clear sky, I suddenly asked 
myself: "Why do I not know a single one of those stars?" 

36 



friendly stars 



37 



Why indeed! I had known the Pleiades ever since my child- 
hood days. I had watched two awesome comets wheel about the 
sun. I had seen the death-dive of a thousand shooting stars and 
on many a frosty night I had stood entranced as the ghostly 
fingers of the northern lights probed about the sky. Furthermore, 
I seemed to have an active interest in all the rest of the world. of 
nature. But, until that night in May, I had given not one single 
remembered thought to the stars themselves. Why, I will never 
know. I can only wonder: 

When all the Temple is prepared within, 
Why nods the drowsy Worshipper outside? 

Just as suddenly as the thought had come there came now the 
decision that I was going to leam those stars. In my mind I began 
to anticipate the fun I was going to have in doing this, for I still 
recalled the ecstatic moments which came to me with the identifi- 
cation of each new butterfly, flower, or bird. A couple of minutes 
later I was standing in the living room looking up at the varied 
titles in our high bookcase. 

Seldom in the past had our home library failed me in any 
search for information. Our set of nature guides, Wood's Natural 
History, and Cray's Botany had served me well in all my prob- 
lems with the flora and fauna of the farm. But the skies, it 
seemed, were a whole new world. We had not a single book 
about the stars. 

Actually, this failure of the home fount of knowledge only cast 
a day's delay for I was now attending high school in Delphos and 
for the past several months I had been borrowing books from the 
new public library which was located less than a block from the 
school. Next day, as soon as school was dismissed, I parked my 
bicycle in front of the library, went in, and asked the librarian for 
a book about the stars. Had she had at her disposal all the titles in 
the Library of Congress she could have made no better choice 
than the book she brought me for it was Martha Evans Martin's 
classic work. The Friendly Stars. This book tells, simply and 
beautifully, the essential facts about the stars and constellations 
and, with diagrams, shows where to find them in the sky. 



38 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



As soon as I reached home I hurried through the chores; then, 
after a quick supper, I started reading the new star book. There 
were two or three chapters of general information on the appear- 
ance of the night sky and on the rising and setting of the stars 
before it came to the chapters dealing with the identification of 
the individual stars. By the time I had finished reading these 
opening chapters it was growing dark. Quickly I leafed through 
the book until I came to the first star diagram. The caption 
beneath the diagram read, "Vega as she appears in the east." The 
drawing showed Vega as a bright star with a scattering of five 
fainter stars nearby— four of which formed an oblique parallelo- 
gram. 

According to the descriptive text Vega, at that very hour in the 
month of May, would be rising in the northeastern sky. I took the 
open book outside, walked around to the east side of the house, 
glanced once more at the diagram by the light that came through 
the cast window of the kitchen, looked up toward the northeast 
and there, just above the plum tree blooming by the well, was 
Vega. And there she had been all the springtimes of my life, 
circling around the pole with her five attendant stars, fairly 
begging for attention, and I had never seen her. 

Now, I knew a star! It had been incredibly simple, and all the 
stars to follow were equally easy. Vega led the way to Deneb and 
these two made the base of a triangle with another bright star 
named Altair. Each star that I found would point the way to 
some new field and that, in turn, would light my path to yet 
another. Arcturus, the bright star that years later would turn on 
the lights for the 1933 World's Fair at Chicago, I found simply by 
following the curve of the Big Dipper's handle for a distance 
equal to the length of the handle. I followed that same curve an 
equal distance further and came to another bright star-Spica. 
Blazing red Antares was just as easy. In the middle of May, wrote 
Mrs. Martin, this star would rise in the southeast between nine 
and ten o'clock in the evening. On one of those mild mid-May 
nights I watched until a fiery gleam cleared the treetops of a 
distant woods and thus another star was mine. 



FRIENDLY STARS 



39 



I learned my stars as they were rising in the east and gave but 
little heed to those that then were dropping toward the west. I 
could see a few bright stars above the sunset sky but they were 
now retreating and would soon be lost from view. In less than 
half a year these would be rising in the east again and I would 
meet them then when they were coming toward me. In the 
meantime there was much for me to do. The skies were full of 
stars for me to learn. 

The twenty brightest stars in the sky are grouped together in a 
class known as first-magnitude stars. Of these only fifteen could 
be seen from my latitude, the other five were southern stars. By 
the end of that first May I had made the acquaintance of five of 
the fifteen-all in the eastern sky. There would be no more addi- 
tional bright stars until August, when two more would be rising 
in the east. So I decided that during this time I would learn some 
of the constellations. With the help of the diagrams in my star 
book I found it quite a simple matter to locate these legendary 
star groups in the sky. 

I had learned the bright stars first and now I used them as 
unfailing guide posts to the constellations and the fainter stars. 
And in the learning of all these I was kept quite busy while the 
earth wheeled around the sun and brought new bright stars into 
view. With the exception of Vega, Arcturus, and Spica*, which 
already were up in the eastern sky when I began, I learned all of 
these fifteen bright stars as they came up to meet me— over the 
eastern horizon. This method has a tremendous advantage, for 
when one knows that in the month of October a bright star called 
Capella will be rising in the northeast just at the close of day, one 
has but to look in that directiion to find it glowing in the early 
autumn twilight. 

Learning the stars is pure delight and there are many pleasant 
ways to do it. No true star-gazer will fail to become familiar with 
the constellations and fortunate is he whose introduction to the 
skies comes to him through nature's eyes alone and not through 
any telescope. So few of those who use the eyepiece first ever get 
to really know the stars. There is a host of guide books to the 



40 



STARLICHT NIGHTS 












stars and constellations now available and, no doubt, all of them 
have merit. Some of these, 1 feel, stress too much the old mytho- 
logical figures of the constellations and thus lead one to look for 
things that are not there. Still others make an acquaintance with 
the stars a most tremendous task when really nothing could be 
simpler. At the opposite extreme, there are a few that tend to 
oversimplify and offer many shortcuts to a knowledge of the stars. 
One also can make a hurried dash through Yosemite Valley— and 
miss so much in doing so. 

To me, the least satisfactory way of all to learn the stars would 
be through the eyes of another. The organized "star-party," or the 
constellation study groups in which someone points out the 
various stars and constellations are pleasant social affairs but they 
make it all so effortless that the lesson seldom sticks. It is like 
taking a guided tour to see some wonder of nature when one 
could, just as well, have the incomparably greater thrill of being 
its discoverer. 

It took me about a year to become acquainted with the stars. 
This may have been a longer apprenticeship than some would 
care to serve but I have found it well worthwhile for in the end I 
had much more than just a mere assortment of names and places 
in the sky. Each star had cost an effort. For each there had been 
planning, watching, and anticipation. Each one recalled to me a 
place, a time, a season. Each one was now a personality. The 
stars, in short, had now become my stars. 

One of those nights of that first year with the stars was, for me, 
a memorable occasion. I still had the little tent of my Indian days 
out under the maple trees and on hot nights that summer I often 
slept there on a canvas cot. One sultry night in early August I 
decided to have a preview of the stars which the yearly circling of 
the earth about the sun would bring into my evening skies during 
the coming fall and winter seasons. I set the family alarm clock to 
call me at 4 a.m. and crawled into my tepee a little earlier than 
usual. At four o'clock when the alarm sounded it was still quite 
dark and a bit chilly. I didn't bother to dress but wrapped up in a 
blanket and stepped outside. 

The moon had set and the sky was beautifully clear. In the 



FRIENDLY STARS 



41 



north were the circumpolars-the stars that never drop below the 
horizon. With these I was familiar. From the polestar the Little 
Dipper dangled straight down as from a nail in the north wall of 
the sky. High up above me was Cassiopeia while, far down 
below, the Big Dipper skirted the horizon so closely that the star 
in its handle-tip sometimes seemed to catch in the distant tree- 
tops. Now low in the west were Vega, Deneb, and Altair— stars 
of the east in my evening sky. Halfway up in my predawn sky 
were my old friends, the Pleiades. All the other stars were com- 
plete strangers. 

My early morning meeting with all these unknown stars had 
been deliberately planned. I wanted to see these stars as a total 
stranger sees them. I wanted to see them as an earlier age of 
mankind had seen them— an age that found in these same skies 
strange figments of their folklore. Just how, I wondered, would 
this unknown starland strike my fancy. What weird figures, beasts, 
and monsters would I see through my still-unbiased eyes. 

In looking about I saw six or seven stars, unknown to me, 
which seemed to be in the first-magnitude class. There was a 
lone, white star, about as bright as Deneb, in the southwest. A 
short distance east of the Pleiades was a reddish star which 
formed part of a letter "V." On the eastern horizon were two stars 
of nearly equal brightness with another brighter one high above 
them, while in the southeast hung two bright stars with a 
diagonal row of fainter stars between them. 

I gazed at all that bright array of foreign winter stars and tried 
to see in them some elements of crude design. I tried to see those 
stars as groupings that might make some legendary figure or 
perhaps some ancient god. Then in my mind's own time machine 
I traveled back five thousand years and tried looking through the 
eyes of some Chaldean shepherd, some Euphratean nomad, some 
sailor from Phoenicia. But it was all of no avail. Only twice did I 
see anything at all. In that lone southwestern star I could see a 
Cyclopean monster and of a looping trail of faint stars in the 
south I made a writhing snake. But in all the rest I could find no 
fanciful resemblance— it was just a careless scattering of stars to me. 

On other, later nights I found that I just lacked imagination. 












42 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



My one-eyed Cyclops was the Southern Fish and my slithering 
serpent was Eridanus, the River. And in those other random stars, 
where I had failed completely, earlier eyes had seen a mighty 
Hunter and a charging Bull, a Charioteer and Gemini, the Twins. 
As a constellation maker I had been a dismal failure. But I 
consoled myself with the thought that maybe I had been working 
under a handicap. I wondered if any of those ancient artists of 
the East had tried to draw their fanciful sky figures while draped 
in a blanket and with their bare feet drenched in the chilly dew 
of early dawn. 

Actually that preview of the stars was a big success! I had 
wanted a night to remember and I got it. I wanted a memory 
picture of an unknown sky and I still have it. I saw the winter 
stars that night as Balboa saw the chartless Pacific, as James Cook 
saw the South Sea Islands, as Champlain saw the frontier wilder- 
ness. And just as all the sights they saw arc commonplace today, 
so was my first meeting with the winter stars the forerunner of a 
thousand later alarm-clock meetings with the early morning stars 
of every season. 

AH through the months of that first summer The Friendly Stars 
was the companion of my starlight nights. Every two weeks I 
would return it to the library-and bring it home again. Natu- 
rally, it got a lot of outdoor usage and its pages bore the prints of 
fingers that were far from clean and, by summer's end, it did not 
have that fresh, new look it had when I first took it over. I have 
always felt that a good book should bear some signs of usage. My 
friendly star book qualified in every way. 

Just a few years ago a thoughtful librarian, knowing of my long- 
continued interest and how it had been nourished in my earlier 
years, presented me with a copy of The Friendly Stars. It had a 
beautiful dark cloth binding with the title lettering all in gold. In 
a momentary daze at this gesture of good will I opened up the 
volume just at random. It opened on the diagram of Vega in the 
east. Amazed, I tried it again and Vega reappeared. My suspi- 
cions aroused, I turned over a few pages and saw what filled me 
with delight. Between those brand new covers it was my same 



FRIENDLY STARS 



43 



old Friendly Sfars-complete with all the finger smudges I had 
left there in my youth! Then, recalling one final bit of evidence, I 
turned quickly to the chapter on Altair. There it was-the dark- 
stain made one summer night when the book was closed on a 
May-fly. 

With the book back once more under my arm I went down the 
wide stone steps of the library and then along the walk leading to 
the street. Out near the end the same silver maple crowded even 
closer up against the slightly tilted flagstone. But this time there 
was no white bicycle leaning up against the tree, waiting to take 
me out to the farm and my evening chores. 

I put the book down on the seat beside me and drove on home. 
So many changes had taken place, so many things had come and 
gone since that schoolday when the book and I first went down 
the library walk and rode away together. Great battles had been 
fought. Once mighty states and empires had been swept away. 
New boundaries had been established; new frontiers had come 
and gone. But I knew that in my star book I would find no 
changes in its skies. The timid Hare still crouched unmolested 
beneath the mighty Hunter, the Pleiades still dispensed sweet 
influence just as in the days of Job, and each spring Vega and her 
attendant stars could still be found above the plum tree on the 
farm. 

I had seen new stars from time to time during these years but 
soon these faded out and only for a little while did they disturb 
the constellations. I had watched a dozen comets, hitherto un- 
known, slowly creep across the sky as each one signed its sweep- 
ing flourish in the guest book of the sun. These too had come and 
gone. Along with all these transient visitors many of my own 
allotted hours had also come and gone since that May night when 
I first spotted Vega in the east. I did a rapid reckoning. That star 
book there on the seat beside me had a lot to answer for. All the 
hours of two entire years had been spent in gazing at the skies 
that it had pointed out to me. 

Each year when May returns and brings her balmy nights, and 
Vega with her trailing lyre strings rises in the east, I still can 






44 



STABLICHT NIGHTS 



hear, no matter where I am, the telephone wires along the road 
all humming background music for the rhythmic treble chanting 
of a distant choir of tree frogs. And when Orion stalks across 
midwinter skies his giant steps are followed by the sounds of 
squeaking snow and jingling bells from country sleighs that 
vanished nearly fifty years ago. 

Come to think of it, maybe the stars came out for me at just the 
right time, after all. Impressions sink in deepest when the clay is 
warm and fresh. The year, that May, was in its spring and I, at 
fifteen, was in mine. 




The Strawberry Spyglass 



We must always have crown sthawberiues. In my own mind, 
at least, it goes back quite beyond remembrance. With us it was 
not just a row or two somewhere in the vegetable garden, it was a 
small commercial enterprise involving, perhaps, a couple of acres 
of ground. 

It seemed to me then that we picked berries all summer long, 
for in one's early years time passes slowly. In reality the berry 
season never included more than the thirty days of June and even 

45 



46 



STARHCHT NICHTS 



this extent was attained only through a careful selection of early, 
midseason, and late varieties. 

Strawberries, as we grew them, were a constant care for about 
eight months out of every year. In April the layer of straw that 
had covered the plants over winter was raked off and placed 
between the rows where it served to keep down weeds, helped 
keep the berries clean by preventing dirt from splashing on them 
during rains, and it also provided a most welcome cushion for the 
knees of the berry pickers. On many an occasion it also became a 
quickly-available frost cover. Frost was always a threat during 
the month of May when the plants were in full bloom and we 
often had to rake the straw from between the rows back over the 
plants again on short notice when an advancing cold front 
brought clearing skies and falling temperatures on late after- 
noons. 

In view of the strawberry's year-round association with straw, 
both as a mulch and as a winter covering, I was surprised to 
learn, in a recent reading of Samuel Fraser's book. The Straw- 
berry, that the plant derived its name from its peculiar habit of 
growth. After the fruiting season the plant increases by putting 
out a number of runners which, on contact with the ground will 
root and form new plants. These runners and new plants have the 
appearance of being strewed or, in the ancient form of the word, 
"strawed" about the mother plant, and thus the name strawberry 
resulted. 

We set out a new berry patch every year, usually in May and 
these new plants required constant care throughout the growing 
season. Every year Dad tried out some of the new varieties that 
were constantly appearing. When I recall some of those old-time 
strawberries we used to raise I respectfully take off my weather- 
beaten straw hat to the United States Department of Agriculture 
and to the commercial plant breeders for the mighty changes 
they have wrought. As I remember it now, our old reliable early 
variety, Warfield, was but little larger than a good-sized cherry 
and it seemed to take forever and a day to pick a quart of them. 
Today's berries are more than twice the size of the old varieties 



THE STRAWBERRY SPYGLASS 



47 



and a good picker can fill a quart basket of them in just a couple 
of minutes. 

June was a busy month for the whole family. In one way or 
another we were all involved in the berry business with the 
exception of my older brother, Kenneth, who ran the other farm 
operations during this critical period. Com requires continual 
cultivation during this month to keep weeds from getting a start, 
and all day long, every day, he rode the two-horse cultivator 
slowly up and down the long rows of corn. My mother was in 
supreme command of the small shed we called the Berry House 
where she served as both timekeeper and inspector. Here she 
punched the pickers' cards each time they brought in a carrier of 
eight quarts of berries and, if the picker was young or inexperi- 
enced, she also sorted through their quarts for any possible defec- 
tive berries. My sister, Dorothy, and I were on the picking force 
while Dad, of course, supervised the entire operation. 

Strawberries were Dad's pride and joy and he spared no pains 
in raising the very best to be found anywhere. I recall two trips 
that he made by the interurban train to the R. M. Kellogg Com- 
pany of Three Rivers, Michigan, in order to look over their 
propagating fields and select new varieties to try out here at 
home. We always marketed our berries in brand-new quart 
baskets. But merely being new was sometimes not enough and 
Dad shopped around until he finally found a factory in Berlin 
Heights, Ohio, which put out baskets made of a very clean white 
wood that Dad said was buckeye. We all felt that these must be 
tops— Ohio being the Buckeye State. 

We usually started picking in the morning at about nine o'clock 
after the heavy dew was gone, and we finished for the day at 
about two or three o'clock in the afternoon. Then Dad would 
hitch up the horse to the Berry Wagon and take the load to town 
and deliver them to the various grocery stores. This Berry 
Wagon, as we called it, was another example of Dad's rural 
artistry. He had taken an old spring wagon and built a special 
body for it which he had designed to hold twelve twenty-four 
quart crates of berries. On top of these bottom twelve crates 



48 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 












another similar layer could be added if necessary. He painted the 
body a light cream color and decorated it in black with a large 
and intricate trademark on either side, while on the tailgate, in 
flowing script, he neatly lettered: 

Stanley W. Peltiers 
Strawberries 

He firmly believed that a good product should be properly 
identified and each crate was given a printed label and each 
quart basket also bore his name stamped in dark blue on its white 
wood rim. 

During the summer months we often drove to town in the 
Berry Wagon on Saturday evenings. This was a sort of shopping 
spree— an opportunity to buy a pair of overalls, a window shade, 
new shoes, a thirty-five cent steak for Sunday dinner-the things 
we couldn't buy from Tobe Luttrell's huckster wagon that 
stopped in front of our house and rang its cowbell every Thurs- 
day morning. 

I always liked these trips to town in the Berry Wagon. I got to 
ride in the back end of the wagon, with the tailgate open and my 
feet dangling down below. We usually drove to town over what 
we called the Lower Road, which in later years became the 
Lincoln Highway. Only occasionally did one see an automobile 
traveling this dusty road but in Delphos the authorities were 
taking no chances. On the north side of the highway just where it 
entered the town there stood a sign which read: speed limit— 8 
miles per hour. As we drove by this I sometimes cautioned Dad 
that maybe he ought to slow down just a little. 

Occasionally, on these Saturday nights I would attend a "pic- 
ture show." The movies had come early to Delphos, the first 
performance that I saw was Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves in about 
1907. I do not recall any of the actors. At one time there were 
three movie houses in operation here— one being an outdoor fair- 
weather establishment. On our Saturday nights on the town for 
the sum of five cents— if I had it— I could listen to a live three- 
piece orchestra while I watched the histrionics of such early 



THE STRAWBERRY SPYGLASS 



49 



notables as King Baggott, Mary Pickford, Owen Moore, Fatty 
Arbuckle, and Francis X. Bushman. Or, across the street, to the 
accompaniment of a player piano 1 could sit captivated as Tom 
Mix or William S. Hart corralled the outlaws and then rode away 
into the sunset. 

Uptown parking on Saturday night was just as much a problem 
at that time as it is today except that it was not a question of 
finding an empty space along the curb, but instead, an empty 
place at a hitching rack. By coming to town early we could usu- 
ally find a vacant place on East Fourth Street just off Main Street. 
This was such a convenient location that even Mother ignored the 
proximity of the busy saloon right across the street on the comer. 
When we could hitch here we were only a very short distance 
from the Masonic Hall and also from Charlie Ray's grocery store. 
Charlie was a steady strawberry customer of ours and we always 
bought most of our groceries from him. His store made, in addi- 
tion, a most convenient family meeting place where we gathered, 
one by one, at about ten o'clock and then started out for home. As 
we left, carrying our big paper bags of groceries, we walked a 
few doors to the north and tapped five times on the heavily 
curtained window of the Masonic club room where Dad had 
spent his evening playing billiards with some of his faithful 
brothers of the green felt lodge. Then we all headed across the 
street back to the wagon. 

Going home I never insisted on riding with my legs hanging 
over the tailgate. I was glad now to lie down flat on the floor of 
the wagon on a blanket brought along for just that very purpose. 
As we were homeward bound on one of those clear summer 
nights we were passing along a stretch of road with fields of tall 
ripening wheat on cither side when I heard Mother remark to 
Dad that it was hard to tell just where the lightning bugs stopped 
and the stars began. I raised my head up from the blanket and 
took a drowsy look. The low sides of the wagon cut off all view of 
the ground below. I could see only the bright band of the Milky 
Way crossing the sky high above me and the twinkling and blink- 
ing stars all around me on every side. I lay back on my bumpy 



50 



STARL1CHT NICHTS 



I UK STRAWBERRY SPYGLASS 



51 















bed and watched for a long time as we sped on through the star 
fields of space. When I awoke we were back on earth beside the 
bam. 

Along in my mid-teens I was to discover that strawberries and 
stars are most compatible and that such odd things as telescopes 
are sometimes measured by the quart. But it was long before this 
that I first became aware of the pecuniary possibilities of the 
berry patch. 

When I was eight years old I picked berries to earn my first 
dollar and it took me nearly the entire month of June to do it. At 
that time we were only paid one-cent-per-quart for our efforts 
and in my case those efforts certainly shattered no records. There 
were just too many things happening on a bright June day for me 
to waste my life away in common toil. There were fleecy cumulus 
clouds that had to be watched to see if their projected shadows 
would cross the berry patch or miss it. There were red squirrels 
running up and down the old rail fence and chattering in the 
walnut trees and these all needed my attention and high up in the 
blue sky overhead there was always a turkey buzzard or two that 
deserved a lot of wondering about how they could manage to sail 
around for hours and never have to flap their wings. 

It seemed, too, that there were always some important com- 
ments to exchange with the two or three other pickers of my own 
age, and I can recall still other interruptions that were occasioned 
by an overassiduous quality test of our product. Sometimes there 
were other distractions right at hand. Often, as I was picking, I 
would hear a sudden fluttering sound and a little ground sparrow 
would fly up from its nest in the row just a few feet ahead of me. 
When I eventually picked my way to the spot I would find, deep 
down among the berry plants, a neat little structure made of 
woven grasses interlaced with a material quite unknown to the 
farm birds of today— horsehair. I was always careful not to touch 
the eggs in the nest for I had been told that the mother bird 
could tell that they had been touched and would abandon the 
nest. Robins were a real pest in the strawberry field. They always 
selected the ripest and largest berries, took a few choice bites, 









then went on to find another. Fortunately, the starlings, which 
now have made smalltime operators out of the robins, did not 
move in until the mid-thirties. 

I spent that first dollar in one fell swoop! It went for a year's 
subscription to The American Boy, a truly wonderful magazine 
which, unfortunately, is no longer published. I still recall the 
excitement of removing the wrapper from that first issue of July 
1908. Its colorful cover depicted a boy on horseback at the head 
of a parade while above him he held an immense flag with forty- 
six stars. 

Between the covers of that magazine was a whole new world. I 
had never known before that there were so many things to be 
interested in. There was a page for stamp collectors, another on 
coin collecting, still another on taxidermy. There were depart- 
ments devoted to nature study, photography, and even model 
airplanes, although the flight at Kitty Hawk was but five years 
gone and the English Channel would not be flown for yet another 
year. There were thrilling stories of adventure, of travel, school 
life, and historical novels. Later issues were to present, in serial 
form, the amazing adventures of a very fat boy named Marcus 
Aurelius Fortunatus Tidd, or Mark Tidd, for short. The story was 
written by a promising young author by the name of Clarence 
Budington Kelland. 

I continued to subscribe to The American Boy for many years 
and kept all the back issues (I save things), but one winter a 
neighbor borrowed them and they never came back. 

One day, near the close of my second year in high school, I 
chanced to see a small telescope in one of the wall cases in tin- 
physics laboratory. The instructor allowed me to examine the 
instrument a little more closely. It was a collapsible drawtube 
affair of the type one often sees pictured in the hands of the old 
sea captains. I had a great yearning to sec through it and to this 
end I obtained an audience with the principal and asked permis- 
sion to borrow it to look at the moon and stars. My request was 
politely but firmly refused. I had rather expected this and. though 
I was somewhat disappointed at the time, in the end it was all for 



52 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



the best. This refusal actually was just an early example of the 
well-disguised blessings that so often have come my way for now 
I was determined to have a telescope of my own. 

All this happened, of course, long before the age of telescope 
making, so I did not have to decide whether to buy a telescope or 
make one, nor did I have to weigh the relative merits of a refract- 
ing telescope versus one of the reflecting type for small reflectors 
were still completely unknown. I finally found two companies 
that offered small telescopes for sale. A mailorder house listed a 3- 
inch Bardou refractor for sixty-five dollars and the A. S. Aloe 
Company, of St. Louis, advertised a 2-inch telescope for eighteen 
dollars. Again, I wasted little time in arriving at a decision for 
sixty-five dollars was completely out of sight. I did not have even 
a start on the eighteen dollars but my hopes were high for June, 
the month of strawberries, was just around the corner. 

At the berry patch the picking rate had gradually increased 
over the years until it was now two-cents-per-quart. Even more 
important than this, I was now a picker with a purpose. The 
result was a fine example of the effect of incentive on take-home 
pay, for before the month was over I had picked my nine hun- 
dred quarts and my eighteen dollars were speeding toward St. 
Louis. 

According to my figures I should have my telescope in four 
days— five days at the very most. My order should reach St. Louis 
in two days. There, a clerk at the Aloe Company would read my 
order, place a telescope in a box, address it and mail it back that 
day and in two more days it should arrive. 

It didn't. Nor did it come the next day, or the next, or the next. 
I began to wonder if the company was on strike, or if their clerks 
were all on vacation, or if, maybe, the shipment had gone astray. 
Then I thought of still another possibility. Art Moon, our mail 
carrier, made his rounds on a motorcycle. He carried all the first 
class mail in a wire basket attached to the handlebars in front of 
him, but the parcel-post packages, such as mine would be, were 
stowed in cavernous open saddlebags that hung on either side of 
the rear wheel. Maybe the motorcycle had hit a bad bump in the 



THE STRAWBERRY SPYGLASS 



53 



road and my package had jolted out. Maybe someone else was 
using my telescope. 

On the morning of the ninth day after mailing my order I was 
hoeing corn in a field not far from the house. Art always made 
our stop at just about eleven o'clock and for the past week I had 
contrived to be at the end of the field which had a clear view of 
the mailbox at that time. Promptly, on the hour I heard the 
familiar chug of his single-cylinder Excelsior as it passed along 
the road at the end of the cornfield. Leaning on the handle of the 
hoe I watched expectantly as Art coasted up to the mailbox and 
stopped. He took out a couple of letters, dropped them in the box 
and closed the lid with a bang which clearly sounded like, "No 
telescope today." Then for what seemed like a long time he 
worried with the strap that secured the remaining letters in his 
wire basket. Finally, almost as an afterthought, he half-turned on 
the saddle, pulled a longish package from the right-hand saddle- 
bag and laid it on top of the mailbox. 

With a roar Art was off in a cloud of dust. With a yell I too was 
off, leaving behind me a slowly toppling hoe and a swirling wake 
through the knee-deep sea of corn. 

Plopping on the ground right beside the mailbox I hastily 
removed the outer wrapping of corrugated paper to find inside a 
round case of heavy cardboard. I pulled off the cover of this case 
and there, wrapped in tissue paper, was my telescope— a beauti- 
ful thing of black pebbled leather and shining brass. Gingerly I 
pulled open the drawtubes until all four were fully extended. I 
then removed the brass cap that covered the lens, pointed the 
telescope toward Grandpa's house across the field and, with the 
feeling that this was one of life's great moments, I looked in the 
eyepiece. I saw only a blur! 

In that first frenzied hour I learned many things about tele- 
scopes. First of all I learned that they need to be focused. That an 
adjustment of the distance between the large lens and the eye- 
piece— made by sliding in or out the smallest drawtube carrying 
the eyepiece— is necessary in order to make the image sharp and 
clear when seen in the eyepiece. I learned that this adjustment 



54 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



varies with the distance of the object that is viewed, that the 
more remote the object the nearer must be the eyepiece to the 
lens. And to my great delight, when this adjustment had been 
made, I learned that Grandpa had flics that sunned themselves on 
the siding of his house and dark green moss that grew between 
the red bricks of his chimney. 

At noon I showed my spyglass to the family and they all 
thought that it was quite wonderful. After looking at a couple of 
distant houses Mother remarked: "It's a good thing everybody 
doesn't have one of these. It'd be worse than our party line." Dad 
played with it for a long, long time before he finally took his hoe 
and loft for the berry patch and I got it back again. 

About the middle of the afternoon I drifted back to the corn- 
field but I took the scope along. I would hoe a round, then I 
would sit one out, drawing a bead on everything in sight. I 
watched the birds in the tops of the walnut trees along the road. I 
spied on the cows in a distant pasture, on the pigeons lined up on 
the peak of our barn roof, and, right above them, on the gilded 
horse that forever chased the wind around our southmost light- 
ning rod. Finally, remembering, I looked at our church a mile 
away and could count the shingles on the roof. According to the 
story in my Short History of Natural Science a church had been 
the first object seen through any telescope. Three centuries 
before, the children of a Dutch spectacle maker, while playing 
with two lenses, happened to line them up, in focus, with a 
distant church. 

My new telescope had a lens 2-inchcs in diameter with a focal 
length of 36-inches. It came equipped with two eyepieces, of 35X 
and 60X magnification. The instrument was of French manufac- 
ture, well constructed of heavy brass and with smoothly working 
drawtubes. Optically, it was a terrestrial telescope for it had an 
erecting lens permanently mounted within the tube so that 
objects viewed on this terrestrial ball would not suffer the indig- 
nity of appearing upside down. An astronomical telescope dis- 
penses with this erecting lens, which naturally absorbs some of 
the light it receives and, as a result, everything seen in such an 



THE STRAWBERRY SPYGLASS 



55 



instrument appears reversed, top to bottom, right to left. To the 
astronomer this reversal is of no consequence but in using such 
instruments in later years I was sometimes to find it quite disturb- 
ing to visitors to see a crescent moon facing one way with the 
naked eye and exactly the opposite way in the telescope. No 
doubt some of them figure that the whole thing is a fake. 

The sky was cloudless on the day my telescope arrived but 
nevertheless I watched anxiously throughout the long hours of 
the afternoon. Even before it was dark enough for the stars to 
show I was ready and waiting for them. Weeks before I had 
decided that my first look would be at Vega. It had been she who 
started out with me and it was fitting that she now initiate my 
spyglass. And so, before the darkness had completely settled for 
the night, her blue-white dazzle scintillated in my field. 

This was followed by an hour with the moon, with Mars, and 
with a number of the brighter stars. Everything I saw that night 
amazed and delighted me and each new sight assured me that my 
starlight nights would be busy nights for a long, long time to 
come. My very first look at Vega, however, revealed that I had 
completely overlooked one most essential adjunct to the well- 
tempered telescope. It had no mounting or support of any kind to 
hold it steady. 

Just how such sundry sea dogs as Captain Cook. Long John 
Silver, and John Paul Jones ever managed to stand on a pitching 
upper deck and focus one of these freehand spyglasses on a 
distant sail is quite beyond me. Even with both my feet firmly 
anchored on solid ground the stars all made mad gyrations across 
my field of view and I attained a measure of success that first 
night only by resting the telescope against obliging tree trunks, 
fence posts, and the corner of the house. The next day I built a 
mounting. 

It is well that I once took a photograph of this mounting. 
Without this graphic proof I would be hard put indeed to furnish 
acceptable evidence that anything like it ever really existed. It 
proved to have a number of unique features and so, for the 
benefit of anyone who might wish to construct a telescope mount- 



56 



STARLICHT N1CHTS 



ing that does not slavishly copy the conventional models now on 
the market, here are a few helpful hints on how I made it. 

First, I selected a 6-inch diameter fence post that had been 
retired from active service and cut it to a 3-foot length. Then, 
from a two by four I cut three pieces each 2H-feet long, making 
the cuts on a 45-degree angle. These were spiked to the lower end 
of the post, spacing them 120-degrees apart. Any spikes that 
happened to bend were left that way for they helped give the 
mounting a certain handcrafted look and they also provided 
added ballast. When these three legs were placed on the ground 
they held the post in an essentially upright position. 

On top of the post I now placed an old discarded grindstone 
that wc had out in the barn (we save things). This stone 
measured twenty inches in diameter, was two and one-half inches 
thick, and weighed about thirty pounds. Then, from what was 
left of the two by four, 1 cut two pieces each one foot long and 
spiked them together to form an "L." A quarter-inch hole was 
then bored in the center of the base of the "L" and this hole was 
then centered on the grindstone and a large spike inserted 
through it and driven into the wood-plugged hole in the grind- 
stone and on into the top of the post. This permitted the "L" to 
turn freely in a complete circle with the grindstone as its base. A 
notch was cut in the upright arm of the L and the offset telescope 
support which I then made was fitted so that it pivoted up and 
down on a bolt through this notch. 

What could have been more simple? Yet some people will pay 
out good money for a ready-made mounting that has no indi- 
viduality whatsoever. Still others will enlist the aid of a skilled 
mechanic to help llicm make one. Here, in less than a day's time 
and for absolutely no outlay of cash, I had a truly different 
mounting that held my telescope as steady as a rock. It weighed 
less than seventy-five pounds and I could move it from pla. 
place around the yard to avoid the trees and house with no more 
physical exertion than one can readily imagine. 

We who are not perfectionists are vastly tolerant to faults, 
particularly our own. But, nevertheless, my mounting did have its 



THE STRAWBERRY SPYCLASS 



57 



good points. It stood out unprotected the whole year round with 
never a complaining creak and it weathered gales without a 
tremor. It served me well, just as it was, on virtually every clear 
night for nearly three-and-a-half years. It was the only mounting 
ill.' 2-inch ever had. 




O Sky Exploring 






Despite its diminutive size a 2-inch telescope is fully capable 
of doing serious work. A quality scope of this aperture will reveal 
a representative example of every major class of celestial object 
that can be seen with the very largest instruments. 

During the tenure of the 2-inch I tried to see for myself every- 
thing that was listed as being within the range of a small tele- 
scope. Without too much difficulty I was able to locate all of the 
then-known planets and 1 admit to a most tremendous thrill when 



SKY EXPLORING 



59 



I added the outer planets Uranus and Neptune to my slowly 
expanding universe. To capture these two planets I simply drew 
up for each a sky map or chart that showed all the stars visible in 
my telescope in the region of the sky through which the planet 
was moving at that time. With the chart before me it was then a 
matter of comparing it with the actual sky from night to night 
until one "star" of those that I had drawn disclosed a slow shift in 
its position. By this I knew that I had found a wandering brother 
of the earth. 

Once I knew its position I discovered that Uranus was quite 
easily visible to the naked eye. In the telescope I could detect its 
greenish hue, its absence of flicker, and, I thought, a very tiny 
disk. Neptune, on the other hand, looked just like any eighth- 
magnitude star but it gave me quite a "professional" feeling to 
know that I had found the planet, just as the astronomer Gallc 
had first sighted it seventy years before, by checking it against a 
sky map. It was very satisfying to feel that the 2-inch and I had 
now traveled to the outer limits of the solar system. This feeling 
vanished fourteen years later when the planet Pluto was dis- 
covered. In this same slow fashion, just as they had first been 
found a century before, I later brought to earth the four brighter 
minor planets, Ceres, Pallas, Juno, and Vesta. 

Jupiter was a joy to observe. There was always something 
doing; changes were taking place from night to night, even from 
hour to hour. His four bright moons, his cloud belts, and his polar 
flattening were all easily observed in my 2-inch though I find no 
mention of his Great Red Spot in any of my records of things 
seen so it probably was inconspicuous during those years. Saturn 
was at his very best that summer, being well above the southern 
haze, and tilted enough so that I could see the underneath side of 
the ball and rings with a small crescent of the northern hemi- 
sphere showing above the broad sweep of the outer ring. The 
sharp black void known as Cassini's division, which lies between 
the rings, could be seen on good nights as could Titan and 
Japetus, its two brightest moons. Occasionally, during daylight 
hours, I watched sun spots through my filtered eyepiece and 



58 



60 



STARLrCHT NIGHTS 



followed their changing aspect as they moved from day to day 
across the solar disk. 

I never tired of looking at the moon and in those early nights of 
watching with my 2-inch glass I often thought of Galileo and 
his tiny telescope. When news of the invention of the telescope in 
Holland finally reached Galileo in Italy he immediately set about 
making one of his own. For this purpose he purchased two 
spectacle lenses from an optician. One of these, of convex shape 
like a reading glass, became his objective lens. His eyepiece was 
just the opposite in curvature, or concave. The two lenses were 
then fitted into the opposite ends of a leaden tube of the proper 
length to focus on distant objects. Then, just a little more than 
three hundred years before, in the spring of 1609, Galileo turned 
his tiny homemade "optic glass" upon the moon. It was man's first 
skyward look through any telescope. As he related it: 

I betook myself to observations of the heavenly bodies; and 
first of all, I viewed the moon as near as if it were scarcely two 
semi-diameters of the earth distant. After the moon I viewed other 
heavenly bodies, both fixed stars and planets, with incredible 
delight. 

I feel quite sure that I first viewed the moon in my small scope 
with just as much incredible delight as Galileo did in his. It is 
true that I had seen photographs of the moon and therefore had 
some vague idea of what its appearance would be like, but I still 
was wholly unprepared for all the wonders which I found on that 
first night as I explored the lunar surface. No photograph has yet 
been made which is not cold and flat and dead when compared 
with the scenes that meet one's eyes when the moon is viewed 
through even a small telescope. 

From an aesthetic sense, at least, it takes a small telescope and 
low powers to do full justice to the moon. While it is often pos- 
sible to utilize the very highest powers of the scope to ferret out 
some small detail of cleft or craterlet, it is only when the entire 
moon fits comfortably within the field of view that she is at her 
dramatic best. Only when one sees some empty space about her 
does she seem to float suspended in the sky like the neighbor 




SKY EXPLORING 



61 



world she is. This is the way I always saw her in my 2-inch 
telescope. 

I spent many of those early nights in wandering aimlessly 
about the moon. 1 followed the advancing sunlight all the way 
across her face. I descended into craters by the score— Plato, 
Eratosthenes, Copernicus, Tycho, across majestic Clavius, and 
down the blinding wall of Aristarchus. One night I walked across 
the strange and violent gash of the Alpine Valley and then I 
climbed a tortuous trail from peak to peak along the sweeping 
range of Apennines. I rested briefly in the long black shadows of 
Pico and Piton, whose towering monuments rise starkly from the 
level surface of the Sea of Showers. 

From night to night in its march across the sky I watched the 
moon grow from a slender sliver in the west to a full-orbed globe 
above the eastern treetops. On some of those nights I saw strange 
lights offshore in the sea of darkness that ebbed before the line of 
sunrise creeping out across the moon. An hour later these weird 
points of light had turned to mountain peaks and crater rims as 
the rising sun slid down their slopes toward the still dark plains 
below. On the seventh night of the lunar month I explored the 
Grand Canyon of the moon-the Hyginus Cleft, and one night 
later I rode the Lunar Railway from terminal to terminal across 
the floor of Mare Nubium. 

Throughout these nights of discovery and exploration of the 
moon one question kept recurring to my mind. Why had I been 
denied all this until my school years were so nearly spent? Why 
had it not been made a part of the growing up of every youth? I 
had been taught the rivers, the seas, the mountains of every 
continent on earth. I knew the capitals of every state and country 
in the world. And all this time, right above me, the "geography" 
of a whole new world had been turning, page by nightly page, 
and no one had opened up the book for me. This was not a 
negligence peculiar to those times— it still exists. In later years 
with other telescopes I was to show the moon to thousands of 
visitors of all ages and not one knew the name of a single moun- 
tain range or crater on the moon! 

When Christmas came that first star-gazing year my mother 



62 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 






gave me a small book entitled, A Field Book of the Stars, by 
William Tyler Olcott. Just as The Friendly Stars had been it was 
precisely the book I needed for it began its story right where the 
first star book had stopped. This was a lucid guidebook. There 
was a separate page for each of the constellations, large and 
small, which can be seen in this latitude and the opposite page, in 
each case, describes the constellation in detail and calls attention 
to its points of interest. I especially liked the way the constella- 
tion diagrams were drawn. They seemed to have been made 
while actually looking at the sky and the principal stars were 
connected by lines in a way that made them easy to recognize. 
For example, Bootes was depicted as a kite-shaped figure in the 
book and, as anyone can see, it is a kite-shaped figure in the sky. 
There was no attempt to show Bootes as the Herdsman or Bear 
Driver that mythology says he is. 

The individual star names, as well as the Greek letters, were 
given for the various stars in each constellation. But the feature 
that I appreciated most of all was that while the constellation 
figures were drawn up for the naked eye, they also showed the 
locations of many of the objects of special interest in a small 
telescope, such as star clusters, nebulae, double stars, and vari- 
able stars. I had known that there were such things as these but 
until the field book pointed the way, I had no idea where to find 
them in the sky. 

With the open book as our chart and compass the 2-inch and I 
now embarked on a treasure hunt among the stars. Night after 
night, page after page, constellation after constellation, we saw 
each cluster, nebula, and double star whose brightness came 
within our range. The Great Nebula in Andromeda, The M13 
cluster in Hercules, the Dumbbell Nebula and, far to the south, 
the Trifid Nebula in Sagittarius; these and a host of others I thus 
met for the first of many meetings. In Orion's Sword the poet's 
"single misty star" was transformed by my glass into four tiny 
sparkling suns enmeshed within a swirling cloud of gas. The 
Pleiades became, one night, not seven stars but fifty, and Al- 
cyone, the brightest one, revealed his three nearby companions. 



SKY KXPLOHIN'C 



63 



And there were many other stars— Rigel, Mizar, Porrima, Castor, 
Polaris, Albirco, and Cor Caroli— to name but a few of the 
brightest, who felt the power in my three-foot magic wand and 
thus divulged, sometimes reluctantly, that close beside them, all 
but lost within their glare, another star was hiding. 

My exploration of the skies took many months for there were 
many things to see and each new season brought new vistas and 
new wonders into view. It was well that I thus learned to chart 
my course among the stars for before the Christmas field book 
had been mine a week I was fitting for a voyage which would 
take not months, but years. A voyage which, indeed, is under full 
sail yet today. 

My sailing orders for this celestial cruise came to me in the 
form of a footnote which author Olcott had added at the very end 
of The Field Book of the Stars. It read: 

Many readers of this book may be the fortunate possessors of 
small telescopes. It may be that they have observed the heavens 
from time to time in a desultory way and have no notion that valu- 
able and practical scientific research work can be accomplished 
with a small glass. If those who are willing to aid in the great work 
of astrophysical research will communicate with the author he will 
be pleased to outline for them a most practical and fascinating line 
of observational work which will enable them to share in the 
advance of our knowledge respecting the stars. It is work that in- 
volves no mathematics and its details are easily mastered. 

What teen-age star-gazer with a new and eager telescope could 
resist an eloquent appeal like that? I had not the slightest idea of 
what the author meant by "astrophysical research" but it sounded 
so lofty and important that whatever it was I wanted it. I im- 
mediately wrote Mr. Olcott asking for further information. 
Within a few days I had his reply-a long handwritten letter 
explaining that the research referred to was the systematic ob- 
serving of variable stars. 

William Tyler Olcott, I eventually learned, also was an amateur 
star-gazer, but he was one who had practically made a career out 






64 



STAR Li OUT NIGHTS 



of it. He had received a degree in law from Trinity College in 
Connecticut but had never actively practiced his profession. In 
1905 he became interested in the stars and his Field Book of the 
Stars, published in 1907, was the first of several books which he 
wrote on stars and star lore. 

Through frequent contacts with Director Pickering of Harvard 
College Observatory, Olcott became aware of the profession's 
great need for more data on variable stars of long period. Believ- 
ing that this was something that the amateur telescopist could 
well do, in 1911 he brought together seven interested observers 
who thus became the nucleus from which soon developed the 
formal organization known as the American Association of Vari- 
able Star Observers, or AAVSO for short, which was dedicated to 
the systematic watching and the reporting of the doings of these 
mysterious stars. Mr. Olcott had been elected the life secretary of 
the organization that he had founded and, included in my letter 
from him, was an application for membership in the AAVSO. 

Alas, one of the requirements for active membership listed on 
the application blank was that one possess a telescope of 3-inch 
aperture or larger. As mine was but a 2-inch this was indeed a 
blow and I saw my rosy dreams of being an astrophysical re- 
searcher fading away by inches. For a couple of days I did some 
solemn soul-searching and then I finally returned my application 
with my telescope properly listed as a 2--inch. Too late, however, I 
noticed that my figure "2" started out with an extra curlicue at the 
top and actually looked more like a "3." Since it had been done in 
ink I would only have messed it up in changing it so I let it go as 
it was and thus, before the new year was well under way, I found 
myself a bona fide member of the AAVSO. 

That winter of 1917-1918 was the coldest on record in this 
locality. Early in January the temperature fell to twenty degrees 
below zero. But, cold as it was, there were still the usual old- 
timers, including Grandpa, who assured us that our weather was 
mild compared to the winter of eighteen-something, when the 
rivers froze solid and when they threw boiling water up in the air 
and it came down solid ice. 

Schools were closed and there was no rural mail delivery for a 



SKY EXPLORING 



65 



week or more as all the country roads were filled with drifted 
snow. At home our entire world had shrunk until its radius was 
now no more than fifty feet, and its two continents— house and 
bam— were connected by a single narrow trade route through a 
sea of dazzling crystal. But our little world was a self-sufficient 
one. We could have lived here comfortably and, I am sure, quite 
happily through weeks of wintry isolation. In town, during this 
same period, frozen water and gas lines, together with a war- 
induced coal famine, brought hardships to many. Here on the 
farm life went on just about as usual. Our woodshed was full of 
fuel for the stoves and our two wells, one near the house, the 
other in the barn, never failed us. We primed these pumps once 
each day with a teakettle of hot water from the kitchen stove, got 
the water we needed for the house and for the livestock in the 
barn, then we simply held up the pump handle until the water in 
the pump drained back into the well. In the kitchen we had a 
sack of flour and sufficient salt and sugar for a month. We had a 
closet full of canned fruit and vegetables and as for meat, we 
literally lived "high on the hog," with crocks stored full of sausage 
and with hams and shoulders hanging from the rafters of nature's 
own deep freeze— the woodshed just outside the kitchen door. 

We all were kept quite busy caring for the fires and .the live- 
stock and in between these chores we caught up on a lot of 
reading. We resurrected a stack of back issues of the Saturday 
Evening Post and the Ladies Home Journal from the storage 
closet and read the stories we had passed up when the magazines 
first came. I read Rolf in the Woods all over again and this time I 
particularly enjoyed the chapters that told how Rolf and Quonab 
had built their cabin and how they had passed their first winter in 
the snowy north woods. Once again Mother read Whittier's 

'Snow-Bound" to us all and this time we appreciated, as we never 

had before, the lines: 

Shut in from all the world without, 
We sat the clean-winged heurth about. 
Content to let the north-wind roar 
In baffled rage at pane and door. 






66 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 






My telescope got a good rest during that snowbound week for 
the mounting stood out in the front yard half buried in a drift- 
its grindstone turntable piled high with a peak of white. One of 
those sub-zero nights was beautifully clear so I bundled up and 
went out on the back porch. Even my eyes smarted with the cold 
as I looked about. Jupiter was high above me near the Pleiades. A 
little further to the east, in Gemini, was Saturn, while just above 
the bam Mars made a glowing red tip for a lightning rod. Every- 
thing seemed to be doing all right without me so I hurried back 
to my book by the fire. 

It happened that during this period of isolation I was expecting 
some important mail from the AAVSO in the form of my first 
variable-star charts together with instructions in how to use them 
in making observations. Day after day I would think how nice 
and cozy it would be to sit by the fire and arrange and rearrange 
those charts and study those instructions. Finally I decided to do 
something about it. Early one afternoon I started on foot for the 
post office in town four miles away. The roads had now been 
cleared enough for farm sleds to get through but on foot it was 
still slow traveling. About a mile from home the road ran past a 
cemetery and as I approached a strange funeral procession pulled 
in through the high iron gate. The entire cortege consisted of 
three bobsleds— the one in the lead serving as the hearse. 

I finally reached town and any weariness I may have felt from 
my long trek vanished the minute I entered the post office and 
found all the mail I had hoped for waiting for me. In addition to 
the big manila envelope containing my charts and instructions 
there had also arrived my first issue of the magazine, Popular 
Astronomy. This Mr. Olcott had recommended as essential to all 
active AAVSOers, for it published each month the results of their 
findings. 

After tying all the accumulated mail in a bundle for easy carry- 
ing I headed back toward home for it was already late in the 
afternoon. As I walked along in the wake of my lengthening 
shadow my thoughts went back to another walk to another post 
office and I remembered how that walk, like this one, had 



SKY EXPLORING 



67 






brought me my first copy of a new magazine. Ten years before, in 
a pre-RFD era, I had walked the half-mile of country road to our 
combined post office and grocery store to get my first American 
Boy. I recalled how the daily mail train would thunder by and, 
without slowing down, and with scarcely even a toot of recogni- 
tion for our four-house crossroads, it would dump off a sack of 
mail while at the same time a steel bracket would reach out and 
grab the outgoing sack as it hung suspended from the yardarm 
right beside the track. 

Darkness now was falling as I walked along through the snow 
and one by one the stars were coming out. I named each one as it 
appeared: Sirius, the Dog Star, in the southeastern sky; Vega, still 
in the twilight of the low northwest; high up in the sky was 
Capella. Then came Rigel and Betelgeuse in Orion, Aldebaran, 
Procyon, then, low in the east, the twin stars Castor and Pollux, 
and, finally, I could make out the Big Dipper, balanced on its 
handle in the low northeast. 

By the time I was halfway home it was completely dark. Every 
star name that I knew had now been fitted to its owner and for 
another mile or so I tossed a few Greek letters here and there 
about the sky. The Milky Way arched high above my head and as 
I was tracing it the tall spruce trees of the cemetery loomed up 
beside the road and in the gloom I could see where fresh sled 
tracks now came out the exit gate. Several times an owl in one of 
the spruce trees inquired who-o-o I was but I had no time to 
answer him and hurried on toward home. 

At one point where the road behind me angled toward the 
north I stopped and looked back. Vega now was gone but there, 
low in the sky, the Northern Cross stood boldly upright though its 
foot was slowly sinking in the snow. 

Supper was waiting for me when I finally got home. There was 
mail for everyone and the lamp and the fire burned late that 
night. 




9 



Variable Stars and Tropic Isles 



Life was nevkb yum: the same fob me afteb that winteb 
walk to town. The charts that I brought home with me were 
potent and ensnaring and I feel it my duty to warn any others 
who may show signs of star susceptibility that they approach the 
observing of variable stars with the utmost caution. It is easy to 
Income an addict and, as usual, the longer the indulgence Is 
continued the more difficult it becomes to make a clean break and 
go back to a normal life. As this is written, forty-six Januaries 

68 



variable stabs and tbopic isles 69 

after that snowy jaunt, I have set my alarm clock for 4 a.m. three 
times thus far this month and gone out through the snow to my 
observatories just to spend a chilly hour or two with the predawn 
variables. 

Variable stars came my way at a most propitious time. My 
telescope and I had now explored the skies for many months. 
Like some celestial Captain Cook we had been slowly sailing 
through a far-flung shoal of deep-sky islands. But now, guided by 
my charts, there loomed on my horizon something quite unlike 
those calm unchanging isles of cluster, nebula, and double star. A 
variable star was a completely new experience; it was not just 
something that was thebe, it was something that was happening! 
From the little instruction manual that came with my trial set 
of charts from the AAVSO I learned that a variable star is simply 
a star whose light output is not constant. At certain times such a 
star may be hundreds or even thousands of times brighter than at 
other times. As an example, on die night I walked home from the 
post office carrying my charts and instructions I saw the Northern 
Cross setting in the northwestern sky. Now, had I been familiar 
with all the information which, at that moment, was tucked 
securely under my arm, I would have taken a more careful look 
at that well-known figure. Were there, that night, four stars or 
were there five in the long axis of that cross that began with 
bright Deneb at the top and ended with yellow Albireo at the 
foot? If there were five stars then die one just above Albireo was 
the famous variable star, Chi Cygni. This star is visible to the 
naked eye for about six weeks out of every fourteen months. 
When at its faintest a 4-inch telescope is required to see it. 
Variable stars, like those who watch them, have their ups and 

downs. 

Variety is a universal spice. If human beings all looked alike, 
behaved alike, and thought alike life could get very monotonous 
and the same is true of variable stars for if all variables were 
precisely like Chi we certainly would not lose a great deal of 
sleep over them. Actually Chi is just one member of a large 
family-the Long-Period Family-so named because they require 



70 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 






two hundred to four hundred days to go through a complete 
cycle of variation in Brightness. Chi has many brother and sister 
variables and they all have their own little individual character- 
istics but there is no mistaking them, for each one has that slow, 
deliberate manner that is typical of the family. Chi has a lot of 
cousins, too, ranging from first and second cousins like Semi- 
Regular and Red Giant, all the way to forty-second cousins like 
the Cepheids. These Cepheids are a loquacious lot who have 
tattled many secrets of the skies, but it doesn't take the astrono- 
mers long to find out just how bright they really are. Then they 
put them in their proper place. Also distantly related are the 
members of the Cataclysmic Family. There are some dwarfish 
albinos in this line. As a family they will bear close watching for 
their behavior is quite unpredictable and highly irregular. No 
blood relation at all is the Eclipsing Family. The members of this 
clan are all very precise and dependable but so utterly futile. 
They just go around getting in each other's way! 

In actual practice I found that observing variables is quite 
simple. It consists merely in comparing the brightness of the 
variable with the brightness of other stars in the same field of 
view which are not variable and which have had their magni- 
tudes accurately determined and indicated on the chart. My only 
problem was in locating the variable. 

First of all I had to have a star atlas so that I could plot, on its 
maps, just where the variable was located in the sky. A star atlas 
is actually a geography of the sky. It is usually made up of six or 
more maps which show all the naked-eye stars over the entire 
area of sky. Like earth maps with their meridians of longitude 
and parallels of latitude, sky maps are crossed by hour circles and 
declination circles. The purpose of all such circles is to locate 
positions accurately. Thus my home town of Delphos is located at 
84 degrees west longitude and 41 degrees north latitude while, in 
the sky, the bright star Vega is located near 18 hours of right 
ascension and 40 degrees north declination. The Upton's Star 
Atlas which I purchased that year served me well until it was 
completely worn out thirty years later. It had two features that 



VARIABLE STARS AND TROPIC ISLES 



71 



would make it somewhat outdated today. It still carried the old 
mythological figures of the constellations and it, of course, also 
had the old irregular constellation boundaries. These boundaries 
were revised in 1930 by the International Astronomical Union so 
that they now coincide with arcs of right ascension and declina- 
tion. 

As soon as my star atlas arrived I got out my charts and, 
working very carefully, I made a tiny dot and circle on the maps 
in the precise location of each one of my variables. It was now 
late February and the skies, for seemingly endless nights, were 
completely clouded. Finally, came a change of weather and with 
it a clear, cold night. As soon as darkness fell I bundled up and, 
with telescope, atlas, and charts in my mittencd hands, I went out 
to find my variables. Two hours later when I returned, half 
frozen, to the fire I had not found a single one. 

Nor was I any more successful on several succeeding nights 
and 1 was becoming more and more discouraged. Finally, how- 
ever, on the night of March 1, 1918, I set the telescope up near 
the northeast corner of the house to keep out of the wind and got 
out my chart of the variable, R Lconis. I pointed the telescope at 
the fourth-magnitude star Omicron Leonis and. using it as a base 
of operations I started exploring the adjacent territory. To my 
great delight, about a minute later and just a little more than one 
field to the northeast of Omicron I found the tiny triangle of stars 
with R, my first variable, forming one angle precisely as shown on 
the chart. 

Why had success been so long in coming? Simply because I 
had no mental image of what to look for. I had not bothered to 
figure out just how much of the chart area was covered by the 
instrument's field of view. After this experience 1 soon made a 
wire ring which could be moved about over my charts to show me 
just what my telescope was seeing. In the nights that followed 
other variables were located with comparative ease, but every 
March first since that night, whenever the skies were clear, R 
Leonis and I have recalled our first meeting by making a mutual 
estimate of our brightness. 






72 



STARL1CHT NIGHTS 



The single estimate that I made that night was the beginning 
of a long accumulation of more than a hundred thousand other 
estimates to follow. And the very meager montlily report that I 
sent in to the AAVSO at the end of that March in 1918 began an 
unbroken sequence of 552 consecutive monthly reports to the 
present date— 46 years later. Verily, one can easily become an 
addict. 

So many of the variable stars are total nonconformists and, for 
me, this constitutes their greatest charm. It is their unpredictable 
behavior, more than any other factor, which has so long sustained 
my interest and has made the watching of them a literal ten 
'Thousand and One Nights" of entertainment. 

When I go out tonight and train my glasses on that sky-wide 
stage I am quite certain to find that, among my hand-picked cast 
of erratic actors, some have thrown away the script and are now 
extemporizing. It may be that R Coronae, after years of shining 
as a naked-eye star, has tonight begun a fade-out that will only 
end when it is near the limit of my largest lens. Or perhaps U 
Geminorum, roused from months of faintness, suddenly has 
brightened overnight. As I turn my scope to the north I wonder 
just what Z Camelopardalis and TZ Persei may be doing. One 
never knows from night to night for their behavior is completely 
baffling. I have seen them apparently get "stuck" about halfway 
between their brightest and faintest limits and remain there, 
without noticeable change, for ten months at a time. V Sagittae, a 
novalike variable, usually is putting on a show, while its class- 
mate, Z Andromedae, is only waiting quietly to catch me off my 
guard. I must not forget tonight to glance at Gamma Cassiopeiae, 
the middle star in the familiar "W." For many years now it has 
not changed, but it can, for in 1937 I watched it brighten until it 
nearly equalled first-magnitude Deneb in the Northern Cross! 

There is nothing in all the world of the sky that will provide a 
more lasting source of interest than will these amazing antics of 
the variable stars. And, as I learned many years ago, a 3-inch 
telescope is not required to feed this interest. It can, in fact, be 
made to flourish with no telescope at all. 



VARIABLE STARS AND TROPIC ISLES 



73 



So many times, while showing the stars to others, I have heard 
this plaint: "I would like to watch the stars but I have no tele- 
scope." So many letters have asked: "Where can I buy a telescope 
so that I can study the stars?" Stars and telescopes have come to 
be regarded as inseparable. This is most unfortunate. I may fre- 
quently refer in these pages to the superlative delights of a tele- 
scope and to the enchantments of its deep-sky probings, but 
I would also like to state most emphatically that a telescope is not 
essential to an enjoyment of the stars; that even without optical 
aid of any kind one still can become an accomplished star-gazer. 
No one, as yet, has ever nearly exhausted all the possibilities of 
observing with the naked eye alone. 

Sometimes, when I am watching through my telescopes, the 
question comes to me-what would life be like without a tele- 
scope? How would I use the time that now is devoted to observ- 
ing? Always the question leads, by a long and devious train of 
thought that takes me half around the world, to the conclusion 
that life for me would change but little. Telescope or not, I would 
still keep watch. 

Ever since my early boyhood some of my most avid reading 
has been concerned with shipwrecks and castaways. Enoch Ar- 
den, Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, and Jules Veme's 
Mysterious Island have all held me enthralled for hours on end. 
They still do, and I have often imagined myself in the role of the 
sole survivor, waterlogged and weary, staggering ashore on some 
deserted isle, without a chart, without a compass and— without a 
telescope! 

I have noticed that most of these castaways were able to 
salvage sufficient plunder from their sinking ships to set them- 
selves up in pretty cozy style on shore. In fact some of them never 
had it so good back home. However in my own Saga of the 
Stranded Star-gazer I do not require all this bounty from the 
briny deep. I only ask that I escape from Neptune's wrath with 
some paper and a couple of pencils! 

First of all, while I still remember die date and the day of the 
week on which I landed, I start my calendar to working. My 









74 



STARLICHT NIGHTS 



fellow castaway, Crusoe, kept his lonely log by cutting notches in 
a post, making an extra long notch for Sundays and a double 
length notch for the first day of each month. Fortunately I still 
recall the old reminder-Thirty days hath September," etc., so I 
shall do likewise. Crusoe occasionally forgot to make his daily 
mark and so, perhaps, shall I but it should be possible to make a 
semi-annual check on my calendar provided I am favored with 
clear horizons at the times of the solstices in June and December. 
By means of very careful sightings I should be able to determine 
the date when the sun rises and sets furthest north of the equator 
about June 20, as well as the extreme south points reached 
on December 20. Correct dates are of the utmost importance 
in any kind of record keeping, whether in Ohio or its antipodes 
and any observed phenomena, such as eclipses of the sun and 
moon or occultations of bright stars by the moon will, if recorded, 
serve as later checks on the accuracy of my island calendar. 

Without a doubt die first question that comes to the mind of 
every shipwrecked survivor is: "How do I get out of here?" Some- 
times a little sober reflection might change that "how" to a "why." 
After all, Enoch Arden went home only to find his wife, Annie 
Lee, happily married to his early rival. The crew from The Mys- 
terious Island ended up as six bachelors on a farm in Iowa. In 
1898, when Captain Joshua Slocum, while on the first single- 
handed voyage around the world, put in at the island of Juan 
Fernandez, he visited the cave where Alexander Selkirk, the real- 
life counterpart of Robinson Crusoe, had lived for more than four 
years in complete solitude. Slocum's parting words were, as he 
sailed away: "Blessed island of Juan Fernandez! Why Alexander 
Selkirk ever left you was more than I could make out." 

Perhaps the next concern of tiie castaway will be die question: 
"Where am I?" On the Mysterious Island Captain Harding im- 
mediately set out to determine their longitude and latitude. He 
figured their longitude in what always seemed to me a rather 
sneaky way-his watch was still running on Eastern standard 
time! To utilize this invaluable asset Harding drove a stake in the 
ground and then carefully noted the time by his watch when the 



VARIABLE STARS AND TROPIC ISLES 



75 



shadow cast by the stake was at its shortest. This occurred at their 
12 noon on the island but by his watch it was 5 p.m. It was, 
therefore, 5 hours later in Washington, D.C. than on the island 
and, as the earth turns on its axis 15 degrees per hour, this meant 
that their island was located 75 degrees to the west of their home 
meridian, or 150 degrees west of the Greenwich or prime me- 
ridian. 

Since I made no such timely arrival on my island the question 
of longitude is not for me. Of far greater importance to me is the 
matter of latitude, which has a much more direct bearing on 
temperature and climate. A single look at the night skies would 
suffice to show my latitude with reasonable accuracy, but a more 
precise determination can easily be made simply by measuring 
the angular height of the pole above the horizon. There is no 
conspicuous star near the south pole of the heavens but a few 
night sightings should soon locate the stationary spot in the sky 
around which all the neighboring stars revolve. Having located 
the pole I take one of the sheets of paper that 1 brought ashore 
and, holding it firmly against some vertical support, I sight along 
its long lower edge to the distant sea horizon directly beneath the 
pole. Without moving either my eye or the paper I next sight 
toward the polar point and mark this location on the paper. I 
then draw a straight line between this polar mark and my eye 
location on the paper. My latitude is equivalent to the angle 
included between the line that I have drawn and the bottom edge 
of the paper. 

It is only necessary now to measure this angle in degrees to 
know just how many degrees my island lies north or south of the 
earth's equator. There are several ways I can divide the angle I 
have drawn into the proper number of degrees. I could use the 
moon's apparent diameter of one-half degree as a convenient unit 
or, since the constellation Orion is visible, in season, from every 
desirable deserted island on earth, I could use the three-degree 
length of his belt as a still larger unit. By still another method I 
could point my paper angle at some star near the celestial 
equator, such as Delta in Orion or Eta in Aquila and, with the 



76 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 



VARIABLE STARS AND TROPIC ISLES 



77 



paper lying in the plane of the star's travel across the sky, I could 
mark the angle traversed by the star in four minutes' time. This 
will be just one degree. I measure this four-minute interval by my 
pulse, which has a most convenient rate of 60 beats per minute. 
Therefore 240 beats equal one degree. Come to think of it, this is 
just about as sneaky as Captain Harding's watch! 

I have never ceased to marvel at the almost incredible feats 
performed by some of the early astronomers long before the 
invention of the telescope. In 250 b.c, without any instrumental 
aid, Eratosthenes measured the distance around the earth— and 
he never left home! He then measured the inclination of the 
ecliptic to the equator and, at the same time, made the first 
latitude determination in history-that of his home town of 
Alexandria, Egypt, and with an error of less than ten miles. An- 
other early great of that same period was Hipparchus who 
noticed the slight wobbling movement of the earth which shows 
up in the twenty-six-thousand-year shift in the poles and in the 
tiny annual precession of the equinoxes. Hipparchus also made 
the first really good chart of the heavens, being inspired to do so 
by the sudden appearance, in the year 134 b.c, of a bright new 
star. With this chart he prepared himself to recognize the nature 
of any future strangers in the sky. 

As a boy, still in my pre-spyglass years, I had been fascinated 
by a full-page picture, in our Ridpath's History, of Hipparchus 
standing before his open observatory in Alexandria, measuring 
angular distances in his ancient sky with an instrument known as 
a cross-staff. I, too, soon fashioned a cross-staff that used the 5 
degrees between the Pointer stars of the Dipper as a unit of 
measurement and with it I happily figured angles from star to 
star across the skies of our Ohio farm. Now, once again, I follow 
in the footsteps of Hipparchus as I construct a star chart while on 
my lonely isle 

I draw with particular care the entire Milky Way region so that 
the location of every star that I can see is shown just as accurately 
as I can make it. My reason for all this painstaking detail is this: I 
now have the abundance of time that is necessary for a really 



thorough and systematic search for new stars and, on the average, 
I should succeed in finding one every three or four years. Often in 
the past new stars bright enough to have been seen with the 
naked eye have been found later on photographic plates and 
reported to Harvard College Observatory-the focal point for all 
astronomical telegrams. With persistent watching of the skies I 
should be able to catch some of these new stars-perhaps even on 
their opening night. 

There also will be quite a number of my old friends, the vari- 
able stars, who will keep me company. R Leonis, R Hydra, 
Omicron Ceti, R Serpentis, Chi Cygni, and the irregulars, R 
Coronae and R Scuti, all, at times, are visible to the naked eye 
and all will visit me from time to time. Some of them— perhaps 
all of them-may be quite invisible when I first start watching 
from my sea-bound station but nevertheless, each starry night I 
will search their empty, blank locations in the sky until finally the 
night will come when the first faint flicker of a gleam appears. 
Night after night, week after week it will brighten, then, just as 
slowly, it will fade until at last its place is blank and empty once 
again. 

Still other blank spots in the sky I shall also watch each night- 
spots where once-bright novae now are sleeping. Sometimes these 
slumbering giants have come to life again! Each night too will 
have its streaking meteors and occasionally a fireball will be seen 
and charted. I can always hope for another meteor shower such 
as I saw on the evening of October 9, 1946, when the earth 
passed through the swarming fragments trailing in the wake of 
Giacobini's Comet which had passed that point of intersection 
with our orbit only a few days before. For half an hour on that 
night the sky seemed full of meteors, all streaking from the low 
northwest. At the height of the display one meteor per second 
could be counted— some of them as bright as Venus! 

The Cegenschein-a rarity reserved for perfect moonless nights 
—I shall also see. This phenomenon, which is only faintly seen at 
best, appears as a circular, hazy spot a few degrees in diameter, 
exactly opposite the sun's location in its path around the sky. It is 






78 



STABLICHT NICHTS 



best seen in the month of October when it may be found in the 
faint constellation, Pisces. It is thought to be caused by the sun 
shining on tiny mcteoritic particles that surround the earth. But 
no one knows for certain. 

I shall do some comet hunting too, and mainly my attention 
will l>e focused on the region close about the sun. With the sun's 
disk shielded I shall often do my searching while the sun is in the 
sky. Many comets of the past-and this includes my childhood 
friend of early 1910— first appeared as daylight comets. 

The auroras-lifelong favorites of mine-I shall greatly miss. 
For, ever since I was exposed, while in my callow youth, to Gilda 
Gray's gyrations and the enraptured reading of O'Brien's South 
Sea tales, my isle must be replete with swaying palm trees. And 
coconuts and auroras just don't go together. 

One thing, though, bothers me. Supposing I do find a new star 
or a comet while on my tropic isle-where will I find a bottle to 
carry my message to Harvard? 




10 School Days 



April brought the last of my school days, a war was on; a 
war that would end all wars and make the world safe for democ- 
racy. My older brother Kenneth was with a unit of the heavy 
artillery somewhere in France and, as the spring work was start- 
ing on the farm, it was thought best that I replace him at home 
for the duration and then go back later and finish high school. To 
this I voiced no objection. I was young and youth has always 
welcomed change. 

79 






80 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 



SCHOOL DAYS 



81 



I had enjoyed high school tremendously. It had been a whole 
world different from the monotony of the country school of my 
early years. It had brought new scenes, new acquaintances, and 
new interests. Not once while in high school did I try to escape 
attendance with a feigned sore throat. 

With high school came an entirely new category of studies. 
Here I became aware of English literature and was formally 
introduced to such immortals as Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Sir 
Walter Scott. Their complete works had reposed in our bookcase 
on the farm all my life but I had never read them. This was most 
fortunate. To have met them earlier than I did would only have 
thrown out of line the smoothly meshing wheels of time and 
circumstance. Had I, at twelve, listened to the moonlight 
tryst of Lorenzo and Jessica it would have been hut wordy prose. 
At sixteen it was melody. When I read Scott*s "Lady of the Lake" 
the skirl of bagpipes was echoed by my fife, and I saw the moon 
that danced "on Monan's rill" reflected in the Auglaize River as I 
leaned on the railing of the old iron bridge. Locksley Hall came 
to me at a time when I too was nourished "with the fairy tales of 
science." At a time when I, like Tennyson, also watched the stars 
through a 2-inch telescope. 

Biology and botany were my favorite subjects while in high 
school. I had a year of each of these studies and in looking back I 
cannot now recall any specific thing that I may have learned on 
either subject while in the classroom. I may have chanced to 
wander through those ivied halls just at an unfortunate time but, 
as I remember it, very little was done to promote any lasting 
affinity between the student and those particular subjects. At that 
time visual education seems not to have been invented and field 
trips were frowned upon. Two good Spencer microscopes reposed 
under bell jars on the same shelf beside the spyglass that I had 
longed to look through just the year before. I never got to use 
them. 

In botany we never once tried to identify a plant by using the 
floral key in our textbook. In fact, the botany teacher seldom 
brought up the subject of botany at all! He had come to us fresh 



from Johns Hopkins University and, unfortunately for us, he 
brought his textbooks with him. We took copious notes on his 
lofty lectures from E. B. Wilson's classic work. The Cell. I still 
find in my old notebook page after page devoted to histology, 
microtome technique, and the staining and preparation of bac- 
teriological specimens. 

In spite of all this I enjoyed these two studies for both the 
biology and botany textbooks made fascinating reading and they 
also served a very solid purpose for they became my introduction 
to the nomenclature and classification of the plant and animal 
kingdoms. Ever since the days of Rolf I had been collecting, 
mounting, preserving, and transplanting everything from the 
surrounding fields and woods that didn't actually fight back and 
now these assorted acquisitions took on the added dignity of 
species, genera, and family. 

One unexpected bonanza came from my perusal of the biology 
text. I discovered a new world! It was the unseen world of the 
hay infusion. Following the suggestion in the book I stuffed a 
handful of timothy hay from our mow into a quart mason jar and 
then filled the jar with rain water. After this mixture stood for 
two days in the warm sunshine of my bedroom window a thin 
scum covered the surface of the water. Transferring a drop of this 
liquid to a small fragment of window glass, I maneuvered it into 
the focus of the high-power eyepiece from my spyglass. To my 
amazement that cloudy drop was inhabited by a myriad of tiny 
living creatures all scurrying about their little sphere on circum- 
navigating voyages. Fascinated, I followed their great-circle 
courses with my lens until at last they all had run aground on the 
silicon shores of their drying sea. Again and again I made new 
global seas through which plowed new armadas of Paramecium 
and Colpidium until their undulating oars of cilia slowed to a 
final stop. 

I tried to envision in my mind what an infinite galaxy of worlds 
our haymow held in bonds of arid dormancy. Surely they must 
outnumber the countless stars of the sky. I wondered, too, how 
many spyglass lenses had ever watched two such extremes— the 



82 



STAHLIGHT NIGHTS 



microcosmic worlds in water drops and the giant orbs of the 
Milky Way. 

My only high school problem was one that I had in common 
with all rural students then-the problem of getting there. At that 
time there was no convenient school bus, with its pickup and 
delivery service, such as we have today. We had to get there 
under our own power. In my case this was usually by bicycle and, 
as school was four miles away, this means of transportation was 
far from pleasant in unfavorable weather. No doubt this daily 
inconvenience helped me to accept my dropping out of school in 
such a placid manner, but the main reason that I welcomed the 
change in my affairs was the fact that, at that time, winning the 
war was uppermost in the minds of everyone and farming seemed 
to be much more important than acquiring an education. 

A higher education was not then regarded as the indispensable 
adjunct that it is today. The country grade school that I had 
attended consisted of just one large room. Here one teacher 
taught all eight grades in such varied subjects as reading, writing, 
spelling, arithmetic, history, grammar, physiology, and geogra- 
phy. This meant that the teacher had about twenty classes to 
listen to every day-five of these in reading alone-while at the 
same time he attempted to preserve a semblance of decorum in 
the rest of the assembly. In his idle moments he fed the big, 
hungry coal stove which stood in the center of the room. 

A blackboard ran the full length of the long north wall and 
above this hung three large pictures. On the right was a portrait 
of a stern and dignified President McKinley seated between his 
wife and mother. In the center picture the battle of Mobile Bay 
raged at full speed regardless of torpedoes, while the picture on 
the left was an arctic scene showing Eskimos, igloos, polar bears, 
and icebergs. This picture may have had a title but I have for- 
gotten it. 

In one corner of the schoolroom sat an ornate but wheezy foot- 
powered parlor organ which two of the older girls alternated in 
playing for the song session that started off each day's quest for 
knowledge. We pupils were always permitted to choose the songs 



1 



SCHOOL DAYS 



83 



for these musical moments and, quite unaccountably, the out- 
standing favorite was the song entitled, "Work for the Night Is 
Coming." Other frequently requested numbers were "Juanita," 
"Swanee River," and "Ding Dong Dell." We sang all these in 
unison for we knew nothing of part singing— which may well 
have been a blessing in disguise. 

I recall one incident that took place in one of my classes during 
my first year in school, an incident which, in view of my later 
concern with the doings of the universe, seems something less 
than auspicious. There were only three of us in the class that 
day— two little girls and myself. We were probably studying the 
First Reader, but of this I am not certain. I only know that it was 
an ultra-elementary class of some kind and that the teacher had 
asked the question— "What is the shape of the world?" 

"It's round," replied one little girl. 

The second girl added her bit, "It's like a ball." 

"That's right," replied the teacher. "Now then, where do we 
live? Are we inside or outside this ball?" 

Both little girls in unison, "Outside." 

Little boy's reply— drowned out by girls, "Inside." 

1 waited expectantly for the teacher to set the girls straight 
after their silly answer but it was recess time and the class was 
dismissed without further comment. I pondered over these two 
opposing theories the rest of the afternoon and I took the prob- 
lem home with me that night where my mother failed me com- 
pletely by favoring the girls' side of the affair. But I didn't give 
up without a struggle, for in the blue vault of sky by day and in 
the bowl of stars by night I could plainly see the inner surface of 
my world. O well! Greater minds than mine have seen the world 
as flat or even as supported by four elephants standing on a 
waddling turtle! 

Each Friday afternoon we closed the week's activities with an 
hour or two of sheer frivolity. Actually it was a sort of postman's 
holiday for we were given our choice of either "spelling down" or 
"ciphering." The first of these was, of course, a spelling contest. 
The teacher would appoint two opposing captains who would 



84 



STARL1CHT NIGHTS 



SCHOOL DAYS 



85 



"choose up sides," each captain alternately choosing a pupil until 
we all wen ranged along the opposite sides of the room. The 
teacher would then pronounce the words and whenever a pupil 
missed a word he sat down and the opposing side tried it. Cipher- 
ing was conducted along similar lines, though here it was a race 
against time in solving problems in simple arithmetic at the 
blackboard. Sometimes, in the mild weather of spring and fall, 
these Friday afternoons would be given over to a baseball game 
with some nearby district school. Our team was noteworthy in at 
least two respects. We had the only girl player in the league. 
Addis Ludwig was the tallest member of the team and played 
first base with the best of them. Also, two of our nine players (my 
brother Kenneth and Myron Foust), later on became semipro 
players. 

We were given a fifteen minute recess at ten o'clock each 

morning and another in midafternoon. Our noon hour started off 

with a dash to the southeast corner of the schoolroom where all 

our lunch taxes were ranged on two long shelves. Ten minutes 

teter the lunches had disappeared and the room was deserted. 

Outside, on the acre of schoolground, several games would be 

forming; games of baseball-if anyone had a ball and bat-or of 

prisoners base" or "blackman," both of which required no other 

equipment than two good legs. Another group-the temporary 

affluent-would walk the dusty quarter mile to Tobe Lulu-ell's 

grocery store for a penny's worth of candy corn or a stick of the 

round, white, pencil-size "Long Tom" chewing gum which later 

that day would finish its flavorful career on the underside of a 

desk or seat or, if tossed outside, would eventually gain some 

added mileage through a pickup by a passing shoe sole. 

One afternoon at school we had a special recess. It was on this 
occasion that I saw my first eclipse of the sun. Mr. Humphreys 
our teacher, knowing of the impending affair, had brought along 
that morning a number of small pieces of glass. At noon he re- 
moved one of our six oil lamps from its bracket on the wall and 
placed it on a desk. When it was lighted we held the glasses just 
above the flame until a small area near the end acquired a heavy 



black coating of carbon. At the time scheduled for the eclipse to 
begin we all went outside and trained our smoky glasses on the 
sun. The eclipse already had begun for we could easily see a 
small black notch in the sun's western edge. We watched for 
about fifteen minutes then, as the eclipse would be only a partial 
one at best, we went back inside where Mr. Humphreys drew a 
large diagram on the blackboard and explained to us the me- 
chanics involved in what we had just seen. 

Alter school was dismissed for the day I lingered behind a little 
and told Mr. Humphreys that I had seen a little black speck on 
the- sun while we were watching the eclipse. He had not seen it 
but said that undoubtedly it was a sunspot. When I asked what a 
sunspot was he replied that it was thought to be a hole in the 
outer surface of the sun. After the schoolhouse was locked up for 
the night we two walked homeward together until our roads 
separated half a mile to the north. As we went along he talked of 
8 trip that he and his brother had made that summer to visit their 
family and relatives back in Wales. We were approaching the 
crossroads when I recalled something-probably brought on by 
the events of the afternoon. 

"Mr. Humphreys, do you know the proper order of the three 
outer planets?" 

"No," he graciously replied, "I'm always getting them' mixed 
up." 

"They are Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune," I expounded, "and 
their initials spell sun." 

1 had only recently acquired this little gem from my mother, 
and to be able to pass it on to a schoolteacher made it all quite a 
day for me. 

Mr. Humphreys was my teacher for four of my eight years in 
the country school. He had progressive ideas far in advance of 
the times. For all such holidays as Thanksgiving, Christmas, 
Washington's Birthday, Arbor Day, and the last day of school he 
arranged programs in which each pupil had a part. He tried to 
teach us citizenship along with our textbook studies. We even 
held court occasionally to try our own misdemeanor cases. A day 






OO STARLIGHT NIGHTS 

or two before each state and national election we held our own 
ejections. Most of these school elections were Democratic land- 
slides but we managed to elect Talt in November 1908, and Mr 
Humphreys was visibly elated. Tom was a dedicated teacher and 
a kind and sympathetic friend. 

The grading system in these country schools was a rather vague 
affair. One grade just sort of blended into the next and in 
general, school was something that one eventually outgrew rather 
than graduated from. Many of the older pupils were eighteen or 
twenty years old before they finally left for other endeavors This 
is m no way a reflection on the intelligence of those students- 
there simply was- no incentive for a higher education unless the 
student intended to become a schoolteacher rather than a 
farmer. Even the school term itself was often a matter of personal 
convenience, for it was customary for the older boys to start their 
school term after the cornhusking was finished in the fall and 
these same ones left each spring as soon as the ground was dry 
enough to start plowing. To my knowledge, I was the first 
alumnus of that country school to go on to high school and even 
hen, as has already been related, I became a dropout victim of 
those wartime years. 

The tremendous wave of patriotic fervor engendered by World 
War I here m my home town was something never experienced 
before or since. We were waging a war against Militarism and we 
were assured that with victory would dawn a millennium of 
peace on earth. No personal sacrifice was too great if it would 
further the war effort in any way. Our various fund drives were 
all oversubscribed; we had meatless days, wheatless days, and 
sweetless days. We ate war bread and we sweetened our coffee 
with corn syrup and we liked it! 

Here and there, of course, some went much too far in their 
patriotic zeal and did things which were just plain silly. Our town 
had been founded by emigrants from Germany and throughout 
to history the greater proportion of its citizens have been of 
German descent and many of these families still spoke that 
language in their homes. In the front windows of these same 






SCHOOL DAYS 



87 






homes one could usually see veritable constellations of service 
stars, for these families, as a rule, were large. But it was a season 
of distrust and here was a fertile soil for germinating the seeds of 
suspicion. On several occasions these sprouted into ugly growth 
and self-appointed groups made up of some of the town's re- 
spected citizens caught the vigilante vims and forced their be- 
wildered neighbors to publicly kiss the flag. Freedom of speech 
was a dangerous thing during World War I. In my final month of 
high school our class in German grammar was discontinued by 
order of the Board of Education. 

That summer, for the first time, the farmer prospered in a 
modest way. A bushel of wheat brought $2.20. Clover seed rose 
to an all-time high of $30.00 per bushel. Land was at a premium 
and sold for as much as $300.00 an acre. Strawberries, our long- 
time specialty, which in my spyglass days brought a top price of 
15 cents per quart, rose to an unheard-of price of 60 cents that 
June. But that was also the first June that we had none for sale. 
Dad had said: "We can hit the Kaiser harder with an ear of corn!" 




11 June Spectacular 



June 8, 1918 is a date i shall never forget, on this day, in 
late afternoon, the shadow of the moon would march across 
America. Once again I would see but a partial eclipse, in most 
respects a duplicate of the one I had watched through a smoked 
glass from the country schoolyard just three fields and a woods 
away. But that was long ago and I knew that I had missed many 
details of that first event. 
For the past several months I had been reading about the 



JUNE SPECTACULAR 89 

coming spectacle. It would be a total eclipse in a narrow belt, not 
more than sixty miles wide, running diagonally all the way across 
the country from the State of Washington to Florida. On either 
side of this thin line would be another belt two thousand miles 
wide in which the eclipse would be only partial. Here in Ohio, 
more than five hundred miles north of the line of totality the sun 
would be about 75 per cent covered by the moon. 

It would be the first total eclipse of the twentieth century in 
the United States and in spite of wartime restrictions and in spite 
of the fact that many astronomers were in active service— some 
at the front, others doing computing and teaching navigation- 
neverthcless it promised to be the most completely observed 
eclipse in history. Most of the eclipse expeditions were setting up 
their camps along the western end of the totality path— for a 
number of reasons. There the duration of totality would be at its 
greatest. In Washington and Oregon the sun would be covered 
by the moon's disk for a full two minutes; in Oklahoma for a 
minute and a half; while in Florida it would last slightly under 
one minute. But totality- duration is only of secondary importance 
compared to that always uncertain atmospheric factor— clouds. 
Many an eclipse expedition has traveled halfway around the 
world, spent weeks in setting up elaborate equipment and re- 
hearsing its carefully planned program, only to have a cloud drift 
across the sun just before totality. A site is not selected until its 
shady past is thoroughly investigated and its cloudy-sky per- 
centages for that particular day and hour in former years are 
carefully weighed and compared with those of all other possible 
sites. Hen- again, the more arid West was heavily favored. One 
final advantage of the West was that the eclipse would begin 
there a full forty-five minutes before it would arrive in the East 
and the sun would therefore be higher in the sky and less affected 
by the heavy atmosphere of the horizon. 

Even though some certain locality along the path seems to offer 
superlative advantages over all others it would be the height of 
folly for all parties to settle there and gamble everything on the 
whim of some tiny cloud. Whenever it is at all possible the 



90 



STARL1CHT NIGHTS 



various camps are strung out along the path so that some of them, 
at least, may be successful. The party from Lick Observatory 
located at Goldendale, Washington. At Baker, Oregon, was the 
Naval Observatory camp, while both Yerkes and Mt. Wilson 
decided on Green River, Wyoming, for their stations. In addition 
to these a large number of smaller parties located in central and 
eastern Colorado. 

In reading up on eclipses in preparation for the coming event I 
learned that from two to five solar eclipses visit the surface of our 
planet each year. However, some of these may be only partial 
while others, though total, may strike the earth in inaccessible 
regions such as the poles or their line of totality may fall entirely 
on the vast surface of the sea. On the average the astronomers 
can expect a good observable total eclipse of the sun about every 
third year. I learned, too, that any particular spot on the earth 
might look forward to such an eclipse once every 360 years. This 
too is just an average for some localities seem to be much more 
fortunate than others. Denver, Colorado, for example lay right in 
line with the coming June 8 blackout and only forty years before, 
in 1878, it had also been in the path of a previous totality. At the 
other extreme I could find no record that our farm had enjoyed 
any such solar spectacle within historic times and certainly there 
will be none within the present century. 

My mother thought that she remembered seeing one as a small 
child, but if so, it could not have been from this region. She did, 
however, recall in detail, as a relic of her schoolteaching days, a 
poem by Whittier entitled "Abraham Davenport." This poem 
vividly describes the celebrated "Dark Day of New England," a 
day so dark that: 

Birds ceased to sing, and all the barnyard fowls 
Roosted; the cattle at the pasture bars 
Lowed and looked homeward. 

It was a day of such weird gloom that: 

All ears grew sharp to hear the doom-blast of the trumpet 
Shatter the black skv. 



JUNE SPECTACULAR 



91 






From all the phenomena cited in the poem my mother quite 
naturally assumed that it referred to a total eclipse of the sun, but 
in delving further into the records-particularly those furnished 
me by the Ferguson Library of Stamford, Connecticut, the locale 
of the poem, I find that the reference was simply to an extremely 
dark midday cloud overcast which may have held an added 
mixture of fright, superstition, and smoke from forest fires, for 
there was no eclipse of any kind in New England on May 19, 
1780, the date recorded in Whittier's poem. 

Actually there was a total eclipse of the sun in New England 
that same year but it did not occur until October 21, a full five 
months after the "Dark Day," and it was total only in the state of 
Maine. This eclipse was noteworthy in that it marked the first 
organized American eclipse expedition. This occurred during 
the Revolutionary War and at that particular time the British 
forces occupied that part of Maine wherein the path of totality 
lay. However, the British garrison at Penobscot generously 
granted permission for an eclipse party from the Commonwealth 
of Massachusetts to choose an eclipse site in that vicinity. This 
eclipse marked a truly "dark day" for American astronomy for, 
due to either some miscalculations or to faulty moon tables, the 
expedition failed to quite locate in the totality belt and conse- 
quently saw it only in its partial phase. 

On my long-awaited morning of the eighth the sun rose clear 
and bright and throughout the early hours of that rare June day 1 
watched the sky as anxiously as did any of the astronomers along 
the central path. As I drove the cows to pasture I noticed that 
they made long dark trails through the sparkling sheen of the 
dew-drenched grass. This I had always found a good fair-weather 
sign. About ten o'clock a sudden shadow, falling on the field of 
inch-high corn that I was cultivating, made me stop and look up 
quickly. High, fleecy clouds were riding eastward in the deep 
blue sky. Long a confirmed cloud watcher, I singled out a little 
Wisp of white and carefully surveyed it. Right before my eyes I 
saw it shrink and disappear, but it left me with another omen of 
clear skies. 



92 STARLICHT NIGHTS 

About three o'clock that afternoon I rode the clanking culti- 
vator back to the bam and put the sweaty team away. It was time 
to get my eclipse station ready for the big event. First of all I 
called Western Union on the telephone, got the correct time, and 
brought our battered Ingersoll alarm clock up to date. Then I 
clamped my spyglass on its grindstone mount and carried it out 
to the front yard where, in the shade of one of Grandpa's twice- 
planted walnut trees, I had a good clear view of the southwestern 
sky. The morning clouds which had speckled the farm with 
shadows had long since disappeared and with them went my 
weather worries. I was certain now that at least one station would 
be favored with fair skies. 

On my June afternoon I knew full well that a partial eclipse 
had no scientific value and that no respectable astronomer would 
be caught looking at one, but it was my first opportunity to watch 
one with anything more formidable than a piece of smoked glass. 
Now I had a telescope and that telescope had a deep-red sun 
filter as an accessory for its high-power eyepiece. I intended to 
make the most of it 

A glance at the alarm clock told me that in just two minutes the 
warning tocsin of first contact would bring the deepening shadow 
of the moon out of the Pacific and start it on its swift cross- 
country trip. Even so, that flying shadow would not reach the 
farm for more than half an hour. So, with everything in readiness 
and some time to spare, I turned the 2-inch on the sun. 

The year 1918 was near a sunspot maximum and through my 
filtered lens the red-faced sun revealed a scattered rash of pock- 
marks. Seeing them thus recalled to me my first eclipse ten years 
or more before when, at the previous maximum, I had found a 
giant sunspot-without a telescope. Several times during 1916 
and 1917 I had seen other naked-eye sunspots; once on an early 
morning when ihe sun shone dimly through a clearing bank of 
fog; again on an autumn evening as it set in a drifting pall of 
smoke from far-off forest fires. But most of the giant spots that I 
had seen-each one at least four times larger than the earth-had 
announced their presence on the previous night by a vivid fanfare 
of auroral streamers in the northern sky. 







JUNE SPECTACULAR 



93 






I watched the sun for a long time that day as I waited for the 
eastward speeding shadow to overtake the eastward spinning 
farm. It was the longest session that the sun and I had ever held 
and I found it hard to realize that I was looking at a star. Then 
my mind became involved in wondering why an astronomer 
would spend the long dark hours of the night in worrying about 
some tiny star a billion light years distant at the very limit of his 
sight, then sleep throughout the day while the nearest, brightest 
star of all was shining just outside his darkened window. 

Just then the alarm clock sounded. The shadow should be 
coming quickly now; it might, right then, be crossing Indiana. I 
shifted the telescope ever so slightly toward the western edge of 
the sun-then, a moment later, I was staring spellbound as the 
moon, right on time, took its first little nibble from the red-hot 
cookie of the sun. Slowly, inexorably, the moon moved eastward 
as it ate its way into the sun with the nicked and broken teeth of 
its mountained leading edge. Sunspot after sunspot was swal- 
lowed by the black invader until at mid-eclipse they all had 
disappeared, leaving nothing but a crimson-colored crescent sun 
with downward pointing cusps. Then I recalled that weird out- 
rage recorded by another spyglass wielder— "The Ancient Mari- 
ner"-who saw "The horn6d moon, with one bright star within 
the nether tip." What I now saw seemed stranger still— a horned 
sun with one dark moon within its nether tip. 

At mid-eclipse I turned away and looked about. Everything I 
saw, the nearby fields, the distant vistas, all seemed wrapped in 
some unearthly early twilight. The sky seemed darker— shadows 
faint and indistinct. A cool wind, almost chilly, had sprung up 
from the west. The grass beneath the nearby maple now was 
appliqued with scores of crescent suns, projected there from each 
small aperture between the leaves above. 

Back again at the telescope I could see that now the darkest 
phase had passed. Seated atop my low stepladder I watched, 
fascinated, as the moon, now in full retreat, slowly relinquished 
all the solar spoils which it had won. From behind the low serra- 
tions of the profiled mountains of the moon, one by one the 
sunspots now emerged from occultation. When finally the last 



94 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 



JUNE SPECTACULAR 



95 






black segment of the moon had dwindled and disappeared I 
realized that I had just been witness to a strange event that takes 
place unseen every month; a brand new moon had been trans- 
figured from the body of the old. Only during an eclipse of the 
sun can we note the instant when the old moon, moving east- 
ward, crosses the median line of the sun and becomes a fresh new 
moon just starting out on another monthly lifetime. 

All over America the eclipse was ended. "The moving finger 
writes and, having writ, moves on." Like a moving finger of 
darkness the cone-shaped shadow of the moon had dipped down, 
scrawled its brief two-minute mark of night across the land and 
then moved on, still writing, but now with invisible ink upon the 
empty page of space. 

Along the narrow track of totality astronomers from all over 
the world packed up their precious plates and prepared to leave 
for home. Weeks before, they had assembled here and had 
carefuly taken their places in line in order to see a spectacle that 
would last just two brief minutes. For the most part they left well 
pleased with the performance though, as always, some had been 
unfortunate in their choice of seats along the lengthy aisle. And as 
they started homeward not one in all that far-flung audience 
could know that this was just an intermission and that the show 
they came so far to see would be a double feature. 

When darkness came that evening I clamped my spyglass to 
the grindstone mount which still was standing at the station 
underneath the walnut tree. I hoisted it up on my shoulder and 
earned it out to the middle of the front yard and stood it where I 
would have a clear view of the variable stars in the southeastern 
sky. That was the night that I forgot all about telescopes and 
variables for as I turned and looked up at the sky, right there in 
front of me-squarely in the center of the Milky Way-was a 
bright and blazing star! 

I have always wished that I could recapture my sensations of 
those first few minutes of that sighting. That I was bewildered 
and confused goes without saying for I had acquired a fair 
knowledge of the stars and constellations and here, right before 



me, was a total stranger, a star that had not been there just the 
night before. I do remember wondering, momentarily, if one of 
the planets could possibly have strayed that far from the ecliptic. 
1 checked the star's position in my Upton's Atlas and my Field 
Book of the Stars still has my penciled plottings of that night. 

It was my first view of a nova, and what a wonder of a new 
star it turned out to be. Nova Aquila-as it was called-was, 
when I first saw it, of equal brightness to its near neighbor Altair, 
which is a standard first-magnitude star. Before the night was 
over it was even noticeably brighter than Vega, the brightest star 
of the summer sky. It was seen that night all over the world by 
people in all walks of life who were familiar with the stars. It is 
logical to assume that it may first have been seen by shepherds or 
by wandering nomads in the Far East, where darkness came 
earlier than here. Several of the astronomers still at their eclipse 
sites saw the star when darkness came to America. Barnard, of 
Yerkes, who during his lifetime seldom missed any newcomers in 
(he sky, saw it from his station at Green River, Wyoming, while 
on his way back to town after packing up his plates of the eclipse. 

Following the announcement of the appearance of Nova 
Aquila, quite a number of people insisted that they saw it bright 
on the previous night. Fortunately, the eye of the patrol camera 
had also seen the nova on that night and had recorded it as being 
of the sixth magnitude-just barely visible to the naked eye. 
Thus, even in 1918, such things as vivid imaginations, poor 
memories, and notoriety seekers already were abroad in the land. 

All during the night of June 8, the nova increased in bright- 
ness and the following night reached its peak. It was by far the 
brightest nova in more than three hundred years since 1604 when 
Johannes Kepler, the great astronomer-mathematician, had 
watched a similar outburst in the nearby constellation of Ophiu- 
chus. My own estimate of the nova on June 9, when at its 
greatest brilliance, was magnitude, minus 1.5, or almost exactly 
the equal of Sirius, the brightest of all the stars. Since Sirius is a 
winter star and not visible in June, I could only make this esti- 
mate by my memory of Sirius as it appeared in the winter sky. 



96 



STARL1CHT NIGHTS 



This is decidedly not the way to make estimates and I was 
greatly relieved when the final official figure of its brightness was 
announced as magnitude, minus 1.4 or one-tenth magnitude 
fainter than my guesstimate, 

Following its brief night of glory the nova began to fade, quite 
sharply at first, then more gradually and with many minor fluctu- 
ations until, about eleven years later, it had finally simmered 
down to its original twelfth magnitude and there it has quietly 
slumbered ever since, content with its dreams of that night in 
June when it came on stage— a newborn star— and stole the 
show! 







12 Copus Hill 



O.N NOVEMBER ] 1, 1918 WORLD WAR 1 FINALLY CAME TO AN END. 

Whistles blew, bells rang, there was great celebrating, and Alfred 
Noyes penned the satirical lines of "A Victory Dance." After 
passing the winter with the Army of Occupation in Germany, 
Kenneth returned home, was married shortly after, and then 
moved onto his own sixty-acre farm adjoining ours on the north. 
My sister, Dorothy, also married, was now living in a nearby 
town. 

97 












98 STARLIGHT NIGHTS 

Suddenly our six-room house had become quite commodious 
and I now had a room all my own. Like a child with a new toy I 
made the most of it. I painted the walls and ceiling and hung new 
curtains at the window. 1 built a long, narrow workbench which I 
placed in front of the window and in the center of this bench, 
where it would get all the daylight possible, reposed my home- 
made microscope. This was a miniature of a regular model and I 
had fashioned it of walnut, using for its optics, the 60-power 
eyepiece from my spyglass. At one end of the workbench, out of 
the direct light, stood a small aquarium filled with pond water 
from the woods. It was what my biology textbook called a bal- 
anced aquarium for it contained a self-maintaining balance of 
both plant and animal life. Duckweed, like little lily pads, floated 
on the surface, while below, tiny daphnia and bristle-tailed 
cyclops spun around in jerky orbits. Half a dozen pale, trans- 
lucent fairy shrimps, with undulating plumes, swam about se- 
renely on their backs while two scuba-diving beetles, their 
spheres of air gleaming like drops of mercury, searched for 
sunken treasure among the plants and seashells on the sandy 
bottom. As custodians, four bright-red snails, in true slow motion, 
plied their sanitary push brooms in crisscross streaks about their 
little home. 

On the cast wall of my room I fastened the walnut case that I 
had made the year before to house my collection of butterflies 
and moths. This case, when first made, had a tightly fitting door 
but later a tiny crack developed somewhere and through it my 
case came to house just one insect too many-a little matron 
named Anthrenus-who laid her eggs in the bodies of my other 
specimens and before I knew it I had nothing but a pile of 
assorted legs and wings in the bottom of the case. I puttied up 
the crack in the door and after disinfecting the case with carbon 
disulphide I repaired my old insect net and started making a new 
collection. Cocoons collected on my winter walks, larvae raised in 
wire cages in an unused shed, and a couple of nights spent in 
"sugaring" a tree back in the woods by painting the trunk with 
an appealing concoction of honey and syrup soon repopulated my 
case with a new world of Lepidoptera. 






COPUS HILL 



99 



The north wall of my room held two smaller cases. These had 
no doors but consisted simply of closely spaced open shelves. In 
one case was my collection of local rocks and minerals together 
with a number of fossil brachiopods that had been washed out of 
the gravel of the river bank. The remaining case held Indian 
relics-arrowheads, stone axes, and a couple of skinning imple- 
ments of flint-nearly all of which had been picked up on our 
own farm. In one corner of the room a hornet's nest, roughly a 
foot in diameter, hung suspended from the ceiling, while on a 
shelf above my bed were about a dozen of the books that cur- 
rently rated highest on my most-often-wanted list. 

Books were never easily come by except, of course, at Christ- 
mas and on birthdays but with each book that I bought I fol- 
lowed my mother's commendable practice of inscribing not only 
my name but also the date of purchase on the flyleaf of every 
newly acquired volume. As previously intimated I save things, and 
I still have all those books that I bought in my declining teens. 
Most of these, of course, deal with astronomy— Todd's Stars and 
Telescopes, Flammarion's Astronomy for Amateurs, Olcott's Star 
Lore of AH Ages, Serviss' Curiosities of the Skies, Webb's Celestial 
Objects for Common Telescopes. McKready's Beginner's Star 
Book, and Pleasures of the Telescope by Serviss all have teen-age 
dates in them. 

On other varied subjects for these same years were such titles 
as The Book of Woodcraft by Seton, The Butterfly and Moth 
Book by Robertson-Miller, Twenty-Thousand Leagues under the 
Sea by Verne, Minerals and How to Study Them by Dana, and 
Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle. These early dated books 
were purchased with my own infrequent dollars and thus they 
tell me, as well as could the pages of a diary, what were my chief 
concerns in those first two postschool years-though I will cheer- 
fully admit to still other interests and other dates than those re- 
corded by my books. 

At the time I left school it was planned that with the coming of 
peace and with my brother's return from service I would go back 
and finish my final year of high school. These two conditions now 
were both fulfilled and, in addition, we now had a car— a Model 



100 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



COPUS HILL 



101 






T— which would have solved my old problem of transportation. 
But now I had not the slightest desire to go back to school. In 
fact, when I left school I was fairly certain in my own mind that I 
would never return. Nevertheless, during the summer I gave this 
a lot of thought and finally decided that a high school diploma 
would be of little benefit unless I went on to another four years of 
college. This was not even to be considered. Not only would it 
have been a financial hardship but there was still just as much 
work on the farm as ever. 

To be completely honest, there was yet another reason why 1 
took a rather dim view of any further schooling. That reason was 
that life on the farm was so pleasant, so independent, and so 
complete that I had no desire to give it up. By this I do not mean 
that it was all fun, for certainly there was plenty of hard work 
and long hours, especially during the rush seasons of planting and 
harvesting but it was labor and time devoted to one's own inter- 
ests. My parents left the matter entirely up to me and never once 
have I regretted my decision. 

Unless one of our rush seasons was on I usually managed to get 
back to the woods nearly every day— most often in the early 
evening. On Sundays I would spend the entire afternoon either in 
the woods or along the river. In summer I would be armed with 
my butterfly net, a cyanide jar for killing specimens, and a small 
stiff box for storing them until I reached home. In winter, with 
plenty of leisure time, these walks were often all day treks and I 
then ranged far afield. On such occasions I always took along a 
lunch consisting of some bread and a large slice of sugar-cured 
ham which I would broil on a green stick of wood over a small 
fire. 

In my nineteenth summer I took my first vacation camping 
trip. Dad and Mother had just returned from visiting some rela- 
tives living near Mansfield. Ohio, about a hundred miles east of 
our home. While there they had hunted up the location of what 
was known as The Copus Monument"-a small marble shaft 
that had been erected to mark the site of a battle in 1812 in which 
Mother's great-grandfather, James Copus, and three soldiers were 
killed by a band of marauding Indians. 



Their little pilgrimage to those hills so steeped in the early 
history of our family had so impressed Mother and Dad that on 
dieir return home they urged me to take the car and make the 
same trip. It was a most welcome suggestion and I began to make 
plans at once. Today it seems quite incredible but, at nineteen, I 
had never been away from home overnight and at that time my 
furthest peregrination had been made as a child of six or seven, 
when my mother and I had made a one-day trip on the electric 
interurban car to Fort Wayne— fifty miles away! 

As my companion on this expedition into the wilds of north- 
central Ohio I decided to ask my good friend Gilbert Miller. We 
had become acquainted in high school and the friendship had 
prospered to the point where we got together at least once a 
week. This was usually on Saturday night, when we would either 
play records on his victrola or go to an early movie. Gilbert was 
an extremely well-read chap whose mind was a vast and orderly 
storehouse of facts about a great diversity of subjects-particu- 
larly on things scientific and mechanical. In addition, he was a 
born musician, with an ear aware of every nuance of tone and 
with the facile touch to faithfully interpret it. I have gready 
benefited by our long acquaintance. Through him I first met 
Omar Khayyam; he introduced me to the hilarious humor of P. G. 
Wodehouse; and from his hands came my first hearing of the rich 
tone poems of MacDowell's "Woodland Sketches" and the "Peer 
Gynt Suites" by Grieg. 

Gilbert was just as delighted as I at the prospect of a camping 
trip and we decided on a stay of at least four days. We would 
travel, of course, in our "tin lizzie," as these early Fords were 
more-or-less affectionately called. This car had made possible our 
weekly get-togethers, for it was mine for the asking nearly any 
night but lodge night, and Gilbert and I both were familiar with 
its virtues and its limitations. In those days a new car came 
equipped with a full set of tools, including jack and tire pump, and 
one was supposed to know how to use them. There was no spare 
tire, for neither the wheels nor the rims could be taken off the car 
so all tire repairs had to be made on the road right at the scene of 
the disaster. Of necessity we had become fairly familiar with the 










102 



STABLICHT NIGHTS 



COPUS HILL 



103 









intricate innards of our Model T. We had ground valves, installed 
piston rings and relined transmission bands as well as performed 
numerous minor operations. Our car was a five-passenger touring 
car— one had a choice of that or a two-passenger roadster— and 
as for color there was even less variety for, as Henry Ford once 
said: "We'll give them any color so long as it's black." But we 
were proud of it. It was a good car and worth every cent of the 
three-hundred and fifty dollars we had paid for it. 

Early on an August morning we started out. The rear seat of 
the car was piled high with blankets, pillows, and extra clothing. 
One noisy carton held our dishes, our frying pan, and our coffee 
pot, while a large covered hamper was filled with our provisions. 
We left well stocked with all those edibles that a camper or a 
pioneer traditionally consumes. We had enough bacon and eggs 
for a two-week tour and our supply of coffee would have 
warmed the heart of any Brazilian Chamber of Commerce. We 
had no time-honored haunch of venison but we did have a great 
quantity of thick slices from a sugar-cured haunch of hog. In- 
cluded also were numerous cans of pork and beans and Gilbert's 
mother sent along a big batch of homemade cookies and dough- 
nuts. As I recall it we had no salads or green vegetables of any 
kind-but probably neither had our predecessors, Daniel Boone, 
and Lewis and Clark. As we left Dad remarked that maybe we 
ought to take along some beads and cheap trinkets as trading 
stock just in case we met up with any Indians still lurking in the 
wilderness. 

During most of the long drive we bowled right along at twenty- 
five to thirty miles an hour for the roads, though still unpaved, 
were dry and in fairly good condition. We soon left the Hat 
farmland behind and the roads led up and down over rolling hills 
devoted to grazing and often covered by thick woods of oak and 
beech with here and there an occasional yellow birch to tell us of 
the lessening lime content of the soil. 

As we approached Mansfield the terrain became even more 
rugged. These were the first real hills that we had ever seen and 
they also seemed to be the first that our Model T had yet en- 



countered. It, quite frankly, didn't care for them and several 
times it protested with considerable warmth. Going down hill, 
though, was a lot of fun. Once headed downward on a long hill I 
would turn off the switch on the coil box— the car had neither 
battery nor instrument panel— and we would coast all the way to 
the bottom. Here I would turn the ignition back on, throw in the 
high-speed lever, release the clutch pedal and the engine would 
start again. Unfortunately we could never use the momentum 
acquired in coming down to help us to climb the succeeding hill 
for there was always a rickety one-way bridge at the bottom that 
slowed us down to a crawl. If the ascent was a steep one, long 
before we reached the summit I would have to push the clutch 
pedal all the way down. This threw the planetary transmission— 
the pride and joy of the Model T-into low gear with the result 
that the radiator cap soon became a miniature of Old Faithful as 
clouds of steam were wafted back to us through the opened 
upper half of the windshield. 

In the little town of Mifflin we drove slowly, watching for a 
pump and horse trough on our right and here, following the map 
that Dad had drawn for us, we turned off the highway onto a 
narrow country road. After several miles of cautious winding in 
and out among the wooded hills and after fording two small 
streams we finally sighted— directly before us— a sharp white 
spire rising above the surrounding low bushes. It was the Mecca 
of our journey— the Copus Monument. 

We stopped the car on the hillside road just above the monu- 
ment and looked about. Along this road, on the afternoon of 
September 15, 1882, just seventy years to the day after the battle, 
more than 1,200 horse-drawn carriages, wagons, and carts had 
passed in review at the unveiling of the monument. We read the 
inscriptions on the shaft then drove slowly on. The afternoon was 
nearly gone and we still had to find a suitable campsite before 
dark. Less than a mile further on we found it— a perfect little 
spot right beside the rocky bed of a rushing little stream. At the 
farmhouse just around the next bend in the road we got permis- 
sion to establish our headquarters and going back to the stream 












104 



STAHLICHT NICHTS 



we let down the bars of a pasture gate and drove right up to a 
patch of sand alongside the water. 

Setting up camp was a simple chore. While daylight still 
lingered we collected a great heap of firewood from fallen 
branches in the woods nearby and from piles of driftwood that 
had lodged along the stream. For our first supper we opened a 
can of pork and beans and heated them right in the can. We ate 
the remaining pieces of cold fried chicken and sandwiches that 
my mother had sent along for our lunch and then finished up 
with doughnuts and a pot of coffee. Throughout our stay our only 
source of water was the crystal stream beside our camp. We 
boiled the water thoroughly and it was safer than that from any 
spring or farmhouse well. 

We lingered a long time over that supper. We were tired and 
hungry after the long excitement of the trip and food had never 
tasted better. Even that lowly can of pork and beans seemed 
somehow to be seasoned with the aura of our strange sur- 
roundings. As we ate we watched the nearly full moon clear the 
treetops on the high hill to the east. In a nearby thicket a 
mockingbird rehearsed its entire repertoire then finally an owl, 
somewhere in the gloom, began its round of questioning. 

We washed our tin dishes in the stream and dried them by 
passing them through the flame of our campfire, thereby steriliz- 
ing them as well. We got out our blankets and made up our beds 
on the sand right beside the car, but before I turned in I got my 
spyglass out of the car where I had it wrapped in an extra pillow. 
For weighty reasons I had left the grindstone mount at home but 
the car top made a fairly steady support for the instrument. The 
southern sector of the sky being clear of hills and trees I made a 
long and careful search just above the horizon between Scorpio 
and Sagittarius on the chance of picking up Finlay's periodic 
comet which had been lost since 1905 but now was due again. In 
the bright moonlight it was, at best, a forlorn hope and I saw only 
vaguely the great star clusters of that region so I decided to wait 
until I had a steady mount and a moonless night. But I was able 
to make estimates of Nova Aquila and three irregular variables, R 



COPUS HILL 



105 



Coronae, R Scuti and RY Sagittarii. I found them all between 
sixth and seventh magnitude and thus easily seen in spite of the 
brightness of the night. The stars all seemed to be on their good 
behavior so I put away the telescope and went to bed. 

Already Gilbert seemed to be sound asleep but I followed the 
suggestion he had made a short time before. I crawled between 
my blankets, lay on my back and then wiggled about with a hula- 
like motion until I had made a perfectly contoured mattress of 
the dry sand underneath. What an ideal place, I thought, for 
watching meteors and for a time I lay awake hoping to see a few. 
But the Perseid shower had now been gone for an entire week 
and in the bright moonlight I never saw a single one. My final 
contribution to science for that day was the drowsy observation 
that Vega was so nearly overhead that if she were to fall she 
would surely land here in our little valley. And the last sounds to 
come to me on that day of high adventure were the babblings of 
our bedside brook and the distant baying of a coon dog. 

Toward morning I awoke. I was cold, and reaching out, re- 
placed my blanket. The perfect contour of my evening couch had 
also disappeared for I now was lying on my side. With another 
wiggle that too was easily restored. While I slept the moon had 
crossed the sky and now was slipping down behind the distant, 
wooded western slope. Cassiopeia had chased Vega far to the 
west and now was nearly overhead. Approaching dawn outlined 
the trees of the high eastern hill and standing in the topmost 
branches was Orion. Scattered out across the east were the 
Pleiades, Aldebaran, Capella, The Twins, and Procyon. Just out 
of sight, hidden by the hill, was Sirius. Again, I had a preview of 
the frosty winter stars. 

Right after an early breakfast of bacon, eggs, doughnuts, and 
coffee we drove back to the monument. White wisps of fog still 
lay in the lowlands on either side of the narrow rocky road and 
covered the broad valley with a downy blanket. On our right the 
high wooded hill, backlighted by the rising sun, was emerging 
from the mists of dawn. We stopped the car on the sloping hill- 
side trail— where Gilbert, as a safety measure, blocked one rear 



106 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 






wheel with a stone-and walked the few remaining yards down 
to where an ornamental iron fence did picket duty for a slender 
marble shaft resting on a heavy granite base. 

On the upper portion of the base was engraved the name 
James Copus. This was followed by the names of the three 
soldiers killed in the same battle. Also, as a memorial, the name 
Jonathan Chapman had been engraved. Chapman, better known 
as Johnny Appleseed, died and was buried near Fort Wayne, 
Indiana, in 1845 but he frequently had visited the Copus cabin 
and was a trusted friend of both Indians and whites. 

On our August morning the scene that lay before us must have 
appeared much the same as on that fateful morning in Septem- 
ber, 1812. The same tree-clad hills, even some of those same trees, 
looked down on a little clearing that once had held a small log 
cabin and a barn. The cornfield that we saw in the background 
might well have been the field of ripening com in which forty-five 
Delawares lay hidden that early morning until the soldiers left 
their quarters in the barn and strolled, unarmed, over to a nearby 
spring. As related in Henry Howe's Historical Collections of 
Ohio, at the first war cry James Copus seized his musket and 
stepped outside his cabin door only to exchange fire with a savage 
standing a few yards away. Both fell mortally wounded. In the 
battle that ensued three soldiers also were killed and only the 
timely arrival of reinforcements from a nearby blockhouse 
averted the almost certain massacre of Mrs. Copus and her seven 
children and the six remaining soldiers. 

Gilbert and I spent the next two days exploring the hills and 
valleys adjacent to our camp. We followed our rocky stream far 
along its crooked course and delighted in its quiet pools and tiny 
waterfalls. The glacial terminal moraine winds irregularly 
through this region and everywhere about us we could see erratic 
boulders that had been dropped from the melting frontal edge of 
that great ice sheet which covered much of Ohio some fifty 
thousand years ago. 

On one of these hikes we came upon three young killdecrs who 
apparently had recently severed home ties and now had started 
out to see the world. They were about half-grown and could run 



COPUS HILL 



107 



quite well but still were incapable of any sustained flight. Gilbert 
managed to capture one of them and after a little gentle petting it 
seemed to lose all fear of us. I had my camera along-a small 
Brownie box camera equipped with a portrait lens attachment 
that gave a larger image by taking everything from a distance of 
three and a half feet. Gilbert placed our young feathered friend 
on top of a large granite boulder, turned him broadside to the 
sun, and I clicked the shutter. The eventual result was purely a 
case of beginner's luck for when the roll of film was later de- 
veloped and printed our little bird stood out clear, sharp, and 
lifelike. I sent the print to the editor of the Nature and Wildlife 
Department of American Photography Magazine and a few 
months later I was overjoyed to find the beady eye of our young 
killdeer regarding me from the printed page. I thus was fairly 
launched on another lifelong hobby. 

On our final night in camp we were awakened about one 
o'clock by big raindrops spattering in our faces. Hastily we rolled 
up our bedding and tossed it in the car. Then we dug out the two 
left-hand side curtains and fastened them on the windward side 
of the car. We had barely finished this before the warning 
sprinkle became a downpour. Crouched in the front seat, 
wrapped in blankets, and buffered about with pillows we soon 
drifted back to sleep, lulled by the rolling thunder that bounced 
about among the hills. 

When we awoke in the morning our friendly stream had 
become a torrent, our bed of sand was under water, and our store 
of firewood had drifted away. So we packed up and started for 
home, taking a longer route back to the highway to avoid the 
streams now too deep to ford. We soon stopped at a restaurant 
for breakfast and, for some reason, neither of us ordered coffee. 

Our return trip was uneventful and our arrival an anticlimax. It 
seemed that 1 had been gone for weeks and many new and excit- 
ing experiences had come my way. But at home nothing had 
changed. The house still needed painting, the same five cows had 
to be milked twice a day, and, as Mother quoted, we still had the 
same old cat. 

It had been a wonderful trip and Gilbert and I solemnly vowed 






108 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 






that we would return to Copus Hill year alter year. But somehow 
we never have. Too many other things have needed doing. In our 
reminiscent moments we often have recalled the wonders of that 
trip and wished that we could relive it all again. Only last year I 
suggested to him that we make another try. This time he did not 
eagerly accept as on that first occasion. In fact, he did not accept 
at all— he refused. 

"Les," he sagely observed, "you forget, we aren't nineteen any 
more. We can never really go back to something like that was. 
There have been too many changes. We would only be disap- 
pointed in it now." 

He was right, of course. 1 still was looking at a teen-age mental 
image. I had only to observe the changes all around me to con- 
jure up a realistic picture of what those hills must really be like 
today. We would doubtless find those big oak and beech trees 
timbered off and the gentler hillsides cleared for contour farming. 
New roads would have been built and the creeks that we forded 
cautiously have by now been bridged with concrete culverts. 
Even the stream beside which we camped has doubtless now 
been dredged and we wouldn't drink its water now if it were 
boiled all day. Suburbia has, by now, moved in and a ranch-type 
house must squat on every level bit of ground. The hills are laced 
together with telephone and power lines and their once-quiet 
slopes now echo with the whine and sputter of the power mower. 
Only the stars I saw that night are still untouched by man. 




13 Cow Pasture Station 






The slowly declining nova and my constantly crowing 
observing list of variable stars kept the 2-inch busily occupied for 
many months. During the fiscal year of the AAVSO which ended 
in September 1919 it had watched the stars on a total of 190 
nights-more than half the nights of the year. As a result of this 
the spyglass worked itself right out of a job. In November the 
Telescope Loan Department of the AAVSO offered me the use of 
a 4-inch telescope. 

109 



110 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 









l 



This department had recently been established as a means of 
providing the interested observer of variable stars with a more 
adequate telescope than the one then in use. Some of the instru- 
ments in dieir collection had been gifts to the Association, others 
were bequests, a few were outright purchases, while still others 
were on loan to the AAVSO from former observers who were now 
inactive. The only stipulation attached to the loan of one of these 
instruments was that it be kept in reasonably regular use in the 
observing of variable stars. Quite naturally I was delighted with 
the offer they had made and accepted at once. The 4-inch arrived 
early in December and the strawberry spyglass was retired to a 
place of honor on a shelf in my room. 

The new telescope was a Mogey refractor of about 60-inch focal 
length. It had no tripod but was equipped with an equatorial 
bearing designed to be placed on top of a permanent pier or post 
set in the ground. This meant the end of that era of moving about 
from place to place in order to avoid trees and buildings. On the 
other side of the ledger, of course, this also meant that on windy 
nights I no longer could observe from the sheltered lee of the 
house. And I could also foresee a gradual softening of those 
muscles which, for three years, had lugged the grindstone 
mount to various strategic spots about the yard. 

I was not long in deciding just where to locate the permanent 
observing station that would now be necessary. We had the 
perfect spot for it, right in the center of a small pasture field 
directly west of our house. At this point there was a good clear 
horizon all around except low in the east where the elms and 
maples around the house rase to a height of about 20 degrees. 
From this vantage point there would be no lights to interfere 
from any direction, not even from the occasional automobiles that 
passed along the country roads. Here I would be only about a 
hundred yards from the house and this added advantage of easy 
accessibility, I knew, would be particularly appreciated in winter 
whenever I had to shovel a path through a heavy fall of snow. 

The telescope had arrived during an extended spell of gloomy 
weather and for once the clouds were welcome. They would give 



COW PASTURE STATION 



111 



me an opportunity to get the scope properly mounted before a 
starry night came along. First of all I had to have a pier on which 
to mount the equatorial bearing. I walked back to the woods and 
soon located a straight, young, white ash tree about seven inches 
in diameter. I cut this down and then chopped off an eight foot 
length and carried it back to the bam. Here I peeled off all the 
bark, sawed both ends off square, and then bolted the bearing 
to the top end of the post. Carrying the post out to the pasture I 
placed it on the ground while I carefully selected the precise spot 
on smooth, level ground, to erect my pier. It had to be fairly near 
the house for convenience, but still not too close or the trees 
around the house would interfere with the seeing toward the 
east. 

While I was engaged in all this reconnoitering a couple of our 
cows, seeing me, left off their nibbling at the strawstack near the 
fence and ambled over where they took up strategic positions and 
watched my every move. On the selected spot, after chopping 
through a crust of frozen ground, I augured out a hole three feet 
deep, lowered into it my white-ash pier and wedged it solidly in 
the oversize hole with three strips of wood. "Now," I told myself, 
"I'm ready for the first clear night." 

I had not long to wait for on the following evening the sun set 
in a clear blue sky. Darkness falls early in mid-December and by 
six o'clock I had the telescope bolted to the mounting. I stood on 
my three-step stairway and swung the scope toward Vega, hang- 
ing in the low northwest. Three years before, on a warm summer 
evening, she had been the first star for my 2-inch spyglass. In the 
4-inch she was almost dazzling and, after critical focusing, beauti- 
fully sharp and clear. Being so close by I next looked at the Ring 
Nebula and, though it was low in the sky, I clearly glimpsed the 
dark hole in this celestial "doughnut." Just above Vega was 
Cygnus and in this constellation I paused for a glance at one of 
my favorite irregular variables— SS Cygni— and was delighted to 
find that I could easily see it at its minimum brightness of 11.9 
magnitude. Fired with enthusiasm I swept south along the Milky 
Way and soon located the field of another old friend, the variable 



112 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 






star with the ten-thousand-fold range in brightness-Chi Cygni. 
I could just catch glimpses of it near its minimum at magni- 
tude 13. 

For the next hour I wandered here and there about the sky 
getting acquainted with my new scope and with the completely 
new and glorified appearance of many of the old favorites that I 
had watched so often with the spyglass-the Pleiades, M35 in 
Gemini, M31 in Andromeda, the Orion Nebula and its quadruple 
star Theta, then the blood-red variable R Leporis and the orange 
and blue colors in the double star Albireo. 

The night thus far had been devoted entirely to sight-seeing. As 
yet the pier of my mounting had been only temporarily posi- 
tioned and the equatorial bearing only vaguely pointed north. 
This being my first astronomical telescope, my first equatorial 
mounting, and my first permanent station I went to great length 
to get everything as accurately adjusted as I knew how to make 
it. First 1 loosened slightly the three wooden wedges that held the 
pier tightly in the hole. Then, by twisting and tilting the pier, I 
maneuvered it so that the polar axis of the mounting seemed to 
my eye to point directly to the celestial pole-a vacant spot about 
a degree from Polaris on a line leading toward the end of the 
handle of the Big Dipper. 

The great advantage that an equatorial mounting has, over one 
such as my grindstone affair had been, is that with the equatorial 
the polar axis is parallel to the polar axis of the earth and thus 
only one motion-either a downward pull or an upward push-is 
required to keep a celestial object in the field of view. If the 
equatorial has been properly adjusted one can follow a star all 
the way across the sky from east to west using this one motion 
only and this, in principle, was the way that I tested the setting of 
my mount. 

I selected three stars having the same declination, or distance 
from the celestial equator. For the greatest accuracy these stars 
should be widely spaced-one in the east, one south, and the 
third in the west. Knowing that the star Delta, in Orion, was 
almost exactly on the equator it became my eastern star. My atlas 



COW PASTURE STATION 



113 



showed that a faint naked-eye star, 60 Ceti, was also on the 
equator and directly south. The third equator star, and located in 
the west, was Zeta Aquarii. Next, in my big copy of Revised 
Harvard Photometry I looked up the accurate positions of these 
three stars and found them to be spaced 3% hours apart along 
the equator while in declination they were respectively 22, 21, 
and 31 minutes south of the celestial equator. This made a differ- 
ence of less than one-third the apparent diameter of the moon. 
This meant that when my mounting was properly set 1 could get 
Delta in the center of my field and clamp the scope in declina- 
tion, then move on westward to 60 Ceti and watch it cross the 
field— also virtually in the center. Lasdy, I would move on to Zeta 
in the west and find it one-third of a moon higher in the inverted 
field than the other two had been. 

Needless to say it took quite a bit of twisting and tilting of my 
pier before I achieved this desired accuracy but when I finally 
had it all lined up I left it there that night and came back the 
following morning with a bucket filled with a soupy mixture of 
sand, water, and cement which 1 poured into the hole around the 
pier. All this toilsome striving was, of course, quite unnecessary 
for anything other than long-exposure photography. I had, with- 
out a doubt, the most accurately adjusted white-ash equatorial 
mounting in the annals of astronomy. But for variable stars. 
where each observation requires only a matter of seconds, an old 
discarded grindstone works just about as well. 

In actual practice, when each night's observing was finished the 
telescope tube was removed from the mounting by unscrewing 
two thumb nuts and the tube was carried into the house. The 
mounting remained on the post and was covered with a heavy 
grain sack to protect it from snow and rain. Close by the pier I set 
another, but much shorter, post in the ground and on top of this I 
mounted an accessory invention— an open-air desk. This strange 
but practical device was a large weather-tight box about three 
feet long, two feet wide, and one foot deep. The lid of the box 
was a framed pane of glass. Inside I kept my atlas, charts, and 
red bull's-eye oil lantern. Here everything was easily visible 









■I 



114 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



through the glass top and also readily accessible so that I could 
turn pages and record observations through the hinged front 
panel of the box. The whole affair was pivoted on top of the post 
so that it could be turned in any direction to avoid the wind. 

When spring came I found it necessary to build a fence around 
my open-air observatory for it was located in our cow pasture and 
the several members of our local galaxy, exercising their prior 
rights, continued to make free use of the observatory grounds. 
Before I could get the area properly enclosed they had even 
started to use my meticulously positioned pier as a nibbing post. 
From many nocturnal hours spent in their company I learned 
that cows are light sleepers. Several times during the course of a 
night they would rise, eat grass for a while, then lie down and 
ruminate on the results of their grazing, then take another nap. 
Cows are friendly folk and have a great sense of curiosity. They 
often would come over and keep me company during my long 
hours at the telescope, standing just outside the fence, their heads 
hanging over the low top wire, slowly chewing their cuds and 
.vatching me thoughtfully with their big soft eyes. 

Cows were always my favorite farm animals and until my early 
thirties there was always a cow in my life— usually several of 
them. In our very early teens my city cousin and I often would 
ride our more sedate and docile cows here and there about the 
barnyard. We had no guidance system of any kind and our 
progress was subject entirely to the prevailing mood of our mount 
and any spirited urging on our part always terminated the ride 
quite suddenly. I may at times long for the good old days back on 
the farm but I have retained no nostalgic yearning for a repetition 
of any of these bucolic capers. The cow is ill designed for bare- 
back riding. Their backs are much too sharp for comfort and, 
having no mane, they offer absolutely nothing to hold on to when 
their patience with young cowpokes finally becomes exhausted. 
We always had two or three cats on the farm and at chore time 
if they saw me start for the barn carrying a couple of milk pails 
they would fall in line and trot along behind, their tails waving 
aloft in anticipation. Arriving at the scene of operations they 






COW PASTURE STATION 



115 



would line up expectantly in a row nearby. At the first sound of 
the milk striking the bottom of the pail they would rise on their 
haunches and, with forefeet pawing the air, they would begin to 
mew. I would reward each one with several squirts of milk di- 
rectly into its wide open mouth. Then, when they realized that 
the show was over, they would sit and lick each other's faces and 
wait until I was finished, when I would give them some more 
milk in their pan. 

My dairy days, of course, came long before the advent of the 
antiseptic cow, and any modern dairy farmer with his shiny milk- 
ing machines, his surgically clean stalls, and his siring subterfuges 
would stand aghast at some of our primitive practices. But cows 
were cows in those days and, somehow, I feel sure that life had a 
deeper meaning for those rugged matrons of yesteryear than it 
has for the immaculate robots of today. 

One of our cows, a temperamental Jersey, was a confirmed 
kicker. The only way she could be safely milked was to fold up 
her left hind leg at the middle joint-anatomically this was her 
heel or hock though we always called it her knee-then we would 
slip an iron ring over the folded joint. To perform this very simple 
operation you grasped the cow's nearest hind leg with your left 
hand, at the same time throwing her weight on the opposite leg 
by pushing hard with your head against her flank. While she was 
still off balance it was easy to pull up her left leg and slip the 
ring into position. This would leave her left leg dangling in mid- 
air and the cow in a state of unstable equilibrium. Obviously, 
three-legged cows do not defy the law of gravitation by kicking. 

Throughout the summer season our cows would be out on 
pasture every day and with the approach of fall they would come 
in for the evening milking with their tails a solid mass of burrs. 
To milk a cow equipped with one of these free-swinging fly 
swatters was truly an occupational hazard. The cautions milker 
cither tied the tail to the cow's leg or held it tightly clamped in 
the bend of his own knee, for if this burr-bedecked bludgeon ever 
landed on his cheek or the back of his neck some of the barbs 
invariably remained there, firmly embedded, as a lasting re- 

E 



116 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



minder of the efficacy of one of nature's marvelous methods of 
seed dispersal. 

Throughout the ages the cow has been mankind's most useful 
animal yet, at the moment, 1 can recall no individual bossy who 
has ever left her cloven hoof print in the long muddy pavement 
of history. Even that remarkable cow who leaped through outer 
space into the first lunar orbit was but a nameless cow. 

In the varied menagerie of the sky my faithful friend the cow 
has been accorded the same shabby treatment as here on earth. 
Had I been in charge of designing and naming the constellations 
I would certainly have bestowed a place of honor in the zodiac 
on the cow instead of on her huffy husband Taurus, the Bull. The 
celestial vault is bestrewn with bears, horses, birds, and lions. We 
have four dogs and three fishes. We have a dragon, a scorpion, 
and a lizard. There is even a fly in the firmament. But the patient 
cow does not even get credit for the Milky Wayl 




14 We Build an Observatory 



Frost and heavy dews were the most serious harassments 
that I encountered in working in my open-sky observatory. In 
spite of a protective sleeve extending over the lens, on some 
nights the cold surface of the objective would cloud up perhaps 
half a dozen times during an evening's work. Dew, of course, 
could be removed with soft, absorbent tissue, but when frost was 
the offender I would carry the telescope back into the house, let it 
warm up thoroughly, then take it back out and work until the 

117 



118 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



dimming star images would tell me that it was time to defrost 
again. 

I am quite certain now that there were better ways of doing 
this. I am sure that I could have devised a somewhat elaborate 
extension tube over my lens-perhaps with an inner coating or 
filling of calcium chloride-which would have kept my objective 
dew- and frost-free for many hours. But I never did and the only 
excuse I can offer for persisting in this time-consuming practice of 
warming the telescope by the fire is that it provided an often 
welcome opportunity for the telescopist to warm up a bit at the 
same time. Standing in an open field for a couple of hours on a 
midwinter night can be a bone-chilling experience. Sometimes on 
these frigid nights I would briefly leave the telescope and run 
around and around my little fenced enclosure until I had partially 
restored my lagging circulation and brought a feeble glow of life 
back to my icy hands and feet. During the months of March and 
April the occasional windy nights were also somewhat trouble- 
some for the tremor of each little gust was magnified by the 
power of my scope, but for the balance of the year any daytime 
breeze we had usually died down with the approach of darkness. 
It was rare indeed that I encountered any noticeable wind in the 
hours after midnight. 

I used my observing station on nearly every clear night for two 
wonderful years and, in spite of any exasperations of frost, dew, 
and wind, I still feel that the open sky is the best of all observa- 
tories for the beginning amateur. Under the open dome of sky 
one is at least half surrounded by the stars. Stars are above us, 
stars sparkle on all sides of us down to the horizon. We are 
actually between any two diametrically opposite stars and this 
seems to make us a vital part of the hemisphere of visible sky and 
not merely a spectator looking out through a narrow window. 

I am truly thankful that I did not miss these years of observing 
in the open, for the impressions of that period that I most vividly 
remember today are, for the most part, those little perceptions 
which I never would have known had I been surrounded by four 
walls. Out in that open field all the sounds of night seemed close 



WE BUILD AN OBSERVATORY 



119 



about me as the seasons slowly clicked their way through the 
turnstile of the year. The sharp, dry creak of snow, the vernal 
"sweet ode of the tree toad," the night heron's strident quonk, the 
shrill alarm of a nesting killdcer disturbed by some night prowler, 
the rhythmic beat of the snowy tree-cricket's thermostat, the 
melancholy hooting of a great barred owl, and, finally, their 
haunting clamor dropping from the darkness overhead, the 
southward winging skeins of geese. 

This open-sky period occurred at a time of considerable sun- 
spot activity for I remember so well some of those brilliant 
displays of northern lights. At least two of these I have never seen 
equaled since that time. Unforgettable sights they were, with 
great shaking curtains of multicolored light so bright they cast 
distinct south-pointing shadows on the snow. As 1 watched I 
always listened for the crackling sounds which, it seemed, should 
be a part of such celestial static. I always hoped for something 
audible to accompany that eerie splendor but it never came. 

In such work as variable-star observing a dark sky background 
is absolutely necessary in order to distinguish faint stars, so one 
avoids the moon as much as possible. Whenever the moon was 
fairly bright in the evening sky I would go to bed earlier than 
usual after setting my alarm clock for the time of moonset as 
listed in our Farmers Almanac. Then, when it awoke me, I would 
get up, dress according to season and temperature and make my 
way downstairs in the dark. Here I would pick up the telescope 
tube from its place in the corner of the dining room and carry it 
out along the path-somctimes a dim trail worn in the grass, 
sometimes a dark line cut through the snow-until I came to the 
middle of the pasture where a tall post loomed against the sky. 

In following this weird nocturnal schedule required of a moon- 
dodger I found that all the sounds of nature are at their lowest 
ebb in the cool hours shortly after midnight. The tree crickets 
never seem to quite give up during summer nights although the 
cold of dawn greatly slows their tempo. Of the birds-so voluble 
in early evening and at sunrise-only the catbird and the owls 
have I heard late at night. The tree-toad chorus also gradually 



120 



STARLICHT NICHTS 



dies down though sometimes a distant bullfrog has kept me 
company throughout the night. It always amazed me how early 
the approach of a summer daybreak could be detected but even 
so, here in the country, there always was a rooster somewhere 
ready and waiting for it and his first clarion call would soon be 
answered from other farms in all directions. Tennyson's line: 
'The earliest pipe of half awakened birds," must certainly have 
referred to the domestic variety. 

Early in the fall of 1921 Dad decided that I needed an observa- 
tory-a regular observatory, dome and all. Just what brought 
about this sudden decision I have no idea. It was certainly no hint 
or suggestion of mine for I had been perfectly happy with my 
open-air station. Nevertheless it all sounded fine to me for I felt 
that it would relieve every inconvenience of the present setup. 
We started right in, though neither of us had ever seen an ob- 
servatory. We decided to make the building 10 feet by 14 feet in 
size, with a 9-foot diameter dome. This would give plenty of 
working space beneath the dome and provide an alcove 4 by 10 
feet in size for a desk and other equipment. 

We wasted no time by drawing up any plans. Dad was a good 
practical carpenter and had built our six-room house without any 
set of plans so I had no worries as to the outcome of the present 
project. The location for the new observatory was staked out 
right beside the open-air station in the cow pasture for this had 
proven, after two years' use, to be nearly ideal. A concrete mixer 
was borrowed from a neighbor and, with Kenneth's help, the 
foundation and the footing for the telescope pier were installed in 
one day's time. I must have had some delusions of grandeur 
regarding that pier for we put in a solid cubic yard of concrete 
level with the surface of the ground and in this we placed an 
upright 6-inch steel pipe to hold my 4-inch refractor. I had never 
heard of any Ohio earthquakes but I was prepared for them. 

The walls and the roof went up in short order but the dome 
presented more of a problem. The circular track on which the 
dome was to revolve, as well as the base of the dome and its 
curved ribs all were built up of laminated three-quarter-inch 



WE BUILD AN OBSERVATORY 



121 



boards all sawed out to the proper radius-and we had no 
bandsaw! It all added up to no less than seven hundred lineal feet 
of sawing, all done by hand with a small compass saw. Fortu- 
nately we used cottonwood and pine for this rather than oak. 

After the framework of the dome was completely assembled it 
was covered with light-gauge galvanized iron. Then Gilbert and 
1, with considerably more enthusiasm than skill, spent a couple of 
days in soldering all the seams together to make a solid weather- 
tight unit. The completed dome was then hauled out to the wait- 
ing building and carefully set in its appointed place. Everything 
fitted perfectly and a gentle push on its short handle just above 
my head easily revolved the dome in either direction. 

The observatory housewarming was a solemn occasion. It now 
was January and the special guest of honor could not arrive until 
three o'clock in the morning. I set the alarm clock with care and 
promptly on the hour the dome was turned to the northeast. Vega 
made her sparkling entry through the telescope and all was well. 

I built a little table for my books and charts and, as electricity 
still had not come to the farm, I rigged up a tiny ruby lamp that 
operated from a dry cell and this served to illuminate my atlas 
and my star charts. On the walls I hung two pictures. One was a 
small portrait of Edward C. Pickering, then director of Harvard 
Observatory, who each month signed a note of thanks for the 
variable-star observations that we sent in. The other picture 
showed old Galileo clutching in his hands the little spyglass that 
had first revealed the satellites of Jupiter and the craters of the 

moon. 

The dome proved to have just one minor flaw in its otherwise 
efficient operation. The sheet-metal shutter that covered the 
opening in the dome had to be removed by climbing up on the 
roof by means of a ladder outside the building, then lifting off the 
shutter and carrying it down to the ground. Then, of course, 
when the observing session was over it had to be carried up the 
ladder again and put into place. The shutter was not heavy and I 
soon became accustomed to this ritual and didn't mind it at all. In 
fact, I was quite pleased with my acquired ability to hold the 






122 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 



shutter above my head with both hands and walk down the in- 
clined ladder without holding on to anything. 

One night, however, my lucky stars completely failed me. As I 
was descending the ladder with the shutter held high aloft the 
bottom rung of the homemade ladder broke and I plunged the 
remaining short distance to the ground where I stopped with 
quite a jolt. The shutter, which I had abandoned in mid-air, 
descended with a burst of brand new stars right on the bridge of 
my nose and from that night on that rather ample member has 
been quite a little out of line. 

Following this fiasco I never tried the balancing act again. I 
even left the shutter off completely whenever I felt certain of 
clear skies. Unfortunately, some of my weather predictions were 
not too accurate and on a number of occasions I was forced to 
hastily terminate my social activities in a town several miles away 
and drive madly home to cover up the dome before everything 
was soaked. My sister Dorothy, always ready with a verse for 
every occasion, once commemorated these curtailed capers with a 
long narrative poem of which I can now only recall the following 
few lines: 

Our hero felt the wind's first lash. 
He saw the distant lightning's flash. 
"My dear," he cried, "I shall return 
Some other night with lips that burn. 
Right now I've got to dash for home. 
For I forgot to close the dome." 

We were immensely proud of the new observatory. At that 
time its nearest neighbor was the original Perkins Observatory, 
which housed, I believe, a 9-inch refractor and was located on 
William Street, in Delaware, Ohio, some ninety miles away. 
Many passers-by stopped to inquire just what our strange appear- 
ing building was for. The most frequent conjecture was that we 
had gone into the chicken business and this was some newfangled 
kind of brooder house. 

It was a great success. No longer was I troubled by dew and 



WE BUILD AN OBSERVATORY 



123 



frost collecting on my lens. No longer did the stars in my tele- 
scope quiver and dance to the whistling of the wind. I could now 
observe with more efficiency and in greater comfort and it was 
indeed a pleasure to have a smooth and solid floor beneath my 
feet. Without a doubt the observatory was a forward step. 

But every step of progress slips back a little too. I now had lost 
my common touch with all the other denizens of night and only 
faintly could I see and hear them. Seldom could I note the 
meteors as they streaked across the sky and never again did 
fireflies pause before my lens and dazzle me with bursts of star- 
shell fire. Nocturnal bird calls seldom came to me and the pulsing 
of the cricket's chirp was gone. I also missed an old companion of 
my early morning watches-the five o'clock whistle that blew 
each morning at the railroad shops in town four miles away. Last 
but not least, my gallery of cows deserted me completely. 










THE COMET SEEKER 



125 



15 The Comet Seeker 



Scarcely was the 4-inch comfortably settled in its new 
home before it had to leave. I received a letter from Henry Morris 
Russell, the director of Princeton Observatory, offering me the 
loan of a 6-inch refractor that they were not using. I accepted 
without any hesitation for a 6-inch has more than twice the light 
grasp of a 4-inch. 

A few days later I came down to earth with a most disturbing 
doubt. Would a 6-inch telescope fit in my 9-foot dome? According 

124 



to the figures I came up with it would be a rather tight squeeze if 
the instrument had a normal focal length, which is close to 8 feet. 
This would allow less than a foot of room for a size 7% head for 
when I observe stars near the horizon my head also is inside the 
dome. I might be forced to cut a section off the top of the pier 
and give up the stars near the horizon. I could only wait and 

see. 

In about two weeks I got a card from the express office an- 
nouncing receipt of the shipment from Princeton. I drove to town 
at once and found three wooden boxes marked for me. After 
sizing these boxes up with my eye I asked the express agent if 
there was not still another box in the shipment-one which 
should be about eight feet long. He looked up the bill but it 
clearly specified that there were only three boxes. Completely 
puzzled, I loaded them into the car and drove home. 

The first box I opened cleared up the mystery and raised my 
drooping spirits to an all-time high for when I removed the 
strapping and lifted the lid, there before me, a rhapsody in dark 
mahogany and gleaming brass, lay my new telescope, just four 
feet long-one foot shorter than the 4-inch! I would not require a 
head-shrinker's services after all. 

It was with mixed feelings of regret and anticipation that I 
removed the 4-inch telescope from the position of eminence it 
had worked so diligently to attain and then had held so briefly. It 
had been my faithful companion on hundreds of starry nights and 
I was fond of it. Its images were sharp and its colors were true. 
Its out-of-focus rings were a joy to behold. It had served its 
purpose well, but now I had a scope whose field was twice as 
wide and that collected more than twice the light. So I shipped 
the 4-inch back to Cambridge, with the same vaguely guilty 
feeling that we get when we trade in an old and faithful car that 
has served us long and well and given us, perhaps, some pleasant 
memories, and then drive away in a new and shiny model. I 
never heard from the 4-inch after we parted. 

The new telescope was mounted on the pier and once again 
Vega was invited to attend an inaugural and once again she 



126 



STAHLIGHT NIGHTS 



graciously complied. That opening night happened to be one of 
exceptional clarity and it was truly a night of revelation for I had 
never before seen through a short-focus telescope. It was at once 
quite evident that this telescope was a specialized instrument and 
its specialty was wide and brilliant star fields rather than high 
power and magnification. Such regions as the Double Cluster in 
Perseus, the star fields around Deneb and Gamma Cygni, and the 
Milky Way in Scutum, Ophiuchus, and Sagittarius were gorgeous 
quite beyond description. 

In the nights that followed I became better acquainted with 
both the advantages and limitations of the instrument. For vari- 
able stars it was superb. It had no finder and it needed none for, 
with its low-power eyepiece, it was a finder itself, with a field 2 
degrees or four full moons wide. It would show stars down to the 
fourteenth magnitude and occasionally even to the fifteenth, 
which meant that the majority of my variable stars could now be 
followed throughout their entire cycle. 

The instrument's shortcomings were few and of little conse- 
quence since, for my observing, I needed no high magnification. 
For observing the planets, for separating double stars or for any 
work which requires high powers and critically sharp images the 
focal ratio of an objective should be at least f:15, meaning that 
roughly the length of the scope should be fifteen times the 
diameter. That of my new scope was only f :8. 

The 6-inch was indeed a custom-made instrument. It had been 
designed with just one purpose in mind: comet seeking. In all 
probability it had been conceived and built back in the latter part 
of the nineteenth century, in what might well be described as the 
Golden Age of Comet-seeking, for it was in this period that such 
noted hunters as Swift, Tempel, Brooks, and Barnard were vying 
with one another for each new discovery. The intensity of this 
competition is quite understandable for, during part of this 
period an award of two-hundred dollars was made to the dis- 
coverer of each unexpected comet. Barnard, then an amateur, is 
said to have made the payments on his new home in Nashville by 
means of these tangible trophies of the chase. 



THE COMET SEEKER 



127 



I have tried in vain to ferret out some facts about the early life 
of the 6-inch but thus far no one can tell me when or where it first 
beheld the light or who its maker was. I did learn that at some 
time prior to 1907 it was acquired by Princeton Observatory for it 
was in that year that Zacchcus Daniel, while still a student at the 
University, used it in the discovery of the bright Daniel's Comet 
of that year which is so often pictured in astronomical books. In 
1909 he picked up two more comets with it, one of these being a 
short-period comet that often has been seen at subsequent re- 
turns. 

So actually this telescope that was so new to me was really a 
patriarch with a long and honored past. But already its birth 
certificate was lost and the story of its youthful years forgotten. 
Rather piqued by such neglect, I vowed that some recording of 
its earlier deeds, as they were known to me, would now be 
permanently preserved. I whetted up my pocket knife and on the 
midriff of that wooden tube I deeply carved the name of Daniel 
and beneath it cut the date of each of his three comet catches. 

It seemed to me that if ever human attributes could be invested 
in a thing of metal, wood, and glass then this ancient Instrument 
now in my keeping must long for one more chance to show what 
it could do. As to this ability I needed no other proof than the 
three dates that I had just engraved. I was more than eager to 
cooperate with it. 

But before I could take up comet seeking in a serious way I 
had to make some changes in the mounting for apparently its last 
use at Princeton had no connection with comets. It had come to 
me equipped with a big weight-driven driving clock. This would 
only be in the way when comet seeking and therefore had to 
come off. Next, the equatorial mounting had to be changed to an 
alt-azimuth, for with the former it is quite impossible to sweep 
across the region around the pole and I wanted no restricted 
areas— especially in the north. 

An alt-azimuth mounting, as its name indicates, has two com- 
pletely independent motions, one in altitude— OT from horizon to 
zenith, the other in azimuth-or parallel with the horizon. Just 



128 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



THE COMET SEEKER 



129 






how to alter this solidly built equatorial presented quite a prob- 
lem until Gilbert came to my rescue. He was now employed as a 
draftsman in a local manufacturing company, furthermore his 
Uncle Phil was a patternmaker and finally he was well ac- 
quainted with Mr. Sudmoeller, the proprietor of a small brass 
foundry. As a result of this fortuitous combination of contacts the 
design that Gilbert drew up soon resulted in a brass casting 
which permitted the equatorial head to be rotated a full 360 
degrees when the polar axis was lowered to a horizontal position. 
In principle, at least, I had now reverted to the old grindstone 
mounting. 

I should make it clear just why this change was necessary. In 
comet seeking one selects a particular sky area and sweeps the 
telescope horizontally back and forth across this area until it has 
all been closely inspected for possible comets. Then one moves to 
another area adjacent to the first and sweeps over it in turn. In 
my case I would be working in a dome whose open slit would 
outline the sky area to be searched. So, in order to sweep across 
that area horizontally, the polar axis must also be horizontal and 
parallel to the opening. 

One of the early pioneers of comet-seeking was a Frenchman 
named Charles Messier. He found a number of comets but today 
he is best known, not for his finds but for his disappointments. 
Comets, especially faint ones, arc not very clearly labeled as such, 
and Messier was always running across things in the sky that 
looked just like small tailless comets but that really were faint 
star clusters and nebulae. In order to systematize his work and 
save himself future trouble he made a catalogue of all these 
suspicious-looking objects. To each of these he gave his catalogue 
number along with its location. 

First in his catalogue was Ml, now also known as the Crab 
Nebula in Taurus and in a small telescope it looks for all the 
world just like a small tailless comet. His M31 is the Great Nebula 
in Andromeda; his M42 is the Orion Nebula. One would say that 
some of these objects could not possibly be suspected of being 
comets but we must bear in mind that Messier did all his observ- 



ing with a telescope two feet long, with a lens two and a half 
inches in diameter and magnifying only five times— actually less 
powerful than the average binoculars. His complete catalogue 
listed a total of 103 of these objects located all over the sky. 

No doubt everyone who seriously takes up comet hunting 
follows somewhat in Messier's footsteps and gradually accumu- 
lates his own file of suspicious characters. As my telescope was 
considerably more powerful than that of Messier, the true nature 
of many of his objects was readily apparent and my own personal 
list contained but few of these, but the 6-inch did show a host of 
faint clusters, distant galaxies, and nebulous objects too faint for 
Messier's glass but quite suspect in mine. I simply listed these 
objects in the order of their right ascension and made a freehand 
sketch of each one as it appeared in the low-power field of the 
telescope. In this way, whenever I again encountered one of these 
objects, I had only to refer to my file to know at once if I had 
seen it before and, if so, then it definitely was not a comet. 

A good star atlas such as Norton's or the Skalnate Pleso, Atlas 
of the Heavens is a prime essential for the comet hunter. Not only 
are their charts necessary in order to plot the position and thus 
determine the coordinates of right ascension and declination of 
any find that he may wish to report but these same charts also 
show the locations of most of the deep-sky objects such as clusters 
and galaxies which, in many cases, so resemble comets in appear- 
ance. Movement of a suspected object relative to nearby fixed 
stars is the only certain way to identify a faint comet and this 
movement can usually lie detected with certainty in less than half 
an hour. However, in some cases the comet, when first sighted, 
may be so distant from the earth that its apparent motion across 
the field of view will be extremely slow or again it may be located 
in a region that has no nearby stars to form a conspicuous pattern 
in which the comet, by its changing alignment, might quickly 
reveal its true identity by its steady crawl across the sky. 

Since every comet in the solar system sweeps about the sun as a 
focal point it follows that comets are most numerous in the region 
near the sun. The western sky just after darkness falls and the 



130 



STAB LIGHT NIGHTS 



THE COMET SEEKER 



131 



eastern sky just before dawn have always proved to be the most 
productive hunting grounds for visual discoveries of comets. 

There are several areas of the sky that are extremely trouble- 
some to the comet hunter for the reason that they harbor such an 
abundance of faint galaxies that the observer might easily spend 
the greater part of his time merely in establishing their idenlily. 
In some parts of Canes Venatici, Coma Berenices, Ursa Major, 
and particularly in Virgo three or four of these faint galaxies often 
will be seen in a single field of my low-power eyepiece. In order 
to save time and also my peace of mind I completely avoid these 
regions. A beginning comet hunter can get a good idea of what 
an average comet looks like when first discovered just by sweep- 
ing his telescope through the western portion of the constellation 
Virgo sometimes known as "the field of the nebulae." One par- 
ticularly cometlike object to be found there is the eleventh magni- 
tude galaxy listed as NGC 4570. An even easier object is M97, 
known as the Owl Nebula, in Ursa Major. This resembles a tenth 
magnitude comet. If, on a sparkling, moonless night, such test 
objects as these can be picked up without difficulty one can be 
reasonably certain that both the eye and instrument are well 
adapted for comet seeking. I do not suggest it as a reliable comet 
test but it has been my own experience that comets may also be 
distinguished by a certain peculiar quality of their light. To me 
there is a definite substantial appearance to the light emanating 
from a comet which is quite different from the evanescent, fugi- 
tive shimmer that finally reaches us from the immensely distant 
cluster or nebula. It is possible that it is this vast difference in 
distance that makes this distinction in light quality noticeable. 

In my perusal of the long and thrilling history of comet seeking 
I learned that there are no rigid rules to follow; there is no secret 
formula by which a find is made. In one of my early acquired 
books on star-gazing, the splendid Beginners Star Book, by Kelvin 
McKready, there occurs the provocative statement: 'There is no 
weighty reason why any amateur astronomer should not be the 
discoverer of a comet. The requisites are a telescope of low 
power. large field, and generous illumination; a good store of 






pertinacity and patience, and a fair knowledge of the constella- 
tions." In my early comet hunting I often recalled this passage 
and accorded it a lot of dubious reflection. I had a telescope of 
thrice-proven efficiency, my persistence I thought at least fair to 
middlin', and I knew the constellations well. In addition I had a 
fine little observatory, a good location on the farm with a sky- 
quite uncluttered with trees and lights, and, finally my nights 
were free to do with as I liked. 

Just one thing was lacking-and it was three long years in 
coming— a cometl 



' 



FRIDAY, THE THIRTEENTH 



133 




16 Friday, The Thirteenth 



AS A CHILD I ONCE MADE THE AMAZING DISCOVERY THAT WHENEVER 

the first day of the month came on a Sunday then we invariably 
also had a Friday the thirteenth, that same month. As I grew 
older I continued to take note of these approximately semi-annual 
occurrences, not because I attached any ominous significance to 
Friday the thirteenth, but simply because every truly addicted 
star-gazer is also a confirmed calendar-watcher who shapes his 
nightly course according to the faces of its moons. 

In 1925 the first day of November fell on Sunday and even- 
US 



tually, in accordance with my still unrepealed law, Friday the 
thirteenth arrived. I spent most of that clear, crisp, autumn day 
husking com, then, after the chores were done and the early 
supper hour over, I donned my heavy mackinaw, my wool cap, 
and my sheepskin gloves and started for the observatory. The big 
elm by the gate to the west of the house now was nearly bare of 
leaves and, looking up, I could see, silhouetted against the sky, 
the platform of the lookout station I had built among its obliging 
branches some ten years before. Beyond the trees along the 
Auglaize River, Jupiter and Venus made a striking pair just above 
the overturned Milk Dipper in the low southwest. Directly in the 
south lay Capricomus and the sharp and steady separation of the 
twin stars that form its Alpha was a tribute to the clearness of the 
night. 

Dropping out of sight a little north of west was middle-aged 
Arcturus and just below him, lost in darkness, lay the old but ever 
new strawberry patch whose fruitful runncred rows had once 
produced a spyglass. 

Before me loomed the observatory. Four years had now passed 
since its building and the only significant change in all that time 
was that my old red-eyed oil lantern and my little battery light 
were now permanently retired. Two slender copper wires now 
stretched all the way from the observatory back to the house, just 
high enough above the ground to clear the revolving reel of the 
old McCormack grain binder. Light and power, at long last, had 
come to the farm. 

In anticipation of its coming I had wired the entire house, 
installed all the lighting fixtures and had everything in readiness 
for the power company to set in the meter. They did this on an 
afternoon when Dad and Mother were in town. It was almost 
dark when they returned and I had everything ready to give 
them a little surprise. I hid in a small closet in the kitchen right 
beside the light switch. They came in and put their groceries 
down on the kitchen table, then I heard the rattle of the tin 
match box on the wall and just as Mother was about to light the 
old Aladdin lamp I turned on the big new light in the ceiling 
directly above them. Almost blinded by the sudden glare there 



134 



STARLIGHT MIGHTS 



was a long moment of utter silence. Mother recovered first and 
looked up at the light. "Well, well," she exclaimed, "so Alec 
finally arrived." "Alec," echoed Dad, "Alec who?" "Alectricity," 
replied Mother. 

Out in the observatory on that night of Friday the thirteenth I 
quickly turned the dome toward the west. Corona was sinking 
low and it contained two star attractions that I checked on each 
clear night-the irregular variable star R Coronae and the old 
nova T Coronae of 1866. I found R, as usual, barely visible to the 
naked aye at magnitude 6.1 while. T was still unchanged from its 
normal magnitude of 10.0. Having no immediate pressing prob- 
lems with variables I began comet hunting in the low strip of sky 
in the west which soon would sink from sight. I set the dome due 
west and examined the out lined sky area to a height of halfway to 
the zenith, then shifted the dome opening to the right and 
searched the adjacent area. Another shift to the right and this 
time I had an area that yielded two Messier objects; first, M13, 
die Great Cluster in Hercules— discovered by the great Halley in 
1714, then, just a few sweeps above it, I passed over the fairly 
bright cluster, M92, in the same constellation.' Doubtless each of 
these had long ago given comet-hunter Messier a momentary 
thrill and then a later letdown. 

Again I shifted the dome to the right until it outlined an area 
that slightly overlapped the one that I had just examined. Start- 
ing at the horizon I slowly worked upward back and forth in 
horizontal sweeps across that bounded bit of sky. Sweep by 
sweep I climbed upward through Coronae, pausing ever so 
briefly as I hailed in passing the patterned landmark of the R 
Coronae field, and on I moved into the northern end of Bootes. 

It was just above the peak of that kite-shaped figure of the 
Herdsman that the steady cross sweep of my telescope abruptly 
stopped. A small round fuzzy something was in the center of that 
sea of stars! A closer, calmer look and I was sure just what that 
something was, for extending downward from it I could dimly 
sec a slender streak that could only be the tail of the comet I had 
just discovered! 



FRIDAY, THE THIRTEENTH 



135 



It took me quite a while to come down to earth again. To 
deliberately start out on a comet hunt and then to find one in less 
than twenty minutes was rather an awesome experience for me 
and it left me deeply thrilled. Such visitors from space were far 
from being total strangers to me. I had cut my early sky-teeth on 
two mighty comets back in 1910 and in more recent years I had 
followed the nightly courses of all those comets reported in the 
pages of Popular Astronomy which came within the reach of my 
telescopes. Now, for the first time. I had seen a specimen that was 
still unlabeled. 

Or was it? Had 1 found a new comet or was it only new to me? 
Had I merely stumbled onto one that might have been spotted 
elsewhere weeks before? I knew that the professional observa- 
tories subscribed to a telegraphic service as their source of spot- 
news information but this was far too great a luxury for me, and 
at that time I had never heard of the Harvard Announcement 
Cards which convey to the more frugal subscriber this same 
information about three days later than by telegraph. My only 
news of any sightings in the sky came to me from the pages of a 
monthly magazine and many things can happen between publica- 
tion dates. 

I knew that I must make absolutely certain of everything and 
then get off a wire to Harvard College Observatory. First of all I 
drew a little sketch that showed the comet's exact position in 
relation to three or four other nearby stars in the same field. Then 
I plotted its location on my Upton's atlas. This gave me the 
comet's precise position in the sky. Next in order was a rough 
estimate of the total brightness of the object. This should be a 
simple matter for a variable-star observer. It was done by select- 
ing some star of known brightness which, when thrown out of 
focus to the same apparent size as the comet, would equal it in 
brightness. In this case a ninth-magnitude star in the nearby field 
of the variable V Bootis seemed just right. 

There remained two more factors I wanted to know before I 
sent my wire. These were the direction and approximate rate of 
the comet's motion. Only ten minutes after I had made my sketch 



136 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



I could tell that the comet had moved among the nearby stars but 
I waited still another fifteen minutes and now the field was lat- 
ticed with the distant treetops. But I had seen enough to know 
that the comet was moving south-and fast! I already had my 
telegram composed in my mind and now I wrote it down. It 
read: ninth magnitude comet one five two five north forty 
four degrees rapid motion south. Once again I checked that all- 
important position in my atlas-then raced for the house and the 
telephone. 

I tried three times but got no answer from Western Union. I 
rang once more and at Central's "Number, please," I asked her 
why I got no reply from the telegraph office. She replied that it 
closed at 6 o'clock but that emergency telegrams could be sent at 
night from the signal tower at the Pennsylvania Railway depot. 
"Will you please connect me with the tower?" I asked. "I'm 
sorry," she replied, "there is no local telephone connection." 

After I hung up the receiver the full import of the operator's 
words struck me. I would have to TAKE my message to the 
signal tower-and I had no car! Dad and Mother had it and 
where they had gone I had not the slightest idea. I pondered the 
situation for just a moment, then headed for the barn. I still had 
the old white bicycle of my high school days. It had taken me to 
Delphos hundreds of times and it would have to do it once again. 
I got it out of the corner, felt the tires, blew the dust off the 
saddle and started for town. 

I had no light of any kind on the bicycle and there was no 
moon, but starlight nights are never really dark and I had no 
trouble keeping on the road. As I passed the cemetery at a lively 
clip I remembered my winter walk to town through the deep 
snow of seven years before. That walk had been made in almost 
perfect quiet but this time I heralded my coming from afar for 
my rear mud guard had loosened up or lost a bolt and it clattered 
in complaint at every rough spot in the road. Several times, at 
farms along the way, my rattle roused the wrath of irate dogs 
who voiced their protest at my passing but I plowed on full sail 
and left their anchored barks behind. 



FRIDAY, THE THIRTEENTH 



137 



I leaned my bicycle against the wall of the depot and climbed 
the long flight of wooden steps to the little square room at the top 
of the signal tower. The operator, a middle-aged man wearing a 
green eyeshade, had his fingers glued to a stuttering telegraph 
key and didn't even look up when I entered the room. He con- 
tinued to worry the key for another five minutes then stopped, 
walked over to a long bank of levers all of which looked exactly 
alike, selected one and gave it a pull. He then sat down on a stool 
in front of a small east window and stared intently into the night. 
Soon a tiny light appeared in the distance. Like an approaching 
meteor it grew in brilliance and then sound was added to the 
picture framed in the window— sound that swelled to a deafening 
roar as a west-bound passenger train slurred its whistle up, then 
down the scale and shook the little tower till it rattled. 

Suddenly the green eyeshade loomed in front of me and a voice 
came from under it. "You gotta telegram?" I admitted that I had 
and handed it to him. He read it through twice. "This some sorta 
code?" he inquired. "Sorta," I replied. He sat down at his instru- 
ment, placed my copy before him and began tapping out the 
message, his fingers bunched together stiffly on the key except for 
one divorced digit which wavered about like a lone antenna. 
Finally he stopped, counted out the words, made a brief calcula- 
tion and told me the cost. I closed the tower door just as he was 
pulling down another lever and, carefully feeling my way down 
the steep flight of stairs, I remounted my bicycle and started for 
home. 

As soon as I got out in the country away from the city lights I 
began to look about at the sky. It was getting late. The comet and 
all the western stars had now dropped far below the skyline. By 
now, I thought, it must be getting dark out on the west coast. 
What would happen to my message? Would Harvard relay it on 
so that the big scopes in California could pick it up that night? Or 
would it arrive at Cambridge only to hear in cultured accents: "I 
say, here's a good one, some chap out in Ohio has just found that 
comet that was reported about six weeks ago!" 

In the cast the entire coterie of winter stars was on display. It 



138 



STARLICIIT NIGHTS 



was the same bright company that I had named while walking 
home from town that snowbound winter night— the same that I 
had seen while lying on my couch of sand that summer dawn at 
Copus Hill. Still watching them I clattered on and now I roused, 
in reverse order, each farmer's dog along the way. When I 
reached home the house was dark but as I put the bicycle away I 
saw that the car, now too late to serve as a comet courier, was 
back in its stall in the bam. 

Heavy clouds moved in the next day and for an entire dismal 
week I neither saw my comet nor received a confirmation. 
Finally, on the twentieth the skies cleared and that night I found 
the speeding comet far to the south of its first position. Next 
morning a telephone call came from John Wahmhoff, druggist 
and town historian of Delphos, whose store served as daytime 
quarters for Western Union. He read me a wire that had just 
come in from Harvard that confirmed my finding. The same 
cloudy spell that had plagued me had also prevented their search 
until the twentieth. It later developed that the comet had also 
been picked up-on the nineteenth-in Poland, so far south of 
my discovery position on the thirteenth that for a time there was 
some doubt if it were the same object, but sky-patrol plates made 
in South America on two intervening nights firmly established its 
identity. Thus assured, I went out to the observatory, opened up 
my pocket knife, and near the far end of the telescope— a foot or 
two beyond the inscribed trio of Daniel's early finds-I carved 
the name peltieh deep in the dark mahogany. Beneath by hand 
the old tube trembled as just below the name I cut the figures 
1925. The comet seeker had come back to life again! 

In ensuing years I made other trips up the steep-pitched stair- 
way to the signal tower but never again did my white-wheeled 
steed help to carry the message to Harvard. Never again has the 
occasion been so fondly remembered as that clattering ride on the 
night of Friday the thirteenth. 







17 South westward Ho! 



One summer day DUONG my mid-teens i was running across 
our cornfield when my eye was attracted by a tiny bit of color on 
the ground. I stopped, retraced my steps, and finally located the 
source. It was a small slender pebble less than an inch in length 
and made up of three alternating bands of blue and white 
material. I had never seen anything like it before, which seemed 
to me rather strange for I had covered our farm pretty thoroughly 
for years, not only in the everyday routine of farming operations 

139 



140 



STARLIGHT N1CHTS 



but also in regular hunts for arrowheads. This had once been well- 
populated Indian country and each year when plowing and after 
heavy rains some of these striking examples of Early Americana 
would be brought to the surface. I had accumulated quite a 
collection of arrowheads but no such colorful pebble as this had 
ever come to light. 

I could find no one who could tell me what my new find was so 
finally I sent it off to the Geological Survey in Washington, D.C. 
for identification. In a couple of weeks it came back, together 
with a letter that told me that it was a specimen of banded 
chalcedony. On further investigation I learned that chalcedony is 
a member of the quartz family of minerals— a family that cer- 
tainly never made the "Four Hundred" list around here for this is 
a region of sedimentary limestone laid down by the ancient seas 
that covered it millions of years ago. 

So, my solitary pebble was really a stranger in a foreign land; 
an innocent little waif kidnapped from its ancestral home far to 
the north and spirited here by the glaciers that covered most of 
Ohio some thirty thousand years ago. Now flint is also a quartz 
offspring and lest the validity of my flint arrowheads be ques- 
tioned I hasten to explain that they too are strangers in these 
parts. But in their case transportation was provided, not by the 
slowly marching glaciers, but by the Shawnee Indians who 
brought the raw material from a natural outcropping known as 
Flint Ridge, located in east-central Ohio. 

Actually the minerals of this flat corn-belt region are just about 
as varied as the ships of the Swiss Navy, and it would be difficult 
to find a less propitious locality in which to start collecting. 
However, over the years, I had managed to accumulate a number 
of specimens for there were several limestone quarries within 
range of my bicycle and these occasionally yielded such associ- 
ated minerals as pyrite, calcite, and fluorite. 

As I have remarked earlier— I save things. I still have my little 
chalcedony pebble and today it rests on a pad of cotton in a tiny 
plastic box with a closely fitting cover. It is still my most 
treasured specimen for it sparked an interest that was eventually 



SOUT II WESTWARD HOI 



141 



to lead, by a most devious route, to wedding bells and a long 
honeymoon sojourn in the great Southwest. To nine glorious 
months whose days were filled with mountains, rocks, and desert 
trails, with canyons, caves, and craters, and whose nights were 
blanketed with a sequined spread of the brightest stars that I had 
ever seen. 

If my little pebble was the starting point of this winding trail to 
the Southwest then the first turn to the right came back in my 
early high school days when the route of my white bicycle led 
me, morning and evening, past a large, square white house at the 
edge of town. Many times as I rode by this house I would see a 
small brown-eyed child with long dark curls playing on the lawn. 
I vaguely knew that she was the daughter of Homer Nihiser, a 
local beekeeper. After I left high school I no longer traveled this 
trail but became fully occupied with the affairs of the farm by 
day and star-gazing accounted for the majority of my nights- 
though I occasionally arranged other nocturnal activities that 
served to keep me in touch with the rest of humanity. 

Late in 1925 I took a job as stock clerk in a motor truck factory 
that had just moved to Delphos. Once again I traveled over the 
road that had taken me to school some eight or ten years before. 
Once again I passed, morning and evening, the square, white 
house at the edge of town, and once again, as I drove by, I 
sometimes caught a glimpse of the beekeeper's dark-eyed daugh- 
ter. She was now of high school age and I noticed that the long 
dark curls were gone and that she didn't need them any more. 
Eventually we came to have a nodding, then a waving, then a 
horn-tooting acquaintance. Finally one day I saw her near the 
street and stopped the car. During the conversation that ensued I 
found that she had never visited an observatory nor seen the stars 
through a telescope. The stars soon led to picnics and they to 
movies and then to swimming in the big stone quarry near the 
farm. All this, however, led quickly to September and Dottie was 
off to Ohio Wesleyan University and I saw her only on occasional 
weekends. 

In October 1929 came the stock market crash. For the past two 



142 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 






SOUTHWESTWAHD Hoi 



143 



years I had been working as a draftsman at the truck factory. It 
managed to struggle on for a few months longer, then suspended 
operations completely, and once again I became a full-time 
farmer. 1 was fortunate indeed to have this solid security to fall 
back to in this period of economic gloom which now had settled 
over the entire country. Here on the farm life went on, basically, 
much as before. Turtlelike, we simply withdrew a bit into the 
shelter of our shell and waited. 

Though the cheery jingle of a steady income now was missing 
and Dottie and I didn't take in many movies, yet, when she was 
home in summer, we still went swimming in the quarry and the 
river, we still took hikes and hunted fossils and our campfire 
steaks were just as thick and flavorful as ever. There was even 
more time now for observing and I greatly extended my list of 
variable stars and three more new comets were carved into my 
telescope. But throughout America the tempo of the times 
dragged slowly. The dominant tone was a dismal dirge of disap- 
pointments and defeat. With us it was a quiet interlude that 
ended on a happy note. 

Dottie and I had now known each other for about five years. 
We had attended the same high school and the same Sunday 
school. With my parents we had made summer camping trips to 
the Smoky Mountains, to Washington, D.C.. and to the Lake 
Superior country. We had gone swimming together in the Aug- 
laize in February and our last three New Year's Eves had been 
spent back in our woods cooking steaks over an open fire. We had 
many mutual interests and, as an extra bonus. Dottie had started 
out in life amid the rarest of celestial surroundings-strange and 
tenuous surroundings such as earth has known but twice in recent 
centuries. Deep in youthful slumber at the time, I did not leam 
for 20 years of what had happened in those hours of darkness nor 
how it was to figure in my future, for Dottie had been born that 
night in May while the earth was passing through the tail of 
Halley's comet! 

We were married late in November 1933. Immediately after 
the wedding we left for the Southwest. We had no definite desti- 



nation and no time schedule. We expected to be gone until spring 
and perhaps even longer. We were starting out on a glorious 
adventure and if we had any worries we left them all behind. 

Our preparations for the trip had occupied all of our spare time 
during the two months that had elapsed since first deciding on 
our future course. We both knew that we would have to rough it 
most of the time. There would be no stopping at hotels, no enter- 
tainments, no luxuries of any kind if we were to stretch our very 
limited resources to cover the greatest number of days and miles. 

We had mutually agreed on the Southwest for a number of 
reasons. First of all, the climate should be ideal during the winter 
months. It also was still a rather sparsely populated region with 
lots of wide open spaces and if we were going to be pioneers we 
wanted the right surroundings. Still another attraction that drew 
us toward the Southwest was that both of us, from our early 
schooldays, had been avid readers of all of the western novels of 
Zane Grey who, years before, had briefly resided and played 
baseball in our own home town, and now we longed to see for 
ourselves his colorful mountains, deserts, and canyons. A more 
immediate and practical reason, however, was that Dottie had 
long had an intense interest in all things relating to archaeology. 
This interest had been aided and abetted by a college course on 
Breasted's Ancient Times and a more recent reading of one of 
Ann Axtell Morris' books on prehistoric diggings now had her 
enthusiasm whetted to the point where she looked toward the 
Southwest as the Promised Land. 

This was an attitude that I fully shared for I, too, felt that 
somewhere out there was the foot of our own particular rainbow 
and, while we had no thought of finding there a pot of gold, yet 
we did have hopes of finding other treasure— for the Southwest is 
the mineralogical Mecca of America. In the brief time after decid- 
ing on the trip we had explored a bit into the remote possibility 
of adding to our travel fund as we went along. I had written to 
Ward's Natural Science Establishment, of Rochester, New York, 
and told them of our proposed trip. Ward's is an old reliable 
concern that purchased minerals, fossils, meteorites, and other 






144 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



science specimens and sold them to museums, schools, and col- 
lectors all over the world. They replied to my inquiry with a list 
of the minerals that they would purchase from us if we could 
locate them in suitable size and quality. My lonesome little 
chalcedony pebble seemed to brighten at the prospect of some 
kindred company. 

We left Ohio under the first snow of the winter and headed 
directly south. The great adventure was under way at lastl Each 
night we camped in some secluded spot along the road, some- 
times in a roadside park, sometimes in a lane or farmyard. Each 
dawn we ate our breakfast of bacon and eggs or pancakes and 
our own white-clover honey amid new and strange surroundings, 
and we felt each day become a little bit more balmy as we left 
the northern cold behind. 

A lot of contriving had gone into our traveling equipment. We 
had a fairly large wall tent with sewed-in floor and insect screens 
at door and window. This was a veteran of several family camp- 
ing trips. Our car, also a veteran, was a 1929 Ford sedan. Odd as 
it seems today,- cars of that vintage had no trunk or luggage 
compartment of any kind other than a shallow cavity beneath the 
seat, which held the tools. So I built a large trunk of plywood on 
the rear of the car and also a capacious cupboard that was bolted 
to the left-hand running board. The door of the cupboard opened 
down to make a table and inside we kept all our cooking utensils 
and our provisions. From the scraps of light sheet metal left over 
from the building of my dome I made a tiny oven which, when 
placed over one of the burners of our gasoline camp stove, baked 
perfect pies and rolls. 

Our particular pride and joy, however, was our feather bed. 
This I had made from an old spring cot of the type that holds the 
occupant suspended on a wire fabric stretched between head- 
board and footboard by two rows of small coil springs. I per- 
manently bolted the angle-iron headboard to the top of the rear 
cushion frame; the footboard, when the bed was in use, bolted to 
the dash of the car and a couple of wing nuts stretched the coil 
springs to the proper tension. On top of this wire foundation was 



SOUTHWESTWARD Ho! 



145 



placed our feather mattress, then our sheets and blankets. Dottie's 
contribution to our mobile bridal suite was a complete set of 
curtains. 

A typical day on the road would find us up at dawn or shortly 
after. I would start the camp stove then, while Dottie prepared 
our breakfast, I would take down the bed-which process re- 
quired less than five minutes— then check oil and gas for the day's 
run. By this time breakfast would be ready. Then the dishes 
would l>e washed and repacked and we would be on our way. 
Around noon we would start looking for a good place to pull off 
the road and cook our lunch and then again, as evening ap- 
proached, we would try to stop in time to get supper over before 
dark. 

We traveled at a leisurely pace and even though the Southwest 
was never far from our thoughts we did not hurry to reach it, nor 
did we shape our course directly toward our goal. Our first objec- 
tive was the Smoky Mountains. We had already been there on 
two family vacation trips and this time we wanted to see them all 
by ourselves. The region had only recently been made a national 
park and one could travel from one end to the other without 
finding a motel or public campground. This was quite to our 
liking for we could camp anywhere in complete comfort. The 
Smokies did not let us down. They have a distinctive charm 
found nowhere else and we spent several unforgettable days 
reveling in the glorious hazy vistas of late autumn seen from the 
highest mountains of the east. 

As still another means of bolstering our travel fund I had, 
before we started out, contacted an epitaph collector who fur- 
nished me with a lengthy list of cemeteries located within a 
reasonable distance of our proposed route and we made many 
side trips, usually over unimproved country roads, in order to 
locate; and photograph these quaint and sometimes weird inscrip- 
tions. Following one long and fruitless search for one of these 
concentrated lyrics Dottie remarked that, while she understood 
that we would be hunting stones on this trip, she had not realized 
that I meant headstones. 



146 



STARLICHT N'ICHTS 



SOUTH WESTWARD HOl 



147 



After leaving the Smokies we stopped at Stone Mountain, 
Georgia, where we found the geology of this immense dark 
granite monadnock, eight hundred feet high and a mile long, of 
great interest. The task of carving a pageant of the Confederate 
Army into the solid face of the mountain, begun by Gutzon 
Borglum in 1917, had been suspended at the time of our visit. 
Angling across Georgia and southeastern Alabama we passed into 
northern Florida and here we turned westward. Near Mobile we 
got our first view of the Gulf and, in a little boat, wc went fishing 
one misty early morning on Mobile Bay where Dottie caught a 
strange creature called a stalked gurnard, which resembled some- 
thing left over from the age of dinosaurs and pterodactyls. 

Each clear night since the start of the trip, no matter where we 
happened to be, I set up the 6-inch telescope and carried on my 
usual observing program— for I had brought along my atlas and 
all my variable-star charts. It had been only a very minor prob- 
lem to adapt the comet seeker to a vagalwnd career for its stubby 
four foot length made it an ideal instrument for travel. However, 
the wooden tube and the heavy iron mounting were entirely too 
cumbersome to be portable, so I quickly made a tube out of light- 
gauge sheet metal and to this I attached all the original optical 
parts, while Leon Campbell, of Harvard Observatory solved the 
problem of a mounting by sending me an alt-azimuth bearing for 
which I built a sturdy wooden tripod. I made a special wooden 
case for the telescope that held it suspended by rubber strips cut 
from an old inner tube and this reduced road shocks and vibra- 
tion to a minimum. This case rode on the rear seat of the car 
while the tripod was rolled up in the center of our tent roll which 
then was strapped to our right-hand front fender. 

The stars had been out on several of our nomad nights thus far 
but on each occasion we were camped among trees that left me 
with only a little open sky so that I had to move about from place 
to place to see my list of stars. It brought back vivid memories of 
the weighty grindstone mount that I once huffed and puffed 
about our yard at home. Of the observing during our sojourn in 
the Smokies let me merely say that it was gorgeous— in the day- 



time. It is significant that there has been no stampede by the big 
observatories to secure sites on Clingman's Dome or Mt. Le- 
Conte. After all, even the Smokies can't have everything. 

Our nights along the Gulf, however, were a much more lucid 
story. Here we drove many extra miles to find camp sites with a 
good view to the south, for now, all along the southern horizon I 
was seeing stars that I had never seen before. From my pasture 
observatory at home there was always a good clear horizon to the 
south and on good nights I could see the stars well almost to the 
ground line. Now, in all the region south of this, down to where 
the sky dipped into the waters of the Gulf, I wandered as a 
stranger in a foreign land-wandered as I had that summer 
morning many years before when the alarm clock woke me to 
view the winter stars which then were still unknown to me. Here, 
along the shoreline of the Gulf, for the first time, the open sea 
formed a part of my night horizon. By looking only to the south I 
almost felt that I was on my tropic isle. 

Throughout East Texas, in particular, we were most favorably 
impressed with the relatively low cost of living. Here, truly, two 
could live as cheaply as one-back in Ohio. Gasoline here was 
thirteen cents per gallon which, in our case, amounted to about 
one-half cent per mile of travel. Roadside stands all along the 
way offered an overabundance of pecans, oranges, and nectarines 
and of these we ate, sometimes not wisely but too well, as we 
drove along. Prime sirloin steaks cost us only twenty-five cents 
per pound and on one occasion, in preparation for a rather 
extended side trip, we laid in a full week's store of provisions for 
a total outlay of only three dollars and fifty cents. We liked Texas 
and there was lots of it to like. 







18 



Cave Dwellers 



DOTTIE STRUCK PAY DIRT FIRST, WE WERE CAMPED ONE NICHT IN 

a farmer's orchard near the little village of Shumla, which is 
located right where the Rio Grande River, after making the curve 
of its northern loop, starts its long southeastward meander to- 
ward the Gulf of Mexico. The following morning, as we were 
cooking our breakfast, the fanner's young son-a boy of about 
thirteen-came by and, in our brief visit with him, he mentioned 

148 



CAVE DWELLERS 



149 



that we were only about a fifteen minute walk from the Rio 
Grande and volunteered to show us the way. 

We gladly accepted his offer and followed him down a long 
narrow lane, through a crudely fashioned gate and across a small 
pasture field. At the far side of the pasture, just beyond a line of 
low bushes, the ground completely disappeared and we suddenly 
found ourselves at the very brink of a canyon that was perhaps 
four hundred feet deep with quite precipitous walls. Far below us 
were the swift muddy waters of the Rio Grande. Just to see this 
storied river brought back to us little bits of history that we had 
long forgotten-Coronado and the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, 
Zachary Taylor and the Mexican War, the Texas Rangers, ^and, 
more recently, General Pershing and the long "most wanted" but 
never captured, Pancho Villa. 

We had come out at a sharp bend in the river and from this 
vantage point we had a good view of both canyon walls, up- 
stream and down. From where we stood we could see several 
large caves in the canyon walls on our side of the river, though 
there were none on the Mexican side, as it was more broken and 
irregular. Our boy guide told us that these were old Indian caves 
and that archaeology students from one of the Texas colleges had 
done some digging in them. At this point, with Dottie fairly 
drooling at the sight of those caves, the boy had to leave to do 
some work at home. We stood there and looked at those beautiful 
caves, we looked at the canyon walls, we looked at each other. I 
waited for her to speak. After all, this was her expedition. Finally 

it came. 

"Well, it surely doesn't take a college education just to climb 
down those rocks. Let's go." 

I do not claim that those canyon walls were exactly perpen- 
dicular or that a slip or misstep would have plunged us all the 
way to the river for actually we would probably have bounced 
about three times on the way down, but 1 felt that the final result 
would probably have been equally disastrous. However, like one 
of the noble Six Hundred, it was not mine to reason why. The 



150 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



line of least resistance seemed to lie to our right where, about 
three or four hundred yards away, wc could see the entrance to a 
large cave. Angling downward toward the cave there seemed to 
be a rather vague line of broken rocks interrupted about midway 
by a huge rock that jutted outward toward the open canyon. 

Cautiously we started out along the broken line in the wall. At 
first we crept along hand in hand in true honeymoon fashion but 
soon we held a short conference and decided to abandon the 
touch technique. It was quite pretty but not at all practical, nor 
could we, at the moment, recall that mountain climbing had been 
done that way in any of the movies we had seen. Inch by inch we 
worked our way along until we finally came to the protruding 
rock that now completely hid both the trail and our destination 
from view. Again we consulted but now there was not much 
choice. We would just have to climb up over that rock and pick 
up our trail again on the other side. So, leaving Dottie at the base 
of the rock, I slowly worked my way up its steeply sloping face 
by digging my fingers and the toes of my heavy boots into any 
seams that I could locate until finally I reached the top. 

No mere words of mine can describe my feeling of empty 
bewilderment when I looked over the rock toward its other side. 
It had no other side! There was nothing but a sheer drop of 
perhaps fifty feet to a narrow ledge of rock, and below that there 
was only the river. 

There was nothing we could do but admit defeat and retrace 
our steps. Dottie was still down at the base of the rock waiting 
for me to tell her to come ahead. I explained the situation and 
told her to start on back but she insisted on waiting for me. By 
cautiously looking over my shoulder from where I lay spread- 
eagled on the rock I could just see her head, over the bulge of 
rock, silhouetted against a background of muddy Rio Grande. 
The picture, at the moment, had but little appeal for me. 

Like Napoleon, I found the retreat far more difficult than the 
advance had been. Flattening myself, leechlike, on the rock to 
gain all the friction possible I slowly slithered downward with 
toes and fingers feeling for each friendly bump and crevice. It is 






CAVE DWELLERS 



151 



said that in moments of great stress strange mental quirks and 
lucid images are apt to cross one's mind. I found this to be quite 
true for, all of a sudden, as I inched slowly backward, I clearly 
saw before me the title cover of a book that had always reposed 
in unmolested dignity in our bookcase on the farm. The book 
was, The Descent of Man, by Charles Darwin. 

The going became somewhat easier after I came over the bulge 
in the rock so that Dottie could see me and thus help to guide my 
groping talons until at last I stood beside her. Getting back to the 
canyon rim was then comparatively -easy. For a long time we lay 
there on the canyon rim flat on our backs, looking up at the 
bright blue Texas sky, just feeling grateful for the solid ground 
beneath us. Finally we rose and walked slowly back to camp. It 
was late afternoon and we remembered that we had not eaten 
since early morning. During the course of the long, slow supper 
I recalled my strange sidelight of the day's adventure and told 
Dottie about my vivid recollection of The Descent of Man. She 
thought this over for a moment, then said, 

"We can just be thankful that you didn't see Paradise Lost in 
your vision." 
"Why?" I asked. 

"Because," she replied, "it tells about the Fall of Man." 
Soon after supper we eased our already aching anatomies into 
the blessed haven of our feather bed, resolving that so far as we 
were concerned, the college boys could have their mountain 
climbing. 

Next morning we were right back again. A good night's rest 
can do wonders, but in this case a competent guide could do even 
more. We had talked to the farmer's son again at breakfast and, 
on relating our adventure to him. learned that we had been on 
the wrong track completely. Dottie promptly engaged his services 
as guide and half an hour later he was leading us down the 
canyon on an ample trail that was quite invisible from the point 
where we first had viewed the caves. Even here, however, the 
boy kept us in constant turmoil all the way by skipping blithely 
from rock to rock, dashing up to the very edge of a yawning 



152 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



abyss or peering, with utter unconcern, over the brink of cliffs 
that I would only have approached on hands and knees. 

When we finally reached the cave its over-all size astounded us. 
The entrance was fully one hundred feet long and about twenty- 
five feet high in the center. In depth it extended perhaps forty 
feet hack into the canyon wall. For Dottie it was a solemn occa- 
sion, the fulfillment of a cherished dream. She entered the cave as 
a pilgrim enters a holy temple. I feel sure that she would have 
taken off her shoes if they had not been hunting boots that laced 
all the way up to her knees. Had there been an ancient skeleton 
lying around I can well imagine that she would have quietly 
approached its side, then simply and solemnly intoned: "Mr. Cave 
Man, here we are." 

The cave had been occupied for many centuries for the ac- 
cumulated debris that covered the floor was several feet in depth 
and the stone ceiling above us was blackened by the smoke from 
innumerable prehistoric campfires. As our guide had told us the 
cave had been partially excavated and we could plainly see where 
several long trenches had been dug in the floor, though none of 
this work appeared to be very recent. From this we assumed that 
everything archaeologically important had already been re- 
corded. Had we found the cave untouched we would have left it 
intact, for we well knew that many times important evidence has 
been destroyed by amateur explorers and souvenir hunters. 

Our only implement for digging was a short-handled trenching 
tool that we had recently bought in a surplus store in San An- 
tonio. This was a combination tool that had a sharp pick on one 
side of the head and a broad adz blade on the other. With this we 
made a short crosscut between two old parallel cuts and in so 
doing we felt sure that we were despoiling nothing of value. 

The dust that we raised in this digging was incredible. Only 
one of us could work at a time and even then only by breathing 
through a mask made by tying a wet bandana over nose and 
mouth. We knew beforehand that this dust can actually be quite 
dangerous. If too much is inhaled it results in congestion, fol- 
lowed by fever, and, quite often, by pneumonia. 






CAVE DWELLERS 



153 



We unearthed, intact, a number of small pottery bowls. Those 
near the upper levels of the trench were of brownish clay and 
were painted with black and red designs while those found at a 
lower level were much more crude in workmanship and without 
ornamentation of any kind. From deep in the trench we also 
recovered a few fragments of basketry as well as a number of 
very curious relics that consisted of two roughly circular flat 
pieces of pottery bound together with strings of vegetable fiber. 
We looked with awe on all these deeply buried treasures for they 
were by far the most ancient artifacts that we had ever found. 

Late in the afternoon our boy guide went home to do his 
chores. Already the sun had dropped behind the opposite canyon 
wall and it was growing dark within the cave. Loath to leave a 
spot so filled with ancient days we sat for still another hour at the 
entrance, reflecting on those long gone times when this same cave 
bad been the center of the lives of those real First Families of 
America-the early Basket Makers. Abetted by the gathering 
gloom we pictured in our minds an age-old time when solid rock 
still formed this cavern's floor, when brown-skinned naked figures 
moved about a blazing fire that cast dark shadows on the walls, 
while children played about these very rocks where now we sat, 
their shouts and laughter filling all the cave and echoing and re- 
echoing from canyon wall to canyon wall high up above the 
rushing river. 

I wanted to see the stars that evening from the narrow parapet 
at the mouth of the cave. At best I could have seen only a slender 
strip of sky above me which widened somewhat toward the 
southeast-the direction of the river's flow. However, we still 
vividly recalled our mountain-climbing perils of the previous day 
and, having no desire to be out on the canyon trail in the dark- 
ness, we packed up our pottery bowls and our bits of basketry 
and started back up the winding path. 

When we finally came out on the rim of the canyon we found 
ourselves standing on top of a stark and primitive world. The 
sudden dark of the mid-January night was settling all around, but 
in the east a full moon hung just above the broken, barren sky- 



154 



STAHLIGHT NIGHTS 



line. All across the south, beyond the river, as far as the eye could 
see, lay the miles on mountained miles of Mexico. The canyon, 
now filled to its moonlit banks with limpid darkness, lapped at 
our very feet, though I still could see within its murky depths the 
inky grotto of our cave. Bats now swam in this stygian river and, 
like jerky flying fishes, often soared in silent spurts above its airy 
surface. 

Wearied by our long climb up the wall we rested on a large flat 
boulder which stood on the canyon rim at the head of the trail. 
We had often wished for a time machine that would run in 
reverse but never had the longing been so great as on this night 
when we were perched on that rock above the Rio Grande. This 
boulder guarded the only trail down to the cave. Every man, 
woman and child who had ever lived in the cave had passed 
beside our rock. We could have watched a paleolithic pageant 
covering thousands of years in the life of early man in America 
without moving from this spot. 

The strategic position of our big boulder brought on another 
line of speculation. Throughout the thousands of years that man 
had occupied the cave he must have constantly been beset by his 
enemies-other tribes who coveted his home or his possessions. 
No matter how primitive these early cave dwellers may have 
been they still must have taken every possible precaution against 
a surprise attack. Would not at least one guard be stationed 
somewhere outside the cave to warn the others of impending 
danger? What better vantage point for a lookout station than this 
very rock? From here one could command a view of the only 
entrance to the cave. Here one could survey the surrounding 
terrain in all directions. To us it seemed only logical to assume 
that, during those long centuries when the cave was occupied by 
man, each night some Stone-Age sentinel sat here on this same 
spot and looked about on this same unchanging scene. 

As we sat there lost in these conjectures on the long ago the 
clear Texas sky was full of stars. Even with a bright full moon in 
Gemini many of midwinter's gaudiest sky pictures were hung out 
on display. We knew that our early watchman also saw these 






CAVE DWELLERS 



155 



same stars sparkling in his skies. The same Orion glittered in the 
south, the same misty Pleiades crossed above his head, and in his 
northern sky the same Big Dipper circled round the pole, even 
though the polestar then may not have been Polaris. We felt quite 
sure-though they left no written records-that the dwellers in 
our cave knew and closely watched the stars. They must have 
noted that just one star was always fixed in its location in the 
north and in their wanderings it doubtless served them as a 
compass. They surely had a name for the Big Dipper which then 
circled close about the pole and for Cassiopeia, which rose and 
set far to the north. Orion, Sirius, Scorpio-even the Southern 
Cross which long ago rose well above the mountains in the 
south-all must have figured in their folklore. We liked to think 
that from this lonely lookout our long-gone watchman often 
sighted on some star to time the silent midnight changing of the 
guard. 

We took one last long look down into the canyon and then, 
floodlighted by the moon we walked back through the pasture 
and up the lane to our camp in the orchard. That night the dust 
of a thousand years, which we had breathed that day, like the 
curse of the Pharaohs, kept sleep away for hours. We talked long 
of the Basket-Maker culture-already old when Christendom was 
new; we reviewed all the many thrilling highlights of the day, but 
most of all we spoke of the little pottery bowls. They were 
something tangible. We tried to picture in our minds those 
shadowy beings whose dark deft fingers had shaped and painted 
them. We spoke too of the long, long night of dust that the bowls 
had passed within the cave and of the vastly different world to 
which we had, that day, awakened them. How long would this 
day last before another night, another pall of dust, would close 
about them? 

Dortie finally dozed off, but for a long time she tossed and 
mumbled in her sleep, still digging in a dusty trench in the cave 
of her dreams. 




iy Hyalite Hunting 



FlHST ON OUR LIST OF THE MINERALS WE HOPED TO COLLECT FOR 

Ward's was a quite unpretentious thing called hyalite. We had 
never seen a specimen of hyalite, we only knew that it was a 
clear, colorless mineral which occurred as a coating on certain 
igneous rocks and that it was member of the great opal family. 
We had always regarded "precious" opal-the aristocrat of the 
family-as the most beautiful and most colorful of all the gems 

156 



HYALITE HUNTING 



157 



and the prospect of hobnobbing with even one of the "poor 
relations" thrilled us immensely. 

Mr. R. C. Vance, the mineralogist at Ward's, had told us that 
he had heard of the hyalite occurrence through a geology pro- 
fessor at the El Paso School of Mines, who had found it while 
conducting an extensive field trip with his students through the 
Big Bend region of Texas. Actually, the nearest that Vance could 
come to pinpointing the hyalite location was that it was "about 
forty miles south of Maria." We were yet to learn what a lot of 
real estate a pinpoint could cover in the state of Texas, but at that 
time, from the fleecy cloud on which we were riding, such direc- 
tions seemed quite ample. We would simply drive to Marfa, a 
town near the southwest Texas border, then turn south for forty 
miles, get out our pick and collecting bag and start digging 
hyalite. It was not quite that simple. 

We literally blew into Marfa on the crest of a late January 
"norther" and at first sight the town looked to us like an island in 
a storm-tossed sea oJ tumbleweed. We spent the night in camp 
there in what was unofficially said to have been the lowest tem- 
perature ever recorded there-two degrees below zero. This was 
indeed a chilly reception to what we had envisioned as the desert 
southwest, and early next morning we were glad to head south. 
But before we left town we carefully noted the mileage on our 
speedometer. 

One hour later we stopped the car. We were exactly forty miles 
south of Marfa. We got out of the car and looked around, but our 
pick and collecting bag were not disturbed, for even a couple of 
corn-belt prospectors could plainly see that no geology professor 
had even led his minions through these parts. Perhaps a 4-H Club 
had once camped hereabouts or the Future Farmers of America 
may have held a roast beef barbecue here but it definitely was no 
place for the United Mine Workers. This was Texas cow country! 

We got back in the car and drove on south, consoling ourselves 
with the fact that at least we had run into sunny skies and 
warmer weather. At the village of Casa Piedras no one had ever 



158 



STARL1CHT NIGHTS 






heard of hyalite so we continued on southward all the way to 
Presidio, on the Rio Grande. Local experts here sent us back 
north again to a small mining town in the lead-silver district of 
the Chinati Mountains. This drive was our first experience with 
really rugged mountain travel. 

All about this town were mines and mining a-plenty but the 
region did not have the type of geology we were looking for. We 
wanted old volcanic terrain that had known an abundance of 
thermal or hot water activity, for opal is very like quartz «in its 
chemical make-up except for its greater water content. At the 
village store, however, an old-timer -directed us to a locality 
several miles due east of town which seemed to him to fulfill the 
requirements that we described. 

About a mile from town we came to the little two-room home 
of George Dawson, the owner pf the area we hoped to explore. 
We found him a most kind and courteous old gentleman who 
gave us free access to the entire tract and told us where to find 
both water and a good campsite. From his doorway he pointed 
out to us in the far distance, a tall isolated peak that we would 
pass on the way to camp. This peak, he said, he had long ago 
named Mt. Bob Ingersoll as he had always had a great admira- 
tion for Mr. Ingersoll. Whether this liking was for Ingersoll's 
flowery oratory or for his philosophy we never knew. 

For the first five miles or so we followed a dim trail that led 
through a region of such strange, weird beauty that we found it 
hard to convince ourselves that we were still on earth. Twisted 
lava formations, cinder cones, and wide crevasses, half lighted by 
the setting sun made it a scene so wild and eerie that it seemed 
we might be wandering through some region on the moon. 

We eventually came abreast of Mt. Ingersoll on our left and 
continuing on in the twilight we soon came to the campsite to 
which Mr. Dawson had directed us. We found it a lush oasis in 
the midst of all this unearthly wasteland. It snuggled up against a 
mountainous wall which formed the eastern boundary of the 
region. Here a small stream had been dammed to form a tiny lake 
which furnished water to irrigate this entire desert garden spot. 



HYALITE HUNTINC 



159 



Ancient cottonwood and willow trees and a thriving apple or- 
chard all attested to the antiquity of the place. 

We pitched our tent in a little grove of willow trees right 
beside the lake and as we were doing so several tame catfish, 
between two and three feet in length, came up to the bank and 
watched the whole procedure. Lying on the ground just outside 
our tent door were two large metates or grinding stones. These 
handy built-in kitchen appliances of ancient Indian days were 
almost two feet square and each had a shallow depression 
hollowed out in the center for grinding and mixing corn meal. 
Throughout our stay here Dottie was careful to keep our box of 
Aunt Jemima's Ready Mixed Pancake Flour well out of sight of 
these two stony-faced old matriarchs. Finally, just to make this 
campsite completely unbelievable, not fifty feet away was a 
heated outdoor swimming pool! 

After days of dusty driving the prospect of a swim was so 
appealing that we did not even wait till total darkness fell. The 
moon was still a narrow golden sickle in the west as Dottie and I 
emerged from the shelter of the surrounding willow trees and 
broke the spangled mirror of the pool into a hundred crazy 
constellations. For the second time in our lives we found our- 
selves swimming out-of-doors in February. This time it was not a 
quick, in and out, double-dare dunk in the icy Auglaize but 
instead a leisurely soaking in a natural pool that was fed by 
underground hot springs. 

The pool was possibly thirty feet square and the water not 
more than five feet deep but it was more than ample to envelop 
us completely with a soft caress so soothing that while we were 
steeping in its luxury our little floating island of Ivory Soap, our 
only vestige of the outside world, drifted completely out of sight. 

We swam and paddled and splashed about for more than an 
hour until the moon had dropped behind the western mountain 
wall. Once as I lay floating on my back, a bright meteor flashed 
across the leaf-bound square of sky above me. For just a fleeting 
instant it took me back to Copus Hill where I had lain one night 
on a contoured bed of sand and searched the skies for just one 



160 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



tardy Perseid. Now, far removed in. time and distance from Ohio's 
wooded hills, I watched the winter stars from a willow-bordered 
pool among the rugged mountains of the Big Bend country. 
While thus drifting in the dark I made two estimates of variable 
stars. The first of these was Mira, in the constellation Cetus. 
Then, turning in my aqueous alt-azimuth toward the north, I 
made an estimate of Algol, the Demon Star, in Perseus. Oddly 
enough, these were the first two stars that were recognized as 
being variable— in 1596 and 1667 respectively. How many 
times, I wondered, in all the years that followed their discovery, 
had these stars been observed from such bizarre surroundings. 

The next two days were spent in aimless prospecting that 
yielded nothing but a monumental tiredness at the close of each 
day which only a thorough soaking in our warm pool could 
relieve. Actually, this pool had for us a significance far beyond its 
mere utilitarian use as a convenient bathtub. It served as an 
indication of the geology of the whole region. It told us that deep 
down beneath these volcanic rocks subterranean fires still burned. 
We now felt even more hopeful that somewhere in these tortured 
hills and gullies our hyalite was hiding. 

On the third day we were up at sunrise and after a quick 
breakfast Dottie packed a light lunch and we drove over to Mt. 
Ingersoll. From a distance the mountain, in its isolation and in the 
abruptness with which it rose from the desert floor, seemed to me 
to greatly resemble the very striking lunar formation, Pico, which 
I had often watched with the highest powers of my telescope. 
However, as we approached we could see that a considerable 
talus slope, created by the weathering of the mountain, sur- 
rounded the entire base. Leaving the car in a conspicuous spot 
we gradually worked our way around this slope, finding, as we 
slowly progressed, some very colorful specimens of my first 
love-chalcedony, though here it was not made up of distinct 
layers of color, as was my cornfield solitaire. These were botryoi- 
dal in form, like clusters of grapes, and we found them in many 
warm shades of brown, red, and orange. 

We were roughly on the opposite side of the mountain and 
perhaps a mile from our starting point when we noticed, high up 



HYALITE HUNTING 



161 



on the slope, a group of dark lava boulders. As we slowly climbed 
in their direction we thought that we could occasionally detect an 
evanescent shiny sparkle on their sunward side. As we ap- 
proached, the slope became much steeper, the footing more pre- 
carious, but we now had but little thought of this for, as we 
climbed nearer and nearer that shine we saw became a gleam, 
the gleam became a glitter, and finally, as we stood at last beside 
the lava boulders, we knew that here a bit of our Southwest 
rainbow touched the earth. The sparkle in the rocks had been the 
sunlight reflected from embedded layers of hyalite! 

Like all varieties of opal, hyalite is completely amorphous, or 
without any crystalline structure. Here it occurred in its usual 
grapelike form resembling clear, glassy drops of gum coating 
seams and cavities in the rock. Hyalite has no commercial use and 
is of interest only to museums and collectors-and honeymooners. 

We spent a couple of happy days getting out our order and 
packing it for shipment and also in searching for any other oc- 
currences, then we reluctantly made preparations for our de- 
parture. During our stay of more than a week we had seen no 
other human beings though we knew that someone had been 
watching us. On one of the evenings when we returned to our 
camp after a day of prospecting we found that someone had 
entered the tent in our absence and had placed-very conspic- 
uously on my pillow-a .30 caliber bullet. On first seeing the bul- 
let there I think we both felt exactly as did Robinson Crusoe when 
he came upon the human footprints in the sand. Like him we had 
thought our isolation was complete. 

We left the bullet on the table when we went prospecting the 
next day and when we returned that night it was gone. We never 
solved the mystery, though Dottie, who dabbles in who-dun-its, 
theorized that perhaps some young Indian, with a flair for the 
dramatic, had left the bullet as a warning that we were camped 
too near the ancestral food grinders or that we should cease our 
nightly ablutions in the sacred swimming pool. Whatever it may 
have signified we ignored it completely and our scalps remained 
intact. 

We finally broke camp and drove away with a feeling of 



162 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



deepest regret. In this vast Big Bend wilderness we had made our 
first strike in minerals; here we had watched the polestar sink to 
its lowest in our lifetime skies and here my telescope had prohed 
its deepest among the stars below the rim of my Ohio world. We 
had found a paradise and we could only console ourselves on 
leaving with the solemn vow that some day we would return. As 
yet we never have, though the hope Ls still alive, for there are 
miles and miles of rocky wilderness that we would like to explore 
and there are starlight swims that we will not forget. There are 
nights of weird, unearthly moonlight and happy, sunny days that 
we both long to live again. Of all the many places where our 
caravan has rested, we remember most fondly our camp by the 
Indian Spring. It was a timeless spot. 

On our way out we stopped at George Dawson's little cabin to 
say goodby to him and to thank him for his hospitality but he was 
not at home. We left a note for him and when we finally got back 
to Ohio we wrote him a long letter telling him of our trip and of 
his part in making it a success. May he and his beloved mountain 
rest in peace. 




20 Night on Mt. Locke 









TWO YEARS BEFORE DOTTIE AND I WERE MAhltlED SHE HAD Ac- 
companied our family on one of our suinir.fr amping trips. On 
this occasion we had gone north through Michigan, ferried across 
the Straits of Mackinac into die northern peninsula, and 
returned home through Wisconsin. This trip marked oui tirst visit 
to Yerkes Observatory and our first meeting with the Van Bies- 
broecks. 
I had known Dr. Van Biesbroeck through . ! corre- 

163 






164 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 






spondence since 1925 when he wrote me suggesting that I send 
Yerkes a collect wire regarding any future comet finds that I 
might make. With favorable skies this direct apprisal would 
enable them to secure a position measurement and perhaps even 
a photograph on the same night the discovery was made— a 
much more prompt procedure than waiting for the relayed 
Harvard announcement. Van B, as he was familiarly known, was 
a Belgian by birth and had been trained as a civil engineer. Later 
he adopted astronomy as a profession and America as a home for 
he brought his family to this country and joined the staff of 
Yerkes Observatory. Here he has done much double-star work 
with the 40-inch Clark-still the world's largest refractor-as well 
as a great deal of photographic work with the 24-inch reflector, 
while his engineering skill has enabled him to design and develop 
a number of accessory instruments. 

About a year after our Yerkes trip Van B. returned our campers 
visit with one of his own. This time he was on a camping expedi- 
tion and was accompanied by his charming and talented children 
as well as two staff astronomers, Harold Schwede and W. W. 
Morgan-who later became director of Yerkes. After dark that 
evening we all adjourned to my little observatory where the skies 
cooperated with a brilliant display of all the infinite host of 
heaven. Our visitors appeared quite favorably impressed with the 
wide, bright fields of the 6-inch comet seeker, though I feel sure 
that my little telescope, which would almost fit crosswise in the 
tube of the giant 40-inch, must have really appeared to them 
more like a good-sized microscope. 

When next our orbits crossed we both were far from home. 
While Dottie and I were on our hyalite hunt in the Big Bend a 
letter from Van B. finally caught up with us at Marfa. The letter 
had been sent to Ohio and then forwarded to us but it had been 
mailed at Ft. Davis, Texas, only twenty miles to the north! That 
evening when we found Van B. sitting by the potbellied stove in 
the lobby of the Limpia Hotel in Ft. Davis his scholarly face was 
a study in astonishment. I like to think that something like the 
law of gravitation was working to bring us together this time. 






NIGHT ON MT. LOCKE 



165 



While neither Van B. nor I could qualify as very massive attract- 
ing particles, it was the inverse proportion of the square of the 
distance between us that did the trick. 

The following afternoon we picked up Van B. at his hotel and 
drove the seventeen miles to the summit of Mt. Locke, where the 
new McDonald Observatory was to be built. As yet there was no 
improved road up the mountain and much of the grade had to be 
taken in low gear but we ignored the protests of the car and 
finally made it to the top. At the time the site for the observatory 
had been leveled off and the steel reinforcing framework for the 
polar-axis supports was in place. Even to the eye it was quite 
evident, from the relatively low north support, that our travels 
had carried us much to the south of our home latitude, for the 
angle that a polar axis makes with the horizon is always a precise 
clue to the latitude of the place—the nearer to the equator the 
station, the more nearly horizontal is the polar axis. Many years 
before, as I was adjusting with such care the polar axis of my cow 
pasture telescope, I was amazed with the realization that all the 
polar axes all over the world were parallel-whether they pointed 
straight up as at the poles, whether at 41 degrees as on my white- 
ash pier at Delphos or whether they lay horizontal down in 
Equador. McDonald is the most southern of all the large observa- 
tories in the United States-being fully 12 degrees south of 
Yerkes, its parent observatory. 

For the past many years there has been a happy blossoming of 
large telescopes in our arid Southwest. The sites for these ob- 
servatories have been wisely chosen with year-round clarity and 
image quality as the essential factors rather than convenience and 
ready accessibility. In fact, the more barren and remote the site 
the better is the assurance against the creeping encroachments of 
civilization. Mt. Wilson Observatory, in Pasadena, is an example 
of a location chosen without a sufficiently far-sighted view toward 
the future. Established in 1904, its 100-inch telescope was com- 
pleted in 1918 and for more than thirty years was the largest 
reflector in the world. Today Mt. Wilson is hopelessly trapped by 
the advancing legions of light. 






166 



STARLIGHT N'ICHTS 









J 



A few years ago the 69-inch Perkins Observatory instrument 
was transplanted from an unfavorable location in central Ohio to 
Flagstaff, Arizona and the move was most successful. A similar 
retreat seems to be the only real answer to Mt. Wilson's problem 
of the multiplying millions. One can only hope that before 
Palomar is similarly engulfed that mankind will find the very 
simple solution for the numbers racket. 

The latest large observatory to settle in this land of starlight 
and sunshine is the Kitt Peak National Observatory, which has 
come to rest on a two-hundred-acre mountaintop on the vast 
Papago Indian Reservation in southern Arizona. It is difficult to 
imagine any invasion of progress and population ever arising 
here. The peaceful Papago Indians who own the mountain site 
have changed but little in the past 300 years. Many of them still 
believe the earth to be flat and spirits still dwell in their moun- 
tains. May their Kitt Peak contacts never change them. Their flat 
earth is a happy, peaceful earth and there is no gain in just a 
switch in superstitions. 

This move to darker skies is not confined to the giant telescopes 
alone. The amateur observer whose realm of interest is centered 
in the depths of space has long realized that a dark transparent 
sky b of far greater import than is large aperture of scope. More 
and more these serious enthusiasts are seeking isolated spots in 
which to carry on their work. During our brief visit in Fort 
Worth, Oscar Monnig and some of the Texas Observers took us 
one night to a lonely spot far out in the country many miles 
beyond the city's glow. Here, on the barren treeless plain they 
had erected a small shack as their headquarters and here they 
came on starry nights, singly or in groups, to pursue their varied 
programs unhampered by a single light or tree or building. 

Within the past few months a most ambitious project has come 
to my attention and this too, like Kitt Peak and Mt. Locke, has 
wisely headed for the hills. Already a brand new observatory, 
capped with a twenty-foot dome rests upon a mountaintop in 
Southern California. Known as Ford Observatory from its donor 
Clinton Ford-long-time top observer and secretary of the 



NIGHT ON MT. LOCKE 



167 



AAVSO— it will house, as its main instrument, the 18-inch Car- 
penter reflector built by Claude Carpenter, a one-time native of 
Wayne, Michigan, and a frequent visitor of mine in Auglaize 
River days. Under the supervision of Tommy Cragg, Mt. Wilson 
astronomer, along with Larry Bornhurst and Ernie Lorenz, the 
entire installation was completed in August 1965. Here, at a site 
said to be unsurpassed by any in the United States, faint variable 
stars down to magnitude 18 will be closely studied and programs 
in photometry and solar activities will be carried out as well. 

The 7500-foot peak-higher than Mt. Wilson, Mt. Locke- . Kit! 
Peak, or Palomar-is about 30 miles east of Mt. Wilson and is a 
part of the San Gabriel Range. It lies in a large government- 
owned area which insures it against any commercial enCKM 
ments in the future. To the north and east of the mountain 
stretches out the vast Mohave Desert which makes a most effec- 
tive barrier in that direction. 

Having lived my entire life in a region flatter than a pancake 
my spirits soared to lofty heights when the officials of the project 
graciously announced that the mountain had been christened Mt. 
Peltier. 

On Mt. Locke that night, as evening approached, the construc- 
tion workers all went home and the three of us were left alone on 
the mountain. We made a small fire to heat coffee for the picnic 
supper we had brought along but before we had finished eating 
Van B. got up and walked over to a point where he could see the 
setting sun. He stood watching for a minute or two, then turned 
and called to us to hurry over and look for the "green flash." We 
arrived just in time and watched until the day's last beam, a 
momentary verdant spark, slipped past a distant intervening 
mountainside. The green flash, the final colored ray of sunlight 
before extinction, is an interesting phenomenon which Van B. 
told us had often been seen from the mountain. It is often seen at 
sea for it requires a distant smooth horizon. From where we stood 
the sun, as that particular time of year, disappeared behind the 
inclined slope of a far-off mountain to the west. This inclination 
was supposed to make the sun's extinction a more gradual process 









168 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



than a horizontal surface would have done, thereby prolonging, 
ever so slightly, the duration of this brief ray of green. This same 
purpose is served if the observer watches the flash while running 
uphill. Later on that evening we also watched the setting of 
Venus, but from her we got no hint of any green goodby, perhaps 
because the planet was in its crescent phase and the disappear- 
ance too gradual. 

I had brought the 6-inch telescope along with me that evening 
for I wanted the thrill of seeing the stars from a mountaintop. 
The night was moonless and cold and a host of twinkleless stars 
filled the Texas sky all the way to the horizon. On several occa- 
sions throughout West Texas I had experienced nights of amazing 
clarity but none like this, and it made my very best Ohio skies 
seem almost murky by comparison. The difference, of course, was 
mostly one of altitude for here on Mt. Locke, with its elevation of 
7,000 feet, I saw the stars as from a point more than a mile above 
my home in Delphos. 

In the south stood great Orion, higher in the sky by a wide Big 
JDipper bowl than I had ever seen it from Ohio. Directly beneath 
it, skirting the far-off mountain peaks, mighty Canopus made its 
brief arc across the southern sky. Until this trip I had never seen 
Canopus, the second brightest of all the stars, for it is only in the 
southernmost states that it is ever seen from continental United 
States, and even here but briefly. The fact that it was seen at all 
brought home to me another reason why so many mighty tele- 
scopes were settling in the South. The region around the south 
celestial pole will always be a blind spot for observers in the 
Northern Hemisphere for it is hidden by the curving bulk of the 
earth itself. But the farther south we go, the smaller this blind 
spot becomes. From where I stood on the summit of Mt. Locke I 
could see a 12 degree wide strip of stars which never could be 
seen from Wisconsin or Ohio. 

The impression that I will longest remember of the night on 
Mt. Locke had nothing to do with sharp stellar images or the new 
stars I saw in the south. It was, instead, the feeling I had, while 
all alone in the darkness, of complete and utter detachment from 






NIGHT ON MT. LOCKE 



169 



all the rest of the world. There was absolutely no sound. Earlier 
that evening Van B. had called this to our attention by asking us 
to remain perfectly still for a moment and "listen to the silence." 
We listened in vain for there was nothing up there to make a 
sound. It was winter and there were no nocturnal bird or insect 
sounds. There was no hum of wires, no rustle of leaves, no sigh of 
wind. The mountaintop was a silent world. 

Around the horizon earth met sky in a line so vague that it was 
hard to follow save where the turbulent vapor trail of the Milky 
Way dropped down behind the earth and in the southwest where 
a pale cone of zodiacal light still lingered in the sky. 

In all this vast expanse the only light came from the stars. I 
looked in all directions and no distant glow revealed a town's 
location. Even the thriving town of Alpine, which then boasted of 
being the largest town in the largest county in the largest state, 
lay hidden in the dark. From where I stood the whole earth 
seemed deserted. The skeleton framework of the north support, 
which rose against the sky behind, might well have been the 
crumbling vestige of a civilization which now had left the earth. 

Suddenly the vision vanished. Both sight and sound came back 
on Mt. Locke as a crackling blaze appeared not far away where 
Dottie and Van B. had revived our supper fire to keep warm 
while awaiting my return. 1 stowed away the telescope and 
warmed up for a while. Then we put out the fire and drove on 
down the mountain. 

A gleaming dome now sits upon Mt. Locke, and beneath the 
dome a mighty 82-inch eye peers out through narrow eyelids 
into all the nooks and crannies of the universe, while all night 
long astronomers attend the eye, plying it with patient guidance, 
coaxing it to show them all the marvels that it sees. 

For our final night in Ft. Davis we invited Van B. to have 
dinner with us in our camp. We spent all of that Saturday 
morning in getting the camp in shape for the dinner and in 
getting our equipment in readiness for our departure the follow- 
ing morning. After lunch Dottie went into town to buy the steaks 
and a few groceries for the dinner. We were right in the heart of 












170 



STARLIGHT N1CHTS 



the greatest white-face beef country in the world and she came 
home with three ormous steaks for which she had paid just 
twenty-five cents per pound. 

We still had a good supply of our own homegrown pressure- 
canned vegetables which we had brought along; corn, lima beans, 
and peas, and these, together with potatoes, strawberry preserves 
(homegrown, of course), and an apple pie were, by late after- 
noon, in various stages of preparation. In a fireplace outside I had 
a deep bed of coals ready for broiling the steaks and soon these 
were dispensing their savory smell throughout the countryside. 

Dottie had spent many hours in planning this dinner and in 
collecting various and sundry items essential to its complete 
success. A perfectionist by nature, she had figured out everything 
with mathematical precision and now, at last, the final count- 
down was in progress. At the precise moment I was dispatched 
uptown to bring back our guest. 

Everything had been perfectly timed. When we returned din- 
ner was served. Everything was piping hot and on each plate, as 
the piece de r6sistance of the meal, reposed the most gorgeous 
steaks I had ever seen. Huge, these were, and thick, each one a 
juicy, golden-brown portion of pure ambrosia over which Dottie 
had ministered with loving care and infinite finesse. The sprig of 
parsley which garnished each steak was itself an epic of design. 

A couple of hours later I took Van B. back to his hotel. When I 
returned to camp Dottie was still sitting quietly at the table. 
Silently we started in to clear the table but I could see that the 
bounce was gone from her step, the light was gone from her eye. 
On one of the dinner plates there still reposed a golden-brown 
portion of pure ambrosia, untouched, except that the sprig of 
parsley was gone. 

Van B., it seemed, was a vegetarian. 





21 The Merry-Go-Round 
Observatory 



During our southwestern wanderings we made several most 
interesting personal contacts. In Fort Worth, Texas we met Oscar 
Monnig, a long-time fellow AAVSOer and he and the regional 
group known as the Texas Observers made our brief stay in that 
area a most pleasant one. In Tucson we spent several days with 
Joe and Frannie Meek. Joe was an ardent observer of variable 
stars whom I had known for several years for, while still a student 
at the University of Wisconsin, he had twice visited my observa- 

171 






172 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 



tory on the farm. Through him wc now met Dr. Edwin Car- 
penter, director of the Steward Observatory of the University of 
Arizona, who permitted us to use the big 36-inch reflector on 
some of our lowly variable stars. A high point of our stay in 
Tucson was our meeting with the retired director of Steward 
Observatory, Dr. A. E. Douglass, an astronomer turned archae- 
ologist, whose studies of the sunspot cycle and its effect on plant 
growth enabled him, through the medium of "talkative tree rings" 
to accurately date a great many of the prehistoric ruins of the 
Southwest. 

One of the few disappointments of the trip came in El Paso. 
Here I lectured one afternoon to a high school assembly. The 
next day, after we had left town, I saw in a newspaper that 
Ernest Thompson Seton had also lectured to a civic group that 
same day. 1 owed a great debt of gratitude to the creator of 
"Rolf" and "Two Little Savages" which I would like to have 
expressed to him in person. 

Back home again in April the farm claimed us once more for 
the summer. In midwinter I was employed as designer by the 
Delphos Bending Company which, as a means of diversification, 
had decided to manufacture a line of children's toys and juvenile 
furniture. For the next three years we lived in my uncle's house 
while he was on a job in another part of the state. This had been 
my father's ancestral home and during all my youth we called it 
"Grandpa's house." Though old it was well constructed, com- 
fortable, and roomy. Still in good working order was the old 
fireplace beside which Grandpa spent his later years. Still on the 
walls hung several oil paintings that Dad had made while living 
there and still above a doorway, as in my childhood days, hung 
Grandpa's Civil War bayonet and an Indian tomahawk. 

Outside, all about, lay the old familiar stamping ground of my 
youth. Along the western edge of the property ran the Auglaize 
River where I had learned to swim. Here was the long strip of 
bottom land that made a fenceless pasture for our cows. Here 
was my high lookout by the Indian graves and, along the far 
north end beyond the orchard, was the old strawberry patch 



THE MERRY -.GO-ROUND OBSERVATORY 



173 



where I had once toiled mightily to buy a spyglass. The house 
was actually no farther from my observatory than my own home 
had been. It was merely on the opposite side of the same pasture 
field so everything was still very convenient for observing. All this 
was just too good to last, however, for all too soon my uncle's 
work was completed and now he and my aunt were moving back, 
which meant that Dottie and I and our three-month-old son, 
Stanley, would have to settle somewhere else. 

We were fortunate in being able to rent a house in town which 
was not only conveniently near my work but it also stood quite 
close to history for its small back yard was bounded on the west 
by the old Miami and Erie Canal. In earlier days this man-made 
waterway, dug out with pick, shovel, and wheelbarrow, had been 
the vital artery that sustained the life of towns and villages and 
farms all along this western border of the state. For more than 
half a century the canal remained a symbol of efficient transpor- 
tation. Its eventual demise was, of course, inevitable but in this 
case it was hastened by suicide. In its latter years its slow freight 
brought in many loads of steel rails for the railroads whose tracks 
were creeping out across the Middle West. The swiftness of the 
new Iron Horses soon retired the plodding mules that pulled the 
barges. 

The towpath of this ancient course, deserted now for more than 
sixty years, was broad and clear of trees and shrubs and to this 
once-busy trail in our back yard we brought my new observa- 
tory—a novel structure that I had designed and built during the 
two months that followed the announcement that a move was 
necessary. 

This new structure was proof that necessity is indeed the 
mother of invention. I needed a building that would be trans- 
portable whenever the occasion might arise, for Dottie and I both 
knew full well that eventually we would be moving again. Over 
the years, during many a star-filled night, die thought would 
come to me that there must be some more relaxed and com- 
fortable way of doing my particular type of observing; some way 
that would not require standing for hours at a time on an observ- 












I 



174 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



ing ladder. Only under the spur of necessity did I finally do 
something about it. 

The idea came to me while sitting in my office chair. I thought 
how pleasant it would be to hunt comets and watch variable stars 
from just such a position. I leaned back and slowly revolved the 
chair. I did it again and this time the four walls and the ceiling 
became a dome of stars about me. I tilted back my head and 
found to my surprise that about 30 degrees of head movement 
plus eyeball movement would permit me to clearly see the 90 
degrees from horizon to zenith. It all seemed so simple. Basically, 
all that I needed was my revolving chair and a rigidly pivoted 
telescope that would move up and down through 90 degrees with 
the tilt of my head. I put a big sheet of paper on the drawing 
board and started in. 

Since my observatory was to be designed for both comfort and 
efficiency it had to be enclosed. So I drew it up as a tiny room six 
feet square and five feet high. Thus, instead of a revolving chair it 
became a room that revolved on four rubber-tired steel wheels 
turning on a circular wooden track-all of which were stock parts 
that the company used in the manufacture of a children's merry- 
go-round. The chair, a single type upholstered automobile seat 
that I found in an auto junk yard, was mounted on an old piano- 
stool screw to make it adjustable in height. 

The telescope to be used was, of course, the 6-inch comet 
seeker and to keep it just as light in weight as possible I replaced 
the heavy wooden tube with the one which I had made out of 
light-gauge sheet metal to take on our western travels. As this 
telescope was only four feet long this was a distinct asset as it was 
held very rigidly in a forked suspension bar which pivoted in 
bearings on both side walls. By looking in a mirror while holding 
a pencil to the side of my head I found that the pivotal center in 
lilting my head was right in line with my ear. Therefore the 
bearings were so located on the walls that when I was seated in 
observing position, ears and bearings were all in line and thus the 
eyepiece always held its same position directly in front of my eye. 
Two heavy counterweights slightly overbalanced the weight of 









THE MERRY-CO-HOUND OBSERVATORY 



175 



the telescope so that gravity would raise the telescope to the 
zenith and I had only to turn a crank to bring it down. Thus I got 
two motions for the price of one. 

Just to be sure of the utmost in comfort I added a few re- 
finements. One of these was an adjustable headrest which, during 
a long observing session, greatly relieves the muscles of the neck. 
I built a tiny table to hold my charts and then installed a ruby 
light to read them by. Finally, and the greatest boon of all, my 
long-suffering feet were rewarded with an electric hot plate sunk 
into the floor just beneath them. I could not forget the many 
times I had run round and round my open station in the pasture 
just to bring my numbed feet back to life. I may have overdone 
this solid-comfort angle just a bit for many times since then 1 
have awakened with a start from a catnap in that chair. 

I never quite got around to inventing my chart viewer. This 
was to be a small device attached to the telescope right beside the 
eyepiece. It would consist of a long strip of 35mm. film on which 
all of my charts had been copied— four charts to a frame. 
Turning a crank would bring any desired chart into place where I 
could view it with my right eye through a magnifier by means of 
red transmitted light while I watched the telescopic field with my 
left eye. This device never got beyond the drawing-board stage 
for by this time I had memorized most of my charts and it would 
only have been an unnecessary gadget. But I did make an eye- 
piece turret for my telescope out of a couple of closely fitting 
soup ladles which is still in use today. It is a parfocal affair so that 
I never need to touch the focusing screw when changing powers. 

After 25 years of constant use I am still completely satisfied 
with my rotating observatory and there is little about it that I 
would change were I to build another. To the best of my knowl- 
edge it was, and perhaps still is, the only one of its kind. As I 
have it made its only enemy is wind, for part of the telescope 
tube projects outside the building. This I could easily remedy by 
attaching a light metal shield on windy nights but these trouble- 
some occasions come but rarely. For my own particular pur- 
pose—using low powers with a short-focus telescope— it is quite 









176 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



ideal but for other uses and other instruments it might be entirely 
unsuitable. When mounted as I have it such a telescope is strictly 
a solo instrument. It is decidedly not the observatory for the "star- 
party" astronomer for any movement of the building, such as 
getting in and out, loses the object from the field. It is conceiv- 
able that two persons, if of no more than medium stature and 
preferably somewhat undernourished could, under circumstances 
of extreme urgency sit side by side in my observatory but such 
total togetherness is not recommended. 

In actual practice my observatory is simplicity itself. Turning 
an auto steering wheel mounted directly in front of me will 
completely revolve the building and thus point the telescope in 
azimuth, or horizontal motion. Turning another smaller wheel 
raises and lowers the instrument in altitude from horizon to 
zenith. My only movements are the manual motions of manipulat- 
ing these two controls plus the slight tilting of my head. A large 
sky area is visible to the observer, which is a necessity in quickly 
finding one's way about. It is always completely dark inside the 
building except for the small amount of light from the exposed 
sky area. As the telescope rises in altitude it carries upward with 
it a light-tight black curtain so that no stray light can enter below 
the telescope. In this dark environment the observer's eye quickly 
becomes dark-adapted and remains so. 

In the past, various types of telescope and observatory com- 
binations have been designed and built with an eye for the 
comfort and well-being of the observer. Virtually all of these have 
been equatorial mountings and have had the eyepiece fixed in the 
upper end of the polar axis and this has been located in a warm 
and comfortable room that also held the controls for setting the 
telescope. However, there were certain disadvantages to all these 
instruments. They all required at least one extra reflecting sur- 
face, and sometimes two, in order to bring the image in to the 
fixed eyepiece. Each reflection naturally meant a loss of light and 
a less perfect image. In addition, these mountings often could 
survey only a limited portion of the sky. 

One such instrument was the 12-inch Gerrish polar telescope 




THE MERRY-GO-ROUND OBSERVATORY 



177 



which was in use for many years at Harvard. Here the downward- 
pointing refractor rube formed the polar axis of the mounting. 
This axis was supported by two bearings, the lower one resting on 
a short pier on the south side of a two-story building while the 
upper bearing was placed just inside the sealed window of a 
room on the second floor. Thus the eye end of the telescope 
projected into a warm room where the observer sat in solid 
comfort looking downward into the eyepiece just as into a tilted 
microscope. The astronomer never got to see the actual stars 
while using this device but pointed the telescope to various stars 
about the sky solely by the use of setting circles of right ascension 
and declination that were mounted right before him. Howard 
Eaton, an early secretary of the AAVSO, who often used this 
instrument on variable stars, once told me that all these manipu- 
lations made it seem more like driving a car than using a tele- 
scope for it even had foot pedals that were used for clamping the 
two motions. 

The most serious fault of the Gerrish mounting was its greatly 
restricted field, for it could reach only about 80 degrees of decli- 
nation—less than half of the visible dome of sky. Most of the 
northern stars were completely blocked out by the building that 
housed the observer and the lower southern sky was also inac- 
cessible as the flat mirror, which was cradled in the polar axis just 
below the 12-inch lens, would not reflect so great an angle into 
the telescope without distortion. Remembering my own nights 
out in the pasture station, that open-air flat mirror must also have 
been an easy victim for every frost and heavy dew. 

In 1882, M. Leowy of the Paris Observatory invented what was 
known as the Coude or "Elbow" equatorial. Its polar axis, like 
that of the Gerrish telescope, was mounted with the eyepiece in a 
comfortable upper-story room. However, about midway in this 
axis, and at right angles to it, a declination axis was placed and at 
the point of crossing of these two hollow axes a plane mirror was 
mounted at an angle of 45 degrees. This declination axis actually 
formed the tube of the telescope with the objective in the upper 
end, while just above this lens a rotatable box held another 45 












178 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 



degree plane mirror that caught the light from the stars and sent 
it through the objective to the mirror in the polar axis, where it 
was again reflected up through the hollow axis to the eyepiece in 
the observing room. 

This mounting also had its inherent faults. It was a rather 
complicated and expensive structure, it had not one but two 
reflecting surfaces to dim its images and finally the sky area 
around and beneath the pole was still blocked off by the observ- 
ing room. 

Yet another strange device for achieving comfort at the eye- 
piece was the Hartness turret telescope, named for its inventor, 
industrialist James Hartness. This unique hybrid of the elbow 
telescope employed as its polar axis a flattened dome that re- 
volved in an equatorial plane on the north-sloping roof of a 
small building. The elbow tube of the 10-inch refractor formed 
the declination axis of the mounting with a 45 degree prism fixed 
at the right-angle bend of the tube. The eye end of this tube was 
brought through the dome near its base on a line perpendicular 
to the theoretical polar axis. This tube was free to swing in a 
north-south direction and this movement, together with the rota- 
tional movement of the dome, permitted pointing to any part of 
the sky. This mounting has some advantages over the earlier 
elbow telescope of Leowy for it has but one reflecting surface and 
it has no blind areas. On the other hand its eyepiece, while 
indoors, is not rigidly fixed but moves about with the dome. 

I was quite proud of my little merry-go-round observatory. Its 
efficiency and ease of operation surpassed my fondest hopes. 
With memorized star charts two and three estimates of variable 
stars per minute were routine and before it had been in use a year 
the new observatory had also proved that it could catch a comet. 
It would do anything that any alt-azimuth would do— and do it 
in complete comfort. It had no restricted sky areas but could 
point with equal ease to any star above the horizon. Since it used 
no reflecting mirrors its optical system was unchanged and there- 
was no loss of light or definition. 

When in 1948 the giant 200-inch telescope on Mt. Palomar 



THE MERRY -CO-HOUND OBSERVATORY 



179 



finally swung into action the press made much of the story that, 
when used at its prime focus, the observer, for the first time in 
history, would ride with the telescope. I gloated just a little over 
this, for by then I had been riding with my telescope for eleven 
years, and furthermore, I had not blocked out a single ray of light 
while doing it. 










22 



Records and Recollections 



Fon QUITE SOME TIME THE OLD OBSEHVATORY ON THE FARM HAD 

been in need of extensive repairs to both the floor and roof. It had 
been in active use on nearly all the clear nights from 1921 to 1939 
and its deterioration was to be expected, especially in view of the 
fact that it had been quite impossible to prevent driving rains and 
snows from blowing in around the base of the dome. Now, with 
the inaugural of the new and highly satisfactory merry-go-round 
observatory, we decided to tear the old building down completely 

180 



RECORDS AND RECOLLECTIONS 



181 



and get the ground into use. The lumber in the old walls was still 
in good condition and this was stored away for later reuse. The 
dome was placed on the ground back of the barn where it 
remains to this day, still sound, with its sheet-metal covering only 
slightly rusted after more than forty years exposure to the ele- 
ments. The following spring the old pasture was plowed up and 
soon tall com hid the spot in the center of the field where seven 
new comets had come to earth and left their names carved in my 
wooden tube. 

I salvaged a lot of memories from the wrecking of the old 
observatory and these are still untarnished by time's passing. I 
had kept detailed records of many of the earlier affairs of the 
observatory and among these were copious notes on the physical 
characteristics of all auroral displays seen here over a period of 
many years, together with references to the sunspot groups which 
accompanied them. Each night I noted the hour when I began to 
observe and the hour I retired, also the condition of the seeing 
and the number of variable stars observed. Other sightings of 
interest to me, sometimes terrestrial as well as astronomical in 
nature, were also duly recorded. Unusual meteors, occultations, 
displays of zodiacal light and gegenschein, and, occasionally, 
notable storms and snowfalls were chronicled in full. 

Admittedly, much of my early recording is of no possible 
interest to anyone but myself. There also is much that is com- 
pletely statistical and there arc still other entries quite unrelated 
to the science of astronomy, but to me they all are priceless. In 
my notebook under the date April 1, 1919, I find the one-line 
entry: "First butterfly of season seen today— a Pyrameis ata- 
lanta." At once the door of memory opens on a vivid recollection 
of our back-yard cherry tree fairly swarming that spring with Red 
Admirals. I glance over at my bookcase and my eye soon picks 
out the green and gold cover of Cragin's Our Insect Friends and 
Foes. I take down the book and find on the flyleaf the date of 
purchase, March 21, 1919. It was the companion of most of my 
leisure hours that summer. I recall that I built a walnut display 
case for my moths and butterflies and then saved my money until 



182 



STAHLICHT NIGHTS 



I could buy the sheet-cork lining for the case and the long black- 
enameled pins for mounting the specimens. 

Also from my observatory records I leam that during the 
month of July 1919 we had an intense local recurrence of Cicada 
septendecim, the seventeen-year locust, and once again I plainly 
hear their all-pervading high-pitched whine, so unlike the harsh 
dismal rasp of the annual species. I find that on March 13, 1920, 1 
saw a brilliant meteor which, even as I watched, divided into twins 
that side by side streaked all the way across the sky. On January 
9, 1921, it is recorded that during a thaw I found numerous 
cyclops and fairy shrimps in pools of melted snow back in our 
woods. According to my notes, a heavy wind, one stormy night in 
March, picked up my entire dome and set it down, unharmed, a 
hundred feet away, And in among some routine observations I 
am reminded that I rose on the morning of January 13, 1923, to 
watch the slender crescent moon blot out the planet Venus from 
the sky and I still remember the neighbors phoning later that day 
to ask if I had seen "the star on the moon * 

Another treasured artifact that I have lovingly preserved from 
this paleo-observatory era is the old register book in which many 
of my visitors inscribed their names. The observatory had literally 
thousands of visitors, particularly in its early years when it was 
still a novelty and there was nothing similar in this section of the 
state. The great majority of these visitors came in the guise of 
science-class students from various high schools. No doubt some 
of these students may later have left their footprints on the sands 
of time but right here may I say that I have found few ordeals 
more soul-scaring that playing host to a class of fifty to seventy- 
fiye of these teen-age tornadoes who, at one and the same time, 
could be underfoot, and on the roof, and ranging far and wide in 
tender twosomes over all the countryside. 

The register holds many names that now are cut in stone. Still 
other once familiar names I find, and these the lone inscription of 
the evening. Young, fair, and dewy-eyed these signers were but 
somehow, through the years, they have contrived, through the 
subtle alchemy of time, to furnish other broods of signers for my 
present register. 






RECORDS AND RECOLLECTIONS 



183 



Like sparkling gems in a modest setting are the occasional 
signatures of those of the astronomical fraternity who have 
paused here briefly while en route to some convention or eclipse, 
or simply on vacation. Among the earliest of these was Van B. 
widi his camping party. A Sunday morning visitor was Donald 
Menzel, then, I believe, teaching at Ohio State and now director 
of Harvard College Observatory. In later years came the Boks, 
Bart and Priscilla, he the director of Mt. Stromlo Observatory; P. 
Swings of Belgium; Anne Young of Mt. Holyoke Observatory; 
John S. Hall, director of Lowell Observatory; and Frank Jordan, 
the director of Allegheny Observatory. A several times visitor was 
W. A. Hiltner, then still a college student and now director of 
Yerkes Observatory. On one visit Albert presented us with a little 
wire-haired terrier which was a faithful friend for many years. 

One day in late July 1935, I was working in the cornfield and, 
on looking up, saw Dad with a silver-haired stranger in tow, 
approaching through the shoulder-high corn. As they came up I 
got a closer look and then stopped Dad from making an unneces- 
sary introduction, for there was never another head of hair like 
that belonging to Clyde Fisher. In addition to presiding over the 
Department of Astronomy at The American Museum of Natural 
History and being the curator of Hayden Planetarium, Clyde was 
intensely interested in nature in all its varied forms. I told him of 
an unusual find that 1 had made back near the woods. There, 
several days before, I had come upon an area devoted to the. 
burrowing activities of a wasp known as Ammophila gryphus. 
Clyde was not satisfied with merely hearing about my discovery 
—he had to see it for himself. 

Ammophila is a large and likable individual who displays not 
the slightest concern even when observed, as on that day, by two 
human monsters hovering in its sky not two feet away. These are 
predatory wasps who stake out a claim to a small plot of ground 
and then proceed to dig within its confines a number of burrows. 
In each of these the female wasp buries a caterpillar which she 
has anaesthetized by stinging and on its body she deposits a 
single egg. Then she carefully fills up the burrow. It was the final 
sealing of these burrows that brought us to our knees in that hot 



184 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 






and dusty cornfield— for Ammophila is the insect that uses tools! 

When each burrow is completely filled with dirt the wasp 
selects a small pebble about the size of her head, grasps it firmly 
in her mandibles and uses it as a tamp to pound the dirt solidly in 
the hole. Several times that day we watched her perform this 
amazing feat. 

In addition to her tool-using ability the Ammophila wasp has 
been shown to possess the greatest variety of distinct personal 
characteristics of any insect. One such wasp might be thorough 
and painstaking in her work, another might be careless and 
indolent. One would be calm and efficient, still another would be 
nervous and excitable. We both owned to a warm feeling of 
kinship with this insect that had such a wealth of human traits. 
We thought it significant that the insect in which this advanced 
ability and personality is so highly developed belongs to the order 
of Solitary Wasps— an order quite opposed in both habit and 
culture to the Social Wasps which, like the ants and bees, lead a 
strictly communal life. Here, we thought, was an example that 
mankind might well heed. Genius and precocity are qualities of 
the individual; blind instinct guides the hive and the herd. 

While we were so near the woods I told Clyde of another 
insect that I had watched back there that summer. It was a 
slender, black, fearsome-looking thing that bore the tongue-twist- 
ing name of Pelecinus polyturator and that looked like a flying 
scorpion, tail and all. It had such a venomous appearance, in fact, 
that until I found it pictured and described in my big Insect Book 
by Howard, I made no attempt to add it to my collection. We 
failed to find a single P.p. so we walked back to the house and 
after a drink of water at the pump, went out to inspect the 
observatory. Here he photographed the comet-seeker from half a 
dozen angles and snapped the white-domed building from all 
directions while our cows supplied a setting of contentment in the 
background. 

Clyde paid us still another visit late that summer. On this 
occasion I happened to be perched high in the top of our big elm 
tree taking an aerial photograph of my observatory but even from 




RECORDS AND RECOLLECTIONS 



185 



this bird's-eye viewpoint I again knew Clyde from afar by his 
flowing silver mane, which this time was in sharp contrast to the 
shining coal-black tresses of his charming wife, Te Ata. A Chicka- 
saw-Choctaw Indian, the talented Te Ata had been born in a te- 
pee on a government reservation in Oklahoma. She was a gifted 
interpreter of Indian songs, dances, and legends and it was while 
appearing at Columbia University that she and Clyde first met. 
On the farm that afternoon she seemed intensely interested in 
everything she saw-particularly the leopard frogs in our lily pool 
and the "witches brooms" in our tall hackberry tree. Following 
this last meeting Clyde often sent us post cards from various odd 
corners of the world, for he was always chasing eclipses, meteor 
craters, and erupting volcanoes and attending Indian pow-wows. 
I am sure that Dad missed the old observatory more than I. It 
had been his idea in the first place. He had conceived and built it 
and it had gradually grown to be a part of his life for he often 
took charge of visitor's nights for me and he loved every minute 
of it. In May 1936 I spotted a faint tailless comet in northern 
Cepheus which proved to be moving in an orbit that brought it 
within about fifteen million miles of the earth in late July and 
August. For about two weeks it was a fairly bright naked-eye 
object, now with a long filmy tail, high in the eastern evening sky. 
Many visitors were attracted to the observatory during this time 
and Dad was a happy host to a group of them nearly every 

night. 

On one of the nights during this rather hectic period I came 
home after dark and found quite a number of visitors already 
lined up outside the observatory waiting to see the comet. Dad 
was inside officiating at the telescope. I had not had a look yet 
that night and, as comets often undergo rapid changes both in 
structure and brightness when near perihelion, I took my place at 
the end of the line. It was a clear and sparkling night, too dark to 
recognize anyone outside the observatory and darker still beneath 
the dome. 

The fine moved slowly, for Dad did ru's work thoroughly, 
making sure that each one got a good clear view and also a good 



186 



STAHLIGHT NIGHTS 



clear understanding of what he saw. My turn finally came and as 
I mounted the steps to look Dad explained how to adjust the 
focus of the telescope and then recited all the known details 
about the comet and its discovery. The comet was at its very best 
that night and, as Dad told me next day, everyone thoroughly 
appreciated the show-except for the fellow on the end of the 
line, who took a long, long look and left without even saying, 
"thank you." 

Dad enjoyed showing off Saturn's rings and Jupiter's four 
bright moons and he became quite proficient in pointing out the 
constellations. Hercules, though not a bright constellation, was 
his favorite and he delighted in tracing out the keystone figure in 
its center. Dad could always spot keystones and squares and 
compasses without half trying. 




I 

i 









23 Sky Visitors 






For the dedicated watcher of the skies each nichtfall is a 
time fraught with suspense. Will the skies tonight be just the 
same or has something happened since I saw them last? Some 
change may well have taken place during daylight hours or 
behind last night's covering of clouds that will announce its 
presence in tonight's clear skies as soon as darkness falls. 

I shall always be grateful that my years of watching encom- 
passed the only period in all recorded history that could permit 






o* 



187 



188 






STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



me, on four occasions in a span of only eighteen years, to look 
upward at the vault of stars and find myself staring, in wide-eyed 
disbelief, at a bright new stranger in the sky that I had never seen 
before. 

The first of these stellar visitors was that grand spectacle of the 
century that appeared in 1918 on the evening of that day in June 
when I had watched the solar eclipse through my 2-inch spyglass 
on its grindstone mount. It was a remarkable coincidence that 
this series of four bright new stars began with a total eclipse of 
the sun. Still more amazing is the fact that it ended on the eve of 
the next return of that eclipse eighteen years later. 

Ever since the days of the early Chaldean astronomers it has 
been known that eclipses repeat themselves in a period of eight- 
een years and eleven and one-third days (depending on leap 
years). Thus the eclipse of June 8, 1918, was a repetition of one 
that had occurred on May 28, 1900. The duration and latitude of 
the two were nearly identical. The only conspicuous difference 
between them being that of longitude and this was due to that 
one-third of a day in the period. During these eight hours the 
earth makes one-third of a turn eastward and each eclipse thus 
falls 120 degrees of longitude to the west of the previous eclipse. 
While seated at my spyglass waiting for the moon to start that 
1918 show I idly figured up just when the next performance of 
that saros, or series of eclipses, would occur. I added eighteen 
years, eleven and one-third days to June 8, 1918, and it gave me 
June 19, 1936. "Gee," I thought, Til be just twice as oldl I 
wonder where I'll be in 1936." The swift black shadow of the 
moon soon lifted from the earth that day and passed out into 
space. But in some small comer of my mind I filed away a date. I 
knew that somewhere to my east at its appointed time the ma- 
jestic saros shadow clock would strike again. 

The tardy darkness of midsummer was settling all around as I 
passed through the gate under the old elm on my way out to my 
IitUe observatory in the pasture. I looked to the west and the sky 
was clear as a bell. I hoped it would be just like that tomorrow all 






SKY VISITORS 



189 



the way around the world because tomorrow a total eclipse of 
the sun would draw a thin black line all the way from Greece, 
through central Asia, to Japan. Halfway down the dewy trail to 
the observatory I glanced to the north at the constellation 
Cepheus. Up there near its northern peak, still hidden from the 
naked eye, a comet I had found a month before was slowly 
creeping southward. I walked on down the dim path toward the 
dome. "If moonlight doesn't interfere," I addressed that blank 
spot in the sky, "you might become the brightest one since 
Halley's Comet back in 1910." 

I had almost reached the building when suddenly my thoughts 
came down to earth again. My feet stopped dead in their tracks 
when I realized just why my eyes had never left that constellation 
in the north. That figure wasn't right-it held one star too many! 
And then I saw it. There, just off the eastern boundary, the third- 
magnitude visitor was standing that had thrown my mental 
picture out of line. 

It was thus that Nova Lacerta, now known as CP Lacertae, first 
arrived in America. But in Europe and in Asia, where night had 
come many hours before, the interloper already had been noted 
by astronomers waiting for the eclipse that would come with the 
rising sun. Photographs taken on the seventeenth, the night be- 
fore discovery, showed the star still fainter than magnitude 13. It 
reached its maximum of magnitude 2 on the twentieth as a 
slightly paler twin of Deneb in the Northern Cross. 

In my observatory on the night of discovery I plotted the 
position of the nova and carefully estimated its magnitude and 
then composed two telegrams-one to Harvard, the other to 
Yerkes. Returning to the house to get my car for another trip to 
town and the station in the tower by the tracks I passed right by 
the tree beneath which I had watched, with my spyglass, that 
eclipse of 1918. Now my question of that afternoon was an- 
swered. Now I knew just where I'd be in 1936 when I was twice 
as old. 

During the years between these new stars which so sharply 
punctuated both the beginning and the end of that saros, two 






190 



STARLICHT NIGHTS 






other novae had suddenly appeared. The first of these came in 
August 1920 and was known as Nova Cygni. It too was first 
picked up in Europe but it announced itself to me just after 
midnight on August 22 as I rounded the corner of the woodshed 
carrying my 4-inch telescope out to the open-air station in the 
pasture. It attained a bright second-magnitude maximum the 
following night but its light soon faded. I still observe it once 
or twice each month and find it very faint and steady at magni- 
tude 16. 

In December 1934 Dottie and I were far from home. We 
camped for two weeks in Hot Springs National Park in the 
Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas. Here we collected a variety of 
minerals: quartz crystals, lodestone, variscite, rutile, novaculite, 
and brookite in the highly mineralized Magnet Cove district. For 
nearly two weeks the night skies had been overcast but finally it 
cleared and I set up the telescope. Our camp lay in a little 
wooded hollow between two high ridges that left the sky open 
only to the north and west. But on that first night of clearing this 
was sky a-plenty for suddenly it seemed to be June 8, 1918, all 
over again as my first glance upward at the stars showed a total 
stranger of nearly the first magnitude sparkling in the empty void 
between my old friend Vega and the Head of Draco! 

I checked and doubled checked the nova in my atlas, then, 
though I knew that a visitor as bright as this would already have 
been seen from many places, I nevertheless composed a wire to 
send to Harvard. Dottie already was asleep in our bed in the car 
so I decided to walk the two miles uptown to the telegraph office. 
Before I had gone three blocks from camp a large empty dump 
truck clattered past me, headed toward town. I gave chase and 
when the truck had to stop for a cross street I climbed up on the 
swinging tail gate at the rear. The streets were rough and hilly 
but I managed to hang on until we reached midtown Hot 
Springs where, at a very welcome stop light, I dropped off, 
hunted up the telegraph office and sent my wire to Cambridge. I 
was quite content to walk the entire distance back to camp. I 
watched the new star, now low in the northwest, as I walked 






SKY VISITORS 



191 



along and once, when a dog came out and barked at me, I re- 
called a clattering bicycle ride nine years before to send a comet 
telegram. 

As I had surmised, my present telegram proved to be quite 
superfluous for the nova had been found in England about ten 
days before when of the third magnitude and still rising. It 
reached its maximum on December 23 when it was almost exactly 
as bright as its near neighbor Deneb. Thirty years later I still 
follow this nova— now known as DQ Herculis— at frequent inter- 
vals with my telescope and, from time to time, I still find irregu- 
larities in its brightness of nearly a full magnitude. 

There is nothing that so stirs the astronomical world as the 
discovery of a bright new star. About a year before the outburst 
of the very bright Nova Aquilae in 1918, Harlow Shapley, later 
director of Harvard Observatory, had proposed two distinct 
classifications for these so-called new stars, namely novae and 
supernovae. The first named class would include Nova Aquilae 
and all the other novae that had appeared in our galactic 
system— with two exceptions. These remarkable two were 
Tycho's Star of 1572 and Kepler's Star of 1604. These were 
classed as supernovae, which means that they were at least ten- 
thousand times brighter than ordinary novae. Both of these 
amazing stars were members of our galaxy but were located at 
vast distances from our own solar system. Had cither one been no 
more than a hundred light-years from us it would have shone as 
bright in our sky as does the full moon! Even far removed as it 
was, Tycho's Star was said to have been visible in full daylight 
and was distinctly brighter than the planet Venus. To get some 
idea of what a spectacle this must have been one should go out 
some evening when Venus is at her brightest in the western sky 
and take a long steady look at the planet, then face the north and 
mentally place her right beside the familiar "W" of Cassiopeia. 
The term supernova is no exaggeration. 

While these two stars are the only supernovae known to have 
appeared in our own galactic system, several are found each year 
in other galaxies. At its brightest such a supernova often gives out 



I 



192 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



as much light as the combined light of all the other stars in its 
galaxy! 

Novae are utterly unpredictable. Perhaps it is their suddenness 
and tfaeir element of surprise that have made them so fascinating 
to mc. At any rate, ever since the advent of Nova Aquila, each 
clear night starts off with a brief once-over to see if there are any 
strangers in our midst. Oddly enough, our satellite— Echo, makes 
the finest possible practice nova. Whenever one of these bright 
artificial satellites is above the horizon one should be able to 
recognize it instantly simply by the "something's wrong" appear- 
ance of that section of the sky. 

Early in my acquaintance with novae I was impressed by the 
fact that after the initial outburst of a nova it gradually faded 
back to its original brightness. Blissfully ignorant of any of the 
abstruse astrophysics that might be involved, I wondered why, if 
it happened once with no apparent ill effects, it might not happen 
again to that same star, just as a child, unpunished for a temper 
tantrum, will repeat the performance again and again. 

I obtained charts of a number of these old has-beens and began 
prying into their private lives. Three of these— RS Ophiuchi, T 
Coronae, and GK Persei still showed irregular variations of at 
least a magnitude, as though they still were haunted by memories 
of their former transient glory and longed for one more final fling 
before they could accept the quiet eons of their golden years. 

RS Ophiuchi had apparently been a normal eleventh-magni- 
tude star until 1898 when it suddenly rose to magnitude 7.7, then 
faded again until it reached its original brightness. I observed this 
star regularly for twelve years, noting occasional small fluctua- 
tions. Then, in August 1933, it actually had its second flare-up, 
some thirty-five years separating the two maxima. Then, just to 
prove itself completely independable, it flared still a third time in 
July 1958. 

My affair with T Coronae was not a happy one. Normally T 
was a star that hovered around tenth magnitude until back in 
May 1866 when it suddenly increased until it was equally as 
bright as nearby Alphecca, the brightest star in the Northern 






SKY VISITORS 



193 



Crown. In true nova form it soon began to fade and eventually 
was back as before though with the occasional flutter that seems 
inherent in the metabolism of some of these stars. 

Of all these old novae, T Coronae seemed to me the one most 
likely to quaff the enchanted herbs of renewal. The star was an 
easy one to observe regularly as it was located far enough north 
to be visible at some time nearly every clear night. From 1920 on 
I watched it closely at every opportunity. For more than twenty- 
five years I looked in on it from night to night as it tossed and 
turned in fitful slumber. Then, one night in February 1946 it 
stirred, slowly opened its eyes, then quickly threw aside the 
draperies of its couch and rose! 

Full eighty years had passed since last the star had shattered 
the symmetry of the Northern Crown. And where was I, its self- 
appointed guardian on that once-in-a-lifetime night when it 
awoke? I was asleep! 

1 had set the alarm clock for 2:30 a.m. intending to get up and 
observe some early morning variables. The alarm clock did its 
part. I looked out the window and the stars were clear and 
bright, but apparently I was not, for I sneezed once or twice and 
got the feeling that 1 was coming down with a cold-or maybe 
even worse. Self-pity comes easy at 2:30 on a cold February 
morning so I went back to my warm bed with the comforting 
thought that I owed it to my family, at least, to take care of my 
health. 

And thus I missed the night of nights in the life of T Coronae. 
It was the night the spectroscopists long for. It is in those earliest 
hours of awakening that the newborn star— with all the exuber- 
ance of youth, divulges its most intimate secrets. 

I alone am to blame for being remiss in my duties, neverthe- 
less, I still have the feeling that T could have shown me more 
consideration. We had been friends for many years; on thousands 
of nights I had watched over it as it slept and then, it arose in my 
hour of weakness as I nodded at my post. I still am watching it 
but now it is with wary eye. There is no warmth between us any 






more. 



194 



STARLICHT NICHTS 



On February 22, 1901, Reverend Thomas Anderson, a Scottish 
clergyman, was walking home late one night and, in glancing at 
the well-known constellation Perseus, saw a bright new star of the 
third magnitude in the very heart of the figure. Dr. Anderson 
knew the stars and announced it at once as a nova. It continued 
to increase in brightness until it was brighter than either Capella 
or Vega. It then faded slowly with many sharp fluctuations, but 
so gradual was the long decline that it required eleven years to 
sink to its original thirteenth magnitude. Thus far it has had no 
recurrence but if restlessness is any criterion, then GK Persei, as it 
is now known, is a star still searching for the fountain of youth. 

Do all old novae eventually recur? Probably not, but no one 
can be sure, so I still keep a number of these old locations under 
periodic surveillance. Most of all I would like to see Tycho's Star 
come back. Its appearance in 1572 was before the telescope had 
come into use and today we have no means of knowing which 
one of the faint stars in that region is in reality the sleeping giant. 
Each clear night throughout the year my first glance is always 
directed to little Kappa Cassiopeiac to see if, just perhaps, it has a 
strange companion. 

One night last summer, for just a split second, I was sure that 
Tycho's Star was back, for there, right where it should have been, 
a glittering object shone, almost as bright as Vega. Well, at least I 
saw a sight that night that Tycho never dreamed of, for as I 
watched that bright "star" moved. It was my old friend Echo! 

In direct contrast to such transient visitors as the novae we also 
called, while on our Southwest honeymoon, at the final resting 
place of an old sky visitor who had come to stay. While we were 
in Fort Worth our friend, Oscar Monnig, who is not only a long- 
time AAVSOer but also an experienced meteor observer, drew us 
a map showing how to find the Odessa Meteor Crater which lay 
about three hundred miles further on along our route in West 
Texas. Without his map the crater would have been -difficult to 
find for it is merely a saucer-shaped depression about fifteen feet 
deep in the center and roughly five hundred feet in diameter and 
it has no distinguishing rampart of rocks thrown up around its 




SKY VISITORS 



195 



outer rim. This crater was discovered in 1921, only thirteen years 
before the time of our visit and at that time only a very few 
fragments of the meteor had as yet been found. Had we known 
of this crater before leaving home I would certainly have con- 
trived a magnetic device similar to those used by utility com- 
panies in locating underground water pipes and gas mains. I had 
often used one of these contrivances and am certain that we 
could have achieved some measure of success, for in later years 
this same region was explored with a magnetic locater and more 
than 1,500 metallic fragments collected from near the surface. We 
found a number of mesquite trees of good size growing in the 
floor of the depression but these really sprouted only yesterday in 
the actual life of the crater for bones of animals now extinct have 
been found in excavations made in recent years beneath the floor. 

On our homeward leg of this same trip we stopped briefly at 
the famous Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona, where, thou- 
sands of years ago, a mighty visitor from space blasted out a hole 
in the desert rock four-fifths of a mile across and five hundred 
feet deep. At the time of our visit the entire area was deserted. 
There was no museum or any other buildings on the crater rim as 
there are today but in other museums throughout the Southwest 
we already had seen many specimens of the meteorites which had 
been found about the rim of this huge cavity. At Stewart Ob- 
servatory in Tucson we even saw one doing earthly duty as a 
door stop and we thought it a most menial end for such a bright 
career. Dottie and I climbed down to the crater floor where, with 
a tiny horseshoe magnet which I had bought the day before in a 
five and ten, I scratched around in the loose soil. Everywhere I 
tried the magnet picked up tiny particles of iron which I assumed 
were pulverized fragments of that early visitor from outer space. 

The most publicized, by far. of all sky visitors have never, like 
the novae, been charted, photographed, or analyzed. Nor have 
they, like the meteors, ever blasted out a crater in the earth or 
strewn their shattered fragments far and wide. Tins latest rash of 
visitors from space left not a single trace of evidence behind. 

Were I to chronicle my own little history of the twentieth 



I 



196 



STARLIGHT N I CUTS 



century I believe that I would refer to the decade following the 
halfway mark as the Flying Saucer Fifties. It was a period of 
mass psychosis, when people wanted desperately to believe that 
we were not alone— that other eyes were watching us. It was not 
just a field day but a field decade for the crank and the crackpot, 
for the newspapers bristled with accounts of actual landings and 
even personal encounters with the little green men. 

I am sorry that I did not keep an accurate count of the times I 
was called on the telephone by people who "saw something" in 
the sky. Whenever Venus was a bright evening star there would 
be calls about "that bright light in the southwest," and many of 
these callers would insist that it had not been there before. Drift- 
ing weather balloons seen shortly after sunset also brought on a 
flurry of excitement as also did an occasional aurora or a brigh* 
meteor. 

During these years I made fairly frequent lecture appearances 
and almost invariably, at the conclusion of my talks, someone 
would ask if I had ever seen any flying saucers. And just as un- 
failingly they would register disappointment in my negative 
reply. This finally reached the point where, at the height of the 
saucer season, at least one person in every audience had seen 
something strange and the feeling was growing within me that I 
was being neglected; that life was passing me by. Then, one 
night, it happened to me. 

It was late October. The hour was near midnight. I had been 
comet hunting for about two hours low in the north in a region 
just above the Big Dipper. Several times that evening my tele- 
scope had picked up faint, foggy spots of light that looked suspi- 
ciously like comets, but each time these proved to be either 
distant galaxies or star clusters. I was, admittedly, just a little 
drowsy, for the monotonous sweeping combined with retinal 
fatigue, if too long continued, seems to have an almost hypnotic 
effect. Then, suddenly, the built-in alarm system that I have in- 
stantly stopped the slow sweep of the instrument and brought me 
to attention. Right in the center of the field of view was the 
strangest sight I had ever seen in all my years of comet hunting. 






SKY VISITORS 



197 



It appeared to be a long straight row of very faint stars-all of 
them of precisely equal brightness! 

My first reaction was one of complete and utter disbelief. A 
row of stars like that just could not be there. I would have seen 
them many times before, for I was thoroughly familiar with that 
region of the sky. Nevertheless, there they were, and no blinking 
of my eyes could make them disappear. I turned on my little red 
observing light, found a pencil, and got ready to sketch the field 
in order to fix its location in the sky more accurately. 

The real shock came when I looked back into the telescope. 
That row of tiny stars which I had left right in the center of the 
field of view was no longer in the center-it was clear over near 
the edge! But the telescope had been clamped in position and 
could not have been moved. That row of tiny stars was moving! 

I forgot all about sketching. For perhaps half a minute I simply 
watched, dazed and bewildered, as I struggled for some kind of 
rational explanation. The stars were moving faster now and 
seemed to be getting brighter all the time. I dared not leave the 
eyepiece now for it required constant shifting of both controls to 
keep the objects in the field of view. It soon became quite 
apparent that unless they changed direction their line of flight 
would carry them almost directly overhead. I now was struck by 
the strong resemblance of this row of lights to a close formation 
of airplanes. Planes in tight formation do not fly directly behind 
one another. Each one flies far enough to one side to avoid the 
turbulence created by the preceding plane. The line of lights that 
I was watching was in exactly this same formation. To me, this 
meant just one thing-these flying objects also respected tur- 
bulence, so they were not away out in space, but right in our own 
atmosphere and probably not very far above me! 

Even today it is a little painful to recall the thoughts that were 
going through my head at this point, and I will not dwell on how 
completely stunned those thoughts and the evidence of my eyes 
left me, for by now those lights, still in formation, were almost 
directly above me and bright enough to be visible without a 
telescope. 



198 



STARLICHT NIGHTS 



SKY VISITORS 



199 



' 



Then, slowly, my half stupefied mind became aware that some- 
thing else was happening. I was hearing sounds from up there! 
Very faint these sounds were— just the same note repeated over 
and over at regular intervals. I was still in the observatory, trans- 
fixed beside my telescope. I could only see and hear through the 
opening overhead. In the dark I fumbled for the latch on the 
door, threw it open and dashed outside. For a moment I heard 
nothing, then it came again and now so loud and clear that there 
was not the slightest doubt just what was moving through the 
darkness right above me. It was a skein of eleven wild geesel 

With the sudden letdown of my tensions I found myself shak- 
ing with a nervous chill. The whole terrifying thing seemed now 
so simple as to be absurd. My visitors from outer space were 
merely Canada geese migrating southward at the approach of 
winter. I had first sighted them low in the north and had 
watched them fly across town directly toward me, their light gray 
bodies reflecting the city lights below. 

Ever since that night, each time I watch a flight of geese or 
hear them crossing in the night, it always makes me wonder. 
What if that line of flight had not been right in my direction? 
What if those geese had wheeled about before my eyes and gone 
off on another course? What if they had crossed the town from 
right to left and, without approaching me, had slowly faded out 
of sight? Would I have ever figured out their true identity, or 
would I, from that moment on have been a firm believer? 

I feel quite certain that I can answer this with a most emphatic 
no, for I am not prone to accept as true anything that does not 
make sense or that does not permit minute inspection. Were a 
flying saucer to land right in my own back yard I still would want 
to feel it with my hands, kick it with my foot, peck at it with my 
geologists hammer, and finally I would want to open up the door 
and have a look at the occupants inside and those occupants 
would have to be different from Homo sapiens before I would 
admit that flying saucers are for real. 

In all that saucer decade no one came up with a logical reason 
why these super beings from outer space made no attempt to 
communicate with us. The protagonists had their explanation, of 



course. The spacemen were simply waiting around until we 
became intelligent enough to talk to them. By this same line of 
reasoning Columbus would still be anchored off San Salvador 
waiting for the natives to put on some clothes and become civi- 
lized enough for him to land and discover America. 

While I will be the first to admit that there are undoubtedly 
many more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our 
philosophy, I also will be the last to subscribe to a philosophy 
that throws logic to the winds. If a belief in flying saucers is 
something that one wants and needs how easy it becomes to see 
them and how little one requires as proof of their existence. How 
many of our other cherished beliefs, our comfortable, soothing, 
inherited beliefs are also made of this same wishfulness? Were we 
to examine, critically and impartially, our strange collection of 
creeds, doctrines, and philosophies how much would we find of 
truth and reason? How much of fear and superstition? Were we 
to analyze that creed of ours that came to us attached to our 
certificate of birth, would we not find that it all resolves into just 
one basic moral law? A law sometimes quite lost in all the vast 
confusing structure that centuries of human fears and foibles 
have built around it. 

Sometimes I like to imagine that flying saucers are real, after 
all, and that some day ships from all the far reaches of the galaxy 
will converge and silently slide down to earth to visit us. As I 
picture it, when communication is once established with all these 
visitors from space, we will learn that each one of them has his 
own philosophies, his own beliefs, and his own God. And as each 
describes for us his own particular deity we will note that, in 
every case, the speaker gives himself a very earthlike pat on the 
back, for the God of which he speaks is but the speaker mag- 
nified. 

When finally the conclave ends and each strange visitor streaks 
for home we will recall that on just one simple truth they all were 
in complete accord. The Golden Rule alone had needed neither 
explanation nor defense. It had been as universal as the evolution 
that had molded their forms and the gravitation that had brought 
them down to earth. 




^4 Country Life in Town 



IN 1940 THE OWNERS OF THE HOUSE ON THE BANK OF THE OLD 

canal decided to move into it themselves so for us there came a 
second exodus. Again we were fortunate, for this time we found a 
somewhat larger house near the western edge of town. Here, 
owing to the prevailing westerly winds, the air was a bit less hazy 
and the seeing considerably better and here too a fairly large 
treeless back yard provided an even more spacious site for my 
peregrinating observatory than had the old towpath. But, even as 

200 



COUNTRY LIFE IN TOWN 



201 



we moved into the new home we knew that it would only be a 
matter of time until we would move again. Our new surround- 
ings, pleasant though they were, afforded neither the open space 
nor the quiet solitude that we both deemed essential attributes to 
the permanent abode that we envisioned. 

Dottic and I had always liked living in the country. Her home 
had been located at the extreme edge of town and I had always 
lived on the farm. We had spent months of gypsy roaming in the 
Southwest and, returning, we had lived four untrammeled care- 
free years in my uncle's house by the river, so it is little wonder 
that neither of us took too kindly to the confines of a city lot. For 
several years we tried to be contented with our lot and that we 
succeeded, in a measure, was only because these were busy, 
crowded years. Here Gordon, our second son, was born and that 
same year Stanley was enrolled in kindergarten. We were vari- 
ously involved in church affairs, in Eastern Star, in garden clubs, 
and in a devious maze of Cub Scout work. Throughout these 
years the starlight nights were busy too. Four new comets, dodg- 
ing treetops, roofs, and smoking chimneys, found their way to the 
merry-go-round observatory which each clear night pirouetted in 
the dark of our back yard. Some of these finds whose dates are 
carved into my scope are listed in the records with hyphenated 
names which show that somewhere on the wide expanse of earth 
some other watcher, at nearly the same time, had also seen that 
comet. 

Late one afternoon in the fall of 1948 Dottie called me at the 
office. In a voice bubbling with excitement she told me that she 
had just learned that the old Moennig property at the end of 
Cleveland Street was being offered for immediate sale and asked 
if I would meet her and the real-estate agent out there right 
away. When I drove up the twisting drive about ten minutes 
later, Dottie and Bill Jones, the agent, had just arrived. Together 
we went through the house. To me the seven large rooms— the 
living room was twenty-two by thirty-six feet-were just bamlike 
empty rooms, but Dottie, it seemed, could see them with all the 
furniture in place, with pictures on the walls and with drapes at 



202 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 



every window. Feeling very handicapped by my undomcsticated 
vision I soon left Dottie and Bill discussing the plumbing and the 
heating system and went outside. 

The previous owner of the place had been something of an 
equestrian. Three or four saddle horses had dwelt here and had 
roamed freely over the entire acreage together with a couple of 
large Russian wolfhounds who also had the run of the house. Just 
to the north of the residence I found a long narrow tract enclosed 
by a white board fence. This had a gravel path ten feet wide 
around its entire perimeter which had served as an all-weather 
track and here each day those prancing steeds had been put 
through their paces. My first glance at this large bare arena 
showed me that any spot along its north side would make' a far 
better location for my observatory than any I had found since 
leaving the farm. I walked over to the northwest corner of the 
track. From this point only the trees around the house to the 
south and a few tall cottonwoods farther away to the southwest 
interfered with an otherwise clear horizon. Later I would come 
back here when the stars were out and determine the precise spot 
from which to see them best. I now went back to the car and got 
a tire iron from the tool kit. With it, here and there about the 
fenced-in area, I dug test holes in the ground. In every one I 
found the soil to be a deep, rich sandy loam— such a soil as this 
should grow strawberries as big as teacups! Meanwhile, back at 
the house, Dottie had also decided that this place was for us and 
without further ado we signed our names to the documents which 
made us part owners of the planet earth. 

Much of the early history of "the old Moennig place," as it was 
known, is now lost in antiquity. The last of the Moennigs to live 
here were the two maiden daughters of old Henry Moennig, the 
builder of the house. With their passing the property had been 
acquired as a residence by the local Catholic priest. Dr. John 
Sassen. After his death in 1940 it was purchased by Harold 
Wolfe, vice-president of the reorganized truck company which, in 
the nineteen-twenties, had employed me as stock clerk and 
draftsman. Mr. Wolfe and his family lived here a number of years 
and then sold out to Collin Doyle of the same firm and it was 



COUNTRY LIFE IN TOWN 



203 



from this keeper of the horses and the wolfhounds that we 
acquired "Brookhaven," the name that we found emblazoned in 
large letters above the radio-controlled front gate. 

The property was about eight acres in extent and located at the 
extreme western limits of town so once again the winds were in 
our favor-any smoke or dust from the town would blow the 
other way. By great good fortune a four acre parcel of pasture 
and farm ground that bordered us on the north soon came up for 
sale to settle another estate and we were able to acquire this also. 
Now, with twelve acres surrounding us we once again began to 
enjoy the freedom of the wide open spaces to which we had been 
accustomed in our earlier years. 

Our tract in its entirety is long and quite irregular in shape, 
with its entire western edge fronting on a small creek which 
overflows each spring and converts about half our acreage into a 
temporary lake. It is a sort of split-level property, for the ancient 
river bank runs irregularly through the center and divides it into 
two nearly equal parts. The south end of the tract is occupied by 
a two-acre bit of woods, while the north end is bounded by a 
railroad. 

The large, white frame house sits well back from the street on 
the brow of the hill that slopes down to the creek. It had been 
built more than a hundred years ago and had been well designed 
and "firmly builded with rafters of oak." All of its traditional 
Victorian "gingerbread" around the gables and porches had been 
preserved in good condition. The ceilings of the rooms on the 
lower floor are nearly eleven feet high, the front windows are 
fitted with etched-glass sashes and the doors still have their 
antique mirror door knobs. Originally each room had its own 
fireplace but now the house has central heating. 

Ordinarily, when an old place like this changes hands, the new 
owners start right in making alterations and additions in order 
that the place will reflect their own conception of modern good 
living. It was not so with us. We made few changes and even 
these few were mostly in retrograde motion. What we found here 
was sound and good. It was a leftover bit of an earlier America 
and we had no desire to bring it up to date. 



204 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



COUNTRY LIFE IN TOWN 



205 












The house is surrounded by old pine and spruce trees quite in 
scale with the high two-story building. We have removed several 
fences that had divided the property into smaller plots and this 
slight change has resulted in greater apparent extent and it also 
now requires considerably less maintenance. We gardened on a 
rather ambitious scale for the first few years we were here but 
now we have settled down to one small utility garden, two sizable 
rock gardens, and a long border planting of perennials and 
shrubs. 

We have endeavored, over the years, to assist Nature in 
developing the place into a sort of natural sanctuary, particularly 
a sanctuary for birds, wild flowers, and trees. We very soon found 
that nature was far more in need of restraint than encouragement 
for, by the late summer of our first year, all of our lowland area 
had turned into one vast billowing sea of goldenrod, wild aster, 
horse nettles, and giant ragweed. Now, while we realize that such 
extrovert weeds as these may have their place in a wildlife 
sanctuary by providing seeds for winter birds, some of them also 
have some very irritating habits. In addition they have other 
undesirable qualities; their bare, brown stalks are an eyesore for 
fully half the year, and their roots do not form a solid mat to 
control erosion. Each springtime flood would make deep gullies 
where they failed to hold their ground. 

In place of these prize itch, ouch, and sneeze producers we 
now have established a heavy bluegrass turf that never washes 
out. And to appease the birds for the loss of their winter weed 
seed we have planted a multiflora rose hedge and another of 
barberry. These hedges not only furnish an abundance of winter 
food, they also are excellent cover and, being impenetrable, they 
greatly discourage the inroads of the sanctuary's Public Enemy 
Number One, the small boy with the air rifle. On one occasion I 
tolerated the intrusion of a couple of these neophyte nimrods on 
their solemn assurance that they hunted only starlings. But when 
an examination of their booty disclosed a scarlet tanager and a 
golden-crowned kinglet, they and all their bang-bang brethren 
were banished for all time. 



We are well blessed with trees. There are more than forty 
species represented, many of them of large size. One magnificent 
white oak standing near the entrance is at least 250 years old and 
has a trunk diameter of four feet. The creek bank is lined with 
large willows and cottonwoods, some of the latter more than 12 
feet in girth. There were many fine elms here when we first came 
but already these were showing the occasional branch of 
withered leaves that told us, all too plainly, that the trees were 
doomed. There is no salvation for the elms in rural districts such 
as this. Strict sanitation and thorough and repeated spraying are, 
at present, the only known deterrents to the Dutch Elm disease 
but there is no point in cutting down and burning all infected 
trees and spraying all those that arc still sound when, at the same 
time, every farm woodland for miles around is filled with dead 
and dying trees. So we simply let them stand, their graceful forms 
still beautiful against the sky. Then slowly, year by year, they 
drop their tattered garments piece by piece until at last, to a 
drum roll of admiring flickers, they dominate the sylvan stage in 
shameless nudity. 

In all this tragic waste we find the interfering hand of man. 
Sometimes, to just one person can be traced the contamination of 
a continent. In 1929 a shipment of burl elm logs from Holland 
arrived at Cleveland, Ohio. Beneath the bark of those logs lurked 
the fungus of Dutch Elm disease. Until the year 1850 there was 
not one English sparrow in all America. That was the year that 
Nicolas Pike brought over the first of several such imports with 
the vague notion that they would control canker worms. Our 
canker worms are with us still but I have not seen a bluebird in 
more than ten years. Just one person decided that America should 
have every bird mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. Unfor- 
tunately, this included the starling. In 1890, fifty pairs were 
liberated in Central Park. On any autumn evening now I can 
count more than ten-thousand of these delta-winged demons 

flying over my home toward their nightly roosts in the maples in 

the heart of town. 

A plague on all these foreign imports! But we have, in part at 



206 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



least, retaliated. For their elm disease we paid them back in kind 
with American foul brood, the banc of the beekeeper. And for 
their noisy pests we gave them jazz and crooners. 

Ours is a limestone region and we make no attempt to intro- 
duce any trees, shrubs, or wild flowers that are not completely at 
home in our mildly alkaline soil. Exotics of any kind may be a 
challenge for some but here we can find challenges a-plenty 
without inviting more. A rhododendron can be a thing of beauty 
but so is a redbud or a dogwood. A ladyslipper is a lovely wild 
flower but so is a trillium, a bloodroot, or a hepatica. Mere rarity, 
in itself, is not a virtue. The edelweiss on the mountain peak is no 
more beautiful nor desirable than the buttercup down in the 
valley. To accumulate a large variety of rarities from Venus' fly- 
traps to fringed gentians to lofty alpines could be a fascinating 
hobby if one had nothing to do but cater to the exacting require- 
ments of each one. But this is not nature's way and it is not for us. 
Our plants must fight the battle for survival with a minimum of 
help from us. 

When we first moved here we had visions of gradually restor- 
ing neatness and order to the entire place, of giving it a sort of 
well-groomed parklike appearance. These grandiose ideas soon 
vanished when we came to engage in daily combat with such 
implacable opponents as the ravages of time, the vastness of our 
space, and the fecundity of nature. While we would be cutting up 
a fallen willow tree the grass would be getting too high to mow. 
While we would be mowing the grass the fences would need 
painting and as we painted the fence the tent caterpillars would 
be bivouacking in the apple trees. 

Finally we compromised. We held our own small family con- 
ference and quickly decided the fate of each of the various 
components of our little world. The wooded area we would 
return to Mother Nature. The turf areas we would try to keep 
free from noxious weeds, and the fences we would gradually 
replace with barberry hedges which, though not as picturesque as 
wood, were still traditional and much less demanding of our time. 

In spite of the terms of the conference the woodland is more a 



COUNTRY LIFE IN TOWN 



207 



protectorate than an independent kingdom for we do not hesitate 
to make a raid across the border to quell an uprising of honey 
locust seedlings. These we cut down without mercy for they are 
clearly in league with the Devil. Their soft and delicate foliage is 
but a snare and a delusion which masks a bristling array of 
vicious thorns which are a constant menace both to tender flesh 
and to pneumatic tires as well. We also make certain that any up- 
and-coming young allies such as mulberry, hawthorn, ash-leaved 
maple, and wild roses have land grants of their own. We even 
retain a brushpile or two. 

There are few things more dear to the hearts of the smaller, 
low-nesting birds than an old brush pile. At his home in rural 
Connecticut, Edwin Way Teale has what probably is the ultimate 
in brush piles. It is quite a large affair, built just like an igloo, and 
inside it, surrounded by this latticed dome of brush, the writer- 
naturalist sits at a rustic desk in comfortable seclusion, spying on 
the unsuspecting songsters just outside. 

On our highest ground, about a hundred yards north of the 
house, my rotating observatory was placed. Here I had a good 
horizon, particularly in the west and north. To the ^.ast, over the 
town, the seeing to a height of about 30 degrees is not good in the 
early evening hours due to smoke and haze, but this usually has 
cleared up by ten o'clock. In the south the tall pines around the 
house punctuate the skyline in a few places and through my 
telescope I often have observed low southern stars in a Christmas- 
card setting of swaying pine cones. Directly to the south there is a 
narrow valley of sky between the house and the giant cotton- 
woods which briefly lets me watch those southern stars that only 
rise a shallow Big Dipper bowl-depth above the south horizon. 
Thanks to the cooperation of the Ohio Power Company and my 
nearby neighbors 1 have no troublesome lights to contend with. 
There are a few distant street lights visible in winter but when 
the trees are in leaf even these are blotted out. 

My merry-go-round observatory had now been called upon 
three times to demonstrate its portability. Here, at last, I felt so 
sure that I would not be asking it to move again that I cast for it 









208 



STARLICHT NIGHTS 



a heavy slab of concrete and to this firm base I bolted, for all 
time, its round much-traveled track. We finally had found the 
spot we really liked. We both were glad to setde down. 

Then, one night in July 1959 I was called to the telephone. It 
was a long-distance call and the voice on the other end of the 
wire was offering me, as a gift, a 12-inch Clark refractor— com- 
plete with observatory, transit room, and all the trimmings! 




25 The New-Old Observatory 






In the same year that dad and I built our first observatory, 
Miami University, of Oxford, Ohio, also started building one. 
Their observatory, like mine, had been placed in an open area 
with a good view of the sky in all directions. But now all this had 
changed for Miami, long ago the little college where William 
McGuffey once taught while compiling his celebrated series of 
McGuffey Readers, was now a large state university and their 
telescope, which had once looked out, clear eyed, at all the uni- 



210 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



THE NEW-OLD OBSERVATORY 



211 



verse had now become myopic and a cataract of taller buildings 
closed around. Finally, as a last crushing blow, a new dormitory 
was to be erected on the exact spot now occupied by the observa- 
tory. 

Astronomy has never been a popular subject in college. Stu- 
dents do not stand in long lines waiting to sign up for it and 
Miami was no exception to this rule. So the decision was made 
that the old observatory must go and that for any future courses a 
small portable instrument, to be located on a flat-topped roof, 
would suffice. It is, indeed, an ill wind that blows nobody good, 
and the fact that my older son, Stanley, was a student at Miami 
and had taken a semester or two of astronomy under Professor 
Miltenberger, was undoubtedly a guiding factor in the fair breeze 
that now had blown my way. 

We drove down to Miami the day after the surprise phone call 
in order to get a better idea of the condition of the equipment 
and to see how it could best be moved. I checked, first of all, the 
most important item— the 12-inch objective lens. It was quite 
dirty but seemed to be without a scratch. I could see a few tiny 
bubbles in the glass and one edge had a small chip that was 
almost completely hidden by the retaining ring. The driving clock 
apparently was in working condition and we found one eye- 
piece of sub-standard diameter. Over against one wall was a 
well-constructed counterbalanced observing chair and ladder 
which had been built by Warner and Swasey of Cleveland. 

The attached 12 by 20 foot transit room was equipped with a 3- 
inch Gaertner transit and chronograph and a large Howard 
sidereal clock. In a wooden case was a micrometer for the 12-inch 
and this instrument, presumably, was also made by Clark. 

The suddenness of all that had taken place in the past twenty- 
four hours had left me in something of a daze. It was still hard 
for me to believe that the overnight zoom from a stubby four-foot 
telescope to a sixteen-foot monster was real. But just to be sure 
that it was not all a dream, when we finally left for home that 
night, the 12-inch lens and the lone eyepiece went with us. 

Knowing absolutely nothing of the monumental task of moving 



a sizable observatory a distance of 125 miles, I told the whole 
story the following day to Louie Justus, the president of the 
company that employs me. Louie was intensely interested in the 
project and it was characteristic of his generous nature that he 
offered at once to take over all the details of making the move— 
and it was equally characteristic of me that I accepted his offer 
immediately. Within the hour he had wheels turning and tele- 
phones ringing. He hired a contractor to do the actual work and 
he enlisted the aid and cooperation of a number of local firms and 
interested citizens and organizations and to all of these I am 
eternally grateful. 

During all my many years of association with Louie he had 
always impressed me with his meticulous attention to detail and 
his insistence on thoroughness and prompt dispatch. In my hour 
of need it was truly a great relief to be able to place my troubles 
in his competent and willing hands. But there once had been a 
day when my faith in him had been something less than absolute. 

About three years earlier I had occasion to consult with a mold- 
maker in Indianapolis concerning a new model that we were 
bringing out. On previous trips of this nature I had always driven 
there in my car— for the distance was only 160 miles. But now, as 
time was of the essence, Louie announced that he would fly me 
there. In former years he had been a most enthusiastic pilot and 
had his own plane-a 4-place Beechcraft Bonanza-but of late 
his fervor had faded considerably and he had not flown for some 
time and was, in fact, trying to dispose of his plane. For my own 
part, my boyhood craze for airplanes had never gone beyond that 
plane that did its tailspins tethered in the branches of the oak tree 
on the farm, but in the present instance I had no choice but to fly 
with Louie. 

We loaded the two plaster models we were taking along into 
the plane— one up in front with Louie, while I held the other in 
the rear seat. With everything secure we taxied to the far end of 
the runway, turned about and faced west ready for the take-off 
run. Just at this point Louie idled the engine down, then reached 
over and took something out of the compartment in the dash and, 



212 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



THE NEW-OLD OBSERVATORY 



213 






holding it closely in front of him, he sat and stared at it in com- 
plete absorption. After two full minutes of this my curiosity 
finally got the better of me and, shifting the plaster model onto 
the seat beside me, I raised up enough to look over Louie's 
shoulder. What I saw filled me with horrified dismay. Louie was 
perusing the pages of a small brochure. It was a pamphlet issued 
by the Beechcraft Company that told, with illustrations, just how 
to fly that planel 

Early one morning about three weeks after my trip to Miami 
University to inspect the observatory the contractor called to say 
that everything was loaded on their trucks ready to start for 
Delphos. I was waiting for them in my car at the edge of town 
when they arrived late in the afternoon and led the strange 
convoy through town to our open field near the railroad. Here we 
had a large crane, which a neighbor factory had offered us, 
waiting to lift the cargo off the four trucks onto the ground. The 
transit room came intact and was set on blocks directly above 
what was to be its permanent location. The observatory proper 
had been an octagon and this was delivered to us as eight 
separate walls. Due to highway restrictions it had been necessary 
to saw the twenty-two-foot diameter dome into halves and these 
came nested together on a single truck. When I had seen the 
observatory at Miami three weeks before I thought of it as a 
thing of beauty and a joy forever. Here, dismembered, eviscer- 
ated, and scattered over the landscape it was a most appalling 
and discouraging sight. 

Long before the observatory arrived I had decided exactly 
where its permanent site was to be. It was not a decision reached 
by hundreds of star-image tests on dozens of mountaintops such 
as were the searches that ended on Palomar, Kitt Peak, and Mt. 
Locke. I had only two possible sites to consider. One of these was 
our farm four miles away. The other was right here at home. The 
farm could offer complete freedom from lights, smoke, and haze 
as well as a good horizon all around. Its one big drawback was its 
distance, and I knew that I would use the telescope much more if 
it were right here beside me. There are usually several nights each 



month when there is a short interval of good seeing before 
moonrise in the early evening. With the observatory located at 
the farm I probably would miss most of these. There are also 
many other nights when I observe in the early morning hours 
after the moon has set. I felt quite certain that often I would 
hesitate to drive out to the farm for an hour of observing, espe- 
cially if clouds were a possibility. Furthermore with two sons who 
seemed increasingly dedicated to the proposition that the car 
should never cool off, it would be well to keep the new observa- 
tory within walking distance. Here in town I would be less than 
two minutes walk from the telescope and, in the event of deep 
snow, I might drive right to the door and thus even a five-minute 
clear interval between clouds could be utilized. The seeing, while 
not as good here in the early evening as on the farm, is nearly 
equal in the hours from 10 p.m. until dawn. 

So, I decided on a location about fifty feet north of my small 
observatory. This had the advantage that the same power lines 
could service both buildings. Also, the two instruments could be 
operated concurrently, so that any doubtful object sighted in the 
6-inch could quickly be examined under the much greater power 
of the 12-inch. 

The unique location of the new site in relation to adjoining 
properties gave me every assurance that the observatory would 
never again have to suffer the indignity of being hedged in and 
spied upon by taller, baser structures. On the north we are 
bounded by a one-track railroad whose trains are pulled by 
friendly smokeless diesel engines. To the west and southwest, 
beyond the creek, lies a most effective buffer state, perhaps a 
hundred acres in extent, occupied by a large stone quarry. To the 
south stretches the full length of our own property, while to the 
east are long-time neighbors who cooperate with shielded lights. 
The dismantled observatory had arrived in September and for 
the next two months I was occupied in laying out the exact 
location for the new foundation and in building concrete forms. 
Here my lifelong trait of saving things now stood me in good 
stead for these forms for the new building were made from the 









214 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 






lumber salvaged from the wrecking of the old observatory that 
Dad and I had built nearly forty years before. Several very 
interesting problems came up during this period of planning. One 
of these was that of identifying the various wall sections and 
marking them for their future locations. There had been no 
opportunity for me to mark any of this material before the build- 
ing had been tom down and it was now like assembling a 
gigantic jig-saw puzzle. Another most intriguing operation was 
carried out early one clear December night. This was the problem 
of placing, in exactly the correct location, the form for the con- 
crete pier that later would support the equatorial mounting of the 
telescope. All respectable equatorials point due north or south. So 
my present task was basically the same one that had confronted 
me that chilly night out in the pasture when I had wrestled with 
my white-ash pier. Only my approach was just a little different. 
First of all I had to establish a meridian, or true north-south line, 
and this was the reason for working in the gloom of night, for 
again I made the alignment by the stars themselves, but now the 
stars I used were in the north— not on the equator. 

The true north point in the sky is about two moon diameters 
from Polaris and almost precisely on a line between that star and 
the star Alcaid in the handle of the Big Dipper. Shortly after 
dark, on this particular December night, Polaris, the true celestial 
pole and the star, Alcaid, would all three be on the meridian. 
From a ladder on the north side of the observatory site I 
suspended a long plumb line and from the south side I dropped a 
much shorter line suspended from my camera tripod. With my 
flashlight I illuminated both plumb lines, then, at the precise 
minute, I lay on the ground by the short line and by laterally 
shifting the tripod I maneuvered so that both plumb lines cut 
right through both Polaris and Alcaid. A stake was driven in the 
ground at each plumb bob and a line connecting these stakes 
became my meridian and I had only to build my pier parallel to 
this line. 

This was really a two-part problem, the second part being the 
proper placing of the pier in relation to the observatory founda- 






THE NEW-OLD OBSERVATORY 



215 



tion. I had to be certain that when the telescope was finally 
placed in position on the pier the pivotal center of motion of the 
axes of the mounting would be fairly near the center of the dome. 
I did not want my telescope projecting out through the slit in the 
dome as I had often seen them pictured in cartoons. 

When the telescope came to us from Miami we had it tem- 
porarily placed on a couple of heavy timbers and there we gave it 
a complete coat of red-oxide primer and then covered it with a 
large sheet of plastic. One clear autumn night our curiosity got 
the better of us and we decided to have a look through the 
telescope even though, mounted on the ground as it was, we 
could point to nothing higher than about 30 degrees above the 
horizon without the eye end striking the ground. Stanley and I 
carried out the objective and eyepiece holder from their place of 
storage in the house and fitted them into the tube. That first 
night's trial was a bitter disappointment. Every bright star was 
surrounded by a purple halol 

Stanley thought he recalled seeing these halos when he had 
used the instrument at Miami. Nevertheless, I was sure that 
something was wrong for this was a CL.k objective. It had been 
ground by the makers of the world's largest objectives. The 40- 
inch Yerkes, the 36-inch Lick, and the Washington 26-inch, which 
first had seen the Martian moons, had all been ground by the 
Clarks. Furthermore, I once had looked through the 40-inch at 
Yerkes and there certainly were no such halos around the stars at 
Williams Bay. I felt like one who had acquired a Stradivarius, 
and found it made of cottonwoodl 

We took the objective back to the house and there, in the 
dining room on our softest rug, in fear and trembling, I removed 
the lenses from their cell. Sometimes a cloudy film of fungus 
growth attacks the inner surfaces of old lenses but these, when 
critically examined, were clear and sparkling. 

In my 6-inch telescope the two elements, which together make 
up its objective, are in actual contact with each other, but in the 
12-inch they were very slightly separated by a narrow paper 
spacer that Dr. Anderson, of Miami, had told me, with a twinkle 



216 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 






in his eye, was just the thickness of a one-cent stamp. It was this 
paper spacer that set me to thinking. It was quite invisible when 
the lens was in its cell, so the fact that its presence and even its 
extreme thinness were known, proved that at some time in the 
past someone had taken this lens apart. Could it, in some way, 
have been reassembled incorrectly? To the eye the two surfaces 
of the double-convex front element seemed exactly alike, but just 
supposing there actually was a difference, too slight for me to 
detect, in the curves of these two surfaces. This could made a 
difference in image quality. Carefully I turned the lens over and 
reassembled it in the cell. This time, however, that face which 
had so long looked out upon the stars, now snuggled almost 
cheek to cheek against its concave mate. 

Once again we carried the objective out to the telescope and 
secured it in the tube. The bright star Rigel now was low in the 
southeastern sky. I carefully centered it in the finder. I shifted my 
eye to the telescope and, with fingers that were cold and shaking, 
I turned the focusing screw slowly inward until the star became a 
blue-white diamond and the tiny gem beside it stood out sharp 
and clear. 

I feel that the three long-departed Clarks must have rested a 
little more quietly after that night— for the halos had disap- 
peared. 




26 The 12-inch Clark 



During the mild days of fall and winter, while i was butld- 
ing the forms for the concrete foundation and pier, Russell Brunk, 
a fellow star-gazer, with hammer, nails, and paint, grafted back 
together the jagged wound that the saws of the movers had made 
in the dome. Then, on a warm Saturday in April, a crew of 
volunteers made up of neighbors and astronomy club members, 
together with Russell and my sons, Stanley and Gordon, poured 
the concrete walls while Dottie, a modem Evangeline, bore to us 
from time to time flagons of home-brewed lemonade. 

217 



218 



STAHLICHT NIGHTS 



THE 12-INCH CLARK 



219 















Came May and with it the building contractors. Neither Ray 
Ulm nor his assistants, Bob Miller and Paul Grilliot, had ever seen 
an observatory but in just four days their work was completed. 
They had erected the walls, mounted the telescope on its pier, set 
the dome in place and repainted it, built concrete entrance steps 
and even devised an improved method of operating the dome 
shutters. 

Only in the placing of the dome had any hitch occurred. This 
dome is a sturdily built affair 22 feet in diameter and 11 feet in 
depth. It is made of 33 laminated wooden ribs with a covering of 
% inch boards and an outer skin of painted canvas. Attached to 
the underside of the circular base ring is the heavy steel rail on 
which the dome revolves. This base ring also carries the circular 
cast steel rack which engages the motor pinion to turn the dome. 

The big problem was to lift this hemispherical shell weighing 
several tons to a height of thirteen feet and place it on top of the 
observatory walls. The borrowed crane that had been used to 
raise the wall sections into position was hooked to the center of 
the dome. Then, at Ray's command the cable tightened, the out- 
stretched boom swayed and trembled, the crane reared up be- 
hind, then gave a frightened snort and quit. It had neither the 
capacity nor the length of boom necessary to lift the big dome off 
the ground and place it on the walls. 

"Hold on a minute, boys," yelled Ray, "I've got another idea." 
He made for his car and drove away in a shower of gravel from 
the spinning wheels. Bob and Paul busied themselves at other 
tasks until, half an hour later, we heard an approaching siren and, 
looking up, beheld a strange procession coming down the street. 
In the lead was a police prowl car with flasher blinking; behind it 
rolled an enormous crane with its long boom swaying out in 
front, while bringing up the rear was Ray. 

He had remembered that, a dozen blocks away, a new high 
school was being built and he had persuaded the contractor to let 
him rent their mammoth crane for just an hour. The lengthy 
boom of this colossus was fastened to the dome and again, at 
Ray's signal the engine gave a mighty roar. Again the crane's rear 



wheels rose four feet in the air, but the dome, though shaken by 
the ordeal, still remained upon the ground. 

Then Ray had still another bright idea. He quickly backed the 
small crane up against the rear end of the new arrival and 
chained the two together. This added weight provided all the 
ballast needed and this time the dome rose breathlessly aloft just 
like a giant pasture mushroom and settled slowly on the eight big 
wheels waiting to receive it. 

What had seemed a Herculean task to me they had accom- 
plished with an efficiency and a nonchalance which, had 1 not 
known them, would have told me plainly that they had been 
rebuilding old observatories all their lives. These three all became 
greatly interested in using the telescope and later on brought 
their families and friends and even church and school classes out 
to see the moon and planets. They still continue to do me many 
favors far beyond the call of duty. 

We made a great improvement in the dome-turning mecha- 
nism. At Miami this had been done by means of a large hand 
crank— usually operated by a couple of stalwart students. Since I 
would generally be working all alone in the observatory, I needed 
a drive that would rotate the dome in either direction at the turn 
of a switch. A friend in need heard of this and gave me the 
special three-quarter horsepower motor which was perfect for the 
job. Then master mechanic Joyce Everett, together with Russell, 
designed and installed a fearfully and wonderfully made reduc- 
tion drive which, through a maze of belts and pulleys, tamed the 
high speed of the motor down to a slow and steady surge of 
power which to this day has never faltered. Don and Carolyn 
Hurless, my nearest neighbor AAVSOers then took over the 
interior decorating; painting the entire telescope and pier, the 
observing ladder, and the transit room walls. They gave this 
bleak, drab room a homey, lived-in look by bringing me curtains 
for the windows and a rug for the floor. One corner of this room 
can be partitioned off with sliding drapes and has a large electric 
heater for quick winter warm-ups. 

An undertaking such as this is never completely finished, for 





















220 



STARLIGHT NIGHTS 



improvements, refinements and changes are always suggesting 
themselves, and this is precisely as it should be, for perfection is a 
stalemate. The observatory now was fully usable. It had all the 
necessities for serious observing— even some of the luxuries— and 
it performed smoothly and with youthful vigor. From the very 
beginning the project had been an adventure in friendship. From 
that first phone call in the night to the last leisurely dab of paint 
it had been an epic of generosity and helpfulness. 

The transplanting of the observatory was one more chapter in a 
story that had begun nearly a century before, for it was early in 
1868, just three years after the close of the Civil War, that Pro- 
fessor J. M. Van Vleck commissioned the firm of Alvan Clark & 
Sons, of Cambridgeport, Massachusetts to build a 12-inch tele- 
scope and equatorial mounting for Wesleyan University, of Mid- 
dletown, Connecticut. The telescope was completed by late Sep- 
tember and was tested by Professor Winlock of Harvard and by 
Professor Watson, the eminent discoverer of minor planets, who 
approved it with the solemn pronouncement that it "performed 
admirably." 

At Wesleyan the telescope was housed in an observatory that 
was topped by a revolving cylinder rather than a conventional 
dome and this was located on top of a three-story dormitory 
building. Here it was used until 1914, when the new Van Vleck 
Observatory was built. A 20-inch Clark refractor had been ordered 
for this new observatory but World War I was then in progress 
and since all raw optical glass was produced in France, the 
finished objective was not received until 1922. During these years 
of waiting the 12-inch objective had been used in the 20-inch 
tube, being placed at its proper focal distance of 15 feet, 7 inches 
from the eyepiece. Here it was used visually, and also photo- 
graphically with the addition of a Number 12 filter. 

Upon receipt of the 20-inch glass, the 12-inch instrument and 
equipment was offered for sale and was purchased by Miami 
University and there a new observatory, known as McFarland 
Observatory was built for it. Professor William Anderson, who 
had retired from active teaching several years prior to our first 






THE 12-INCH CLARK 



221 



visit to Miami, related to me how he had made the trip to Con- 
necticut to inspect the equipment and, after approving it, had 
returned to Miami, bringing with him the 12-inch objective 
securely packed in his suitcase. Nearly forty years later the 12- 
inch was to make still another such journey to a new frontier— 
this time wrapped in a blanket on the rear seat of my car. Dr. 
Anderson also divulged that he had been responsible for the tiny 
chip in the edge of the objective. It had been done, he said, by 
getting one of the adjusting screws too tight while fitting the 
lenses in their cell. He told how he had then written to the J. W. 
Fecker Company of Pittsburgh to find out the cost of replacing the 
chipped crown element with a new one. When Fecker quoted a 
price of five thousand dollars for just one of the two elements that 
together make the complete objective he decided to pursue the 
matter no further. Actually the chipped edge does not affect the 
image quality of the lens in the slightest degree. 

Since finally settling in its new home the 12-inch has done its 
level best to show off its accomplishments and as yet I have not 
ceased to marvel at the wonders it reveals. Star clusters such as 
M 13 in Hercules and M 11 in Scutum are gorgeous quite beyond 
description, and these are only two among a host of these 
faraway star-cities whose sparkling street lights seem to wind and 
twist about until they fade out in the distance. A favorite of mine 
is known as NGC 4565, the edge-on galaxy in Coma Berenices. 
Still another is the weird and ghostly Ring Nebula in Lyra with 
its faint and difficult hot blue star in the center of the ring. M 42, 
the Great Nebula in Orion, is breathtaking in its sharply defined 
bright and dark nebular cloud forms. All of these celestial show- 
offs I had watched hundreds of times before in my other tele- 
scopes, but with the 12-inch, everything that before had been 
vague and elusive was now sharp and clear. It was pleasant to 
make their acquaintance all over again. 

Shortly after the new telescope was in operation an unusual 
event occurred that well demonstrated the advantage we had 
gained by the four-fold increase in light-gathering power. A 
supernova had suddenly flared up in one of the many faint spiral 









222 



STARLICHT NIGHTS 



THE 12-INCH CLARK 



223 









galaxies in the constellation Virgo. Each year several such out- 
bursts show up on photographic plates but only rarely does one 
become bright enough to be seen as an individual star. This one 
became as bright as the twelth magnitude and Don, Carolyn, and 
I watched it for more than a month, making many estimates of its 
changing magnitude, until it finally faded out and was lost in the 
background haze of the nebula, For each of us it was im- 
measurably the most distant star that we had ever seen and it was 
our first glimpse of a star in a galaxy other than our own. All this 
would have been quite beyond the powers of my smaller scopes. 

It is in the seeing of faint stars that I have derived the greatest 
benefit from the use of the new telescope. With the 6-inch it was 
only on nights of the most exceptional transparency that I could 
glimpse a star below the fourteenth magnitude. With the 12-inch, 
under the same conditions, I can see slightly below the sixteenth. 
While this may seem a relatively small gain it must be remem- 
bered that each decreasing magnitude is two and one-half times 
fainter than the preceding one, and that to gain another two 
magnitudes, or eighteenth magnitude, would tax the visual ca- 
pacity of even the 40-inch glass at Yerkes. The two magnitudes— 
from fourteenth to sixteenth— are vital ones to me in variable star 
observing, for the minima of many of the most interesting 
variables that I observe lie within the range of these two magni- 
tudes. Formerly I would watch these stars as they slowly faded 
until, at about fourteenth magnitude, there would eventually 
come the night when they no longer could be seen. Then weeks 
or even months would pass before a tiny point of light would 
once again announce their reappearance. Now, happily, all this is 
changed, for only two or three of all the stars I watch ever sink so 
low that I cannot follow them in all their darksome doings. 

The new observatory has now been in use sufficiently long for 
everything to be completely routine. I find that my observing 
time is about equally divided between the two telescopes and 
they have, thus far, seemed quite compatible. It is hoped that, as 
time goes by, additional observers and a diversity of programs 
will keep the 12-inch still more fully occupied. Already, Oliver 



Lundgren, my photographer friend, frequently uses it to take 
exquisite pictures of the planets and the moon.The motions of the 
moon still perplex him just a bit but, after all, they even gave the 
great Newton his only headaches. Don and Carolyn, the variable- 
star observers, come over at regular intervals and bring with them 
each time a list of the stars that have dropped below the range of 
their own instruments and the ever-obliging 12-inch never fails to 
bring them back in view. These two faithful friends also most 
efficiently take charge whenever there is a scheduled visitor's 
night and for this assistance I am truly grateful. 

It had taken the 12-inch nearly a century to travel from 
Cambridgeport to Delphos. Many quite unrelated happenings 
along the way had helped to bring it to its present hilltop home. 
Other whims of fate will touch it in the years to come. May its 
course be always guided by the stars. 

A short time after the new observatory had been completed I 
was returning home after dark from a lecture in a nearby town. 
At the crossroads where the highway spans the river I turned off 
on the old country road and drove the quarter mile north with a 
sudden desire to see what the home farm still looked like late at 
night. A couple of minutes later I stopped the car on the deserted 
road in front of the house. I turned off the motor and the car 
lights and then just sat there, for a time, utterly bewildered by 
what I saw. Night no longer came to the farm! 

Not two hundred yards from the spot where my old observa- 
tory once stood a powerful light atop a high pole flooded the 
surrounding acres with a bluish glare. I got out of the car and 
looked around. From where I stood I could see five other lights 
on other farms all spilling out their garish glow. Here at my 
pasture observatory, during the years when it was the center of 
my little universe, this midnight sky was seldom shattered by a 
single ray of man-made light. Today, as evening falls, a sinuous 
constellation of farm floodlights, like some incandescent Hydra, 
wraps its coils about the skyline, and glows with baleful eyes 
throughout the night. 

I recalled that years ago I sometimes drove past these same 






224 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 



farm homes late at night. To me each one seemed like a tiny 
village with its house, its bam, and all its odd array of smaller 
buildings. But whether I saw it by starlight or underneath the 
moon, it always impressed me how gently and how peacefully 
each little village slept. 

The moon and the stars no longer come to the farm. The 
farmer has exchanged his birthright in them for the wattage of 
his all-night sun. His children will never know the blessed dark of 
night. 

I got back in my car and drove on home, disturbed and 
saddened by the change that I had seen. I was thankful, though, 
that I now watched the stars in my peaceful city skies, where my 
telescopes were safe from the bright lights of the farm. 







27 Comet Carvings 












More than fifty years have passed since i stood out in the 
front yard at the farm— first on the snowy ground of January and 
later in the lush dew-covered grass of May— and watched in 
silent wide-eyed awe the mighty sweep of those two ghostly visi- 
tors of 1910. 

Ever since that time I have had a deep concern for comets. It 
was as though those two forerunners had dispensed some subtle 
aura that I unknowingly absorbed; some potent emanation which 

225 



226 



STABLICHT NIGHTS 



COMET CARVINGS 



227 



for a time lay dormant until the media was ready, then flared into 
a lifelong urge which never has abated. 

I am quite certain that as I watched those filmy phantoms I 
had no premonition of the part their kindred comets were to play 
throughout my life nor did I, at that tender age of ten, invoke a 
solemn vow that somehow, sometime, I too would find a comet. I 
did not even know that there were other comets to be foundl I 
only knew that they were something that came out of the depths 
of space, crept like wraiths across the sky, and then were gone. 
Something so mysterious and rare that no one, not even my own 
parents, could explain just what they were. 

During all my early teens no other comets came my way. This 
is not surprising for it would have taken something extra special 
in the sky for it to be brought to my attention for in those years 
our only news of any outside happenings came to us on Wednes- 
days and on Saturdays in the four-sheet Delphos Courant. Even 
when, at sixteen, I had picked my way to a strawberry spyglass 
and started out to thoroughly explore the sky I still had no way of 
knowing where to point that scope to catch a glimpse of one of 
these strange and fleeting visitors. Not until my winter walk to 
town which brought the mail to our snowbound farm did I get 
the slightest clue of where to look for comets in the sky. Included 
in the bundle of mail along with my first variable-star charts, 
three letters from my brother Kenneth in France, two Saturday 
Evening Posts and a Farm Journal was my first copy of the 
magazine, Popular Astronomy. In it I found, to my great delight, 
that each issue had a section that told of all new discoveries and 
also gave the sky locations in which any current comets could be 
found. Unfortunately, for many months thereafter no wanderers 
from space came within the range of my little spyglass and it 
never got to see a single one before it was retired from active 
duty. 

However, the 4-inch came to me from Harvard early in De- 
cember and soon I had it mounted in the pasture on its white-ash 
pier. In the meantime, positions of a periodic comet had been 
published and these I carefully plotted in my Upton's atlas. The 
object then was crossing Gemini, moving northward toward 






Auriga and when darkness settled on the first clear night I 
pointed the new 4-inch to the east just above the treetops and 
started slowly sweeping back and forth along my plotted line. 
Five minutes later— just above the twin stars Castor and Pollux— 
a little misty blob of light with an even fainter offshoot of a tail 
appeared against the dark background of sky and, with the same 
exultant feeling that came to me with the spotting of R Leonis in 
my spyglass, I knew that this first tracking down a comet with a 
scope was something I would long remember. 

This periodic visitor was already in retreat and never came 
near naked-eye visibility. Compared to the great ones I had seen 
in 1910 it was really a sorry spectacle but it was the first one I had 
seen in nine long years and, fascinated, I watched the eerie 
traveler for many nights as it moved among the stars. It gave me 
a most satisfying feeling to reflect that from a maze of figures in a 
magazine I could point my telescope to a comet in the sky. 

Late in 1922 came the 6-inch telescope from Princeton and 
with it came the firm resolve that I would find a comet of my 
own. Now I began regularly sweeping the sky on every sparkling 
moonless night. This was a slow and careful search in which I 
thoroughly surveyed the entire sky, sketching the location of each 
suspicious object that I saw, learning to recognize by sight the 
distant nebulae and clusters, the hazy stars, and the little wisps 
and blobs of light that so closely mimicked comets. All this was 
time and effort well expended for, though I little knew it then, I 
was starting on a quest that would continue for more than forty 
years. 

I already have recounted all my thoughts and all my doings on 
that never-to-be-forgotten night of Friday the thirteenth in 1925, 
when my own first comet swam into my field of view. Columbus 
at San Salvador could have felt no greater thrill. At the outset of 
this search my original desire had been to find a comet of my 
own. But a single taste, if it be a pleasant one, seldom satisfies 
and so the search went on and on. Three more comets— in 1930, 
1932, and 1933— were found and though none of them became 
bright enough to be seen without a telescope, yet each one 
brought to me the thrilling shock of its first sighting, the hurried 



228 



STAHLICHT NIGHTS 



sketch to verify its motion, the dash to town to start my message 
on its way, then the excitement of following the stranger's nightly 
crawl across the sky, and— after three well-spaced sightings— the 
making of my own rough prediction of its future course and 
brightness, and finally came the glow of satisfaction as I carved 
the year of the discovery in the wooden tube of the telescope. 

The night of May 14, 1936, was warm and soft and all the stars 
were out. It was a night just like that mid-May night some twenty 
years before when I, from our front yard, first looked up at the 
stars and realized I didn't know a single one of them. Out at the 
observatory I removed the shutter from the dome, turned on my 
ruby light, and for an hour and a half was busy estimating and 
recording variable stars. Then, to finish off the evening, I turned 
my comet-seeker toward the north and began a crisscross search- 
ing of the region near the pole. Two minutes later the built-in 
circuit between my eye and arm was broken and my motion 
stopped. This involuntary reaction is quite often triggered by 
even a pair of faint stars so closely placed that they present a 
fuzzy image so I was not excited by this routine ceremony. I 
brought the blur into the center of the field to have a closer look. 
It still was just a blur so I shifted to a higher power eyepiece. 
Even with one-hundred power it refused to separate into a pair of 
stars and now I felt the tension mounting for I was sure that in 
my file of comet masqueraders I had listed none in this locality. 
Out came my sketch pad and pencil and soon I had the object 
down on paper all lined up in its relation to its nearby neighbor 
stars. 

Then came a period of watchful waiting. Five minutes later I 
looked at the field and could see no change. Ten minutes more 
and the thing still seemed frozen in the sky. I often had detected 
comet motion in less than fifteen minutes so this must just be a 
faint nebula that I had somehow overlooked in all my former 
sweeping through this region and, considering that this object 
was a faint tenth magnitude, I knew that this was possible. I 
went outside and strolled around a while. In the darkness I could 
just make out the sleeping shapes of diree cows who had settled 
for the night not far away. I wandered on up to the pump that 






COMET CARVINGS 



229 



stood between the house and barn and got a drink. It now was 
nearly midnight and, returning back along the path, I faindy 
heard the striking of the clock in town. It brought to mind how 
comet-hunter Messier, while watching from his home, could hear 
each hour the clang from more than forty churches. 

I went inside to have my final look before I closed up for the 
night. During my midnight stroll the eastward spinning earth had 
moved my telescope and now it took a little searching before I 
found the field that I had left there. But when I did the metal 
dome above me reverberated with a loud ecstatic "Whoopee"— 
for that tiny blob of light had moved! 

Once again I drove to town and climbed the tower steps two at 
a time to send my telegrams to Harvard and to Van B. at Yerkes. 
But this time I didn't drive back home past Dottie's house and 
give our five short coded toots to tell her of my passing. Dottie 
didn't live there any more. This time when I returned she was 
waiting up for me in our own home by the river. 

It was at once apparent from the comet's faintness and extreme 
slow motion that it was very far away when found. More than a 
week elapsed before it crept out of the original field that I had 
sketched but all during diat June it gradually picked up both 
brightness and apparent speed. On July first it could be seen 
without a telescope and throughout that month it cut quite a 
noble figure as it moved southward toward its closest rendezvous 
with earth, while each night visitors from far and near paraded 
up our pasture path and Dad was knee-deep in delight. The 
nearest approach came in early August when the comet was a 
mere 15 million miles away. Bright moonlight at the time 
diminished the full splendor of the comet's tail but the head was 
a glowing body a full two-thirds the apparent size of the moon. 

It had been the brightest comet I had seen since 1910 and I 
was highly pleased with its performance. One astronomer figured 
out its orbit to be a long ellipse which would bring it back again in 
about 450 years. On the night of August 22, 1 took my last look at 
the comet and said a fond fareweil for on the following day it 
would sink below the south horizon and be lost to sight. But out 
on my stubby tube of dark mahogany I had already carved the 



230 



STARLIGHT NICHTS 



comet's signature, 1936-A, in figures extra sharp and clear. I 
hoped that they would still be there when the comet comes back 
to earth again in 2386. 

Another comet, a rather faint one, was located in 1937 and still 
another two years later. This was the last of the seven to be 
picked up in the pasture for that was the year we moved to town 
and the comet-seeker was installed in the merry-go-round ob- 
servatory. While spinning in this structure five additional comets 
have been spotted though only one of these reached naked-eye 
brightness. 

In recent years the professional astronomers with their big 
wide-angle cameras have made great inroads into this field which 
has always been so closely identified with the amateur observer. 
In a statistical study of all comets appearing during the twelve- 
year period from 1948 to 1960 the British observer, M. J. Hendrie, 
found that amateur observers had made twelve discoveries while 
the professionals had accounted for fifty-two. Finding comets 
captive on glass plates must lack the tense excitement which the 
sweeper of the skies experiences each time he sights a stranger in 
his scope, but it serves a useful purpose for it captures many faint 
ones that otherwise would get away. 

In spite of this increasing competition there always will be 
comets for the amateur to seek and, in some facets of this work, 
he still has an advantage. In a given time he can cover far more 
sky than can the camera, he can know within half an hour the 
true nature of a suspected object and he can search much closer 
to the sun in regions which would fog a photographic plate. 

Over the years I have devoted many, many hours to the search 
for these always welcome visitors from space. They have been 
leisurely, pleasant hours, and usually indulged in only after my 
nightly program of variable star observing has been completed, 
thus, no matter how futile is the hunting, I never have the feeling 
that my whole night's work has been in vain. It is an ideal leisure- 
time pursuit. I have repeatedly noticed that its methodical pro- 
cedures require little if any mental effort or concentration. In 
time one becomes a veritable automaton. Many a time my 



COMET CARVINGS 



231 



physical self has been busily hunting comets, my eye glued to the 
telescope, my hands endlessly guiding the instrument back and 
forth across the strip of sky, while my mind, in complete detach- 
ment, may be pondering some such weighty subject as the plant- 
ing of my early spring garden. Then, suddenly, my eye sees 
something a little different in the star field, my hands automati- 
cally stop and my physical being, like a well-trained bird dog, 
freezes while my slowly grinding mind makes the transition from 
carrots back to comets. 

Time has not lessened the age-old allure of the comets. In some 
ways their mystery has only deepened with the years. At each 
return a comet brings with it the questions which were asked 
when it was here before, and as it rounds the sun and backs away 
toward the long, slow night of its aphelion it leaves behind with 
us those questions, still unanswered. 

To hunt a speck of moving haze may seem a strange pursuit, 
but even though we fail the search is still rewarding, for in no 
better way can we come face to face, night after night, with such 
a wealth of riches as old Croesus never dreamed of. 

To me, comet-seeking is a magic carpet that can take me on 
nostalgic flights into the past. On the farm, in my early years of 
comet hunting, few sounds of civilization ever came to me inside 
my little dome. Even now, when I am hunting late at night, there 
is little to remind me of what century it is. In the dark silence of 
the dome two hundred years can disappear in just the twinkling 
of a thought and I am standing beside destitute, old Charles 
Messier as he knocks on the door of his friend Lalande and 
borrows a little oil for his midnight lamp. On another night I 
may, in spirit, be with Dr. Olbers of Bremen, as he turns from 
stethoscope to telescope and begins his nightly search for 
asteroids and comets. 

But all too often, just when I have conjured up the proper 
bygone shade and with it have escaped into the tranquil skies of 
yesteryear, somewhere up the street an auto horn will give a 
raucous toot and recall me to the present. 




OBSERVATIONS 



233 




28 



Observations 



Old telescopes never die, they are just laid away, there is 
little about a telescope that can deteriorate and the lens, the vital 
organ, even though a century old, can still have all the fire and 
sparkle of its youth. Sometimes, however, for one reason or 
another, telescopes do become dormant or go into a state of 
suspended animation, and at such times, as they slowly gather the 
dust of the passing years, it seems that they must wonder just 



what has become of the hands which once so eagerly pointed 
them to the skies. 

In this same vein I too have often wondered about all those 
myriads who, with many an expression of utter amazement and 
delight, have watched the rings of Saturn, the craters of the moon 
or the incredible Orion Nebula through these same instruments of 
mine. Both of these telescopes, even before they came to me, had 
already served long careers before the public eye. One is a 
Princeton graduate, the other an alumnus of both Wesleyan and. 
Miami Universities, and each has spent a lifetime in showing-off 
the skies. So, it would seem quite logical that, out of all these 
thousands who, at some time, have peered into these telescopes, 
there must have been at least a few who, in some way, have had 
the course of their lives changed or affected by the impact of the 
wonders that they saw, even as I once brushed against some stars 
which left their lifetime mark on me. 

These telescopes of mine are not just bits of property. I like to 
think of them as gifts in trust and myself as their administrator; 
one who is grateful that it has fallen to his lot to open up their 
eyes and let them see the stars again. They now seem quite 
rejuvenated and, with youthful zest, they look ahead to long and 
useful lives. But I am not misled by their appearance. I know 
something of their past and, in spite of all their sprightly mien, I 
still regard them with that feeling of deep reverence that one 
accords a patriarch, for they have witnessed much of history. 
Especially is this true of *he 12-inch for I am much more certain 
of its genealogy. 

So many changes have occurred since it left the deft fingers of 
the Clarks and first looked out upon the world of 1868. But, 
though now almost a hundred years have passed, it is only here 
on earth that much change can be detected. Farther out in space 
our neighbor, moon, has shyly edged a scant three feet further 
from the earth. Halley's Comet made one brief appearance, 
swung its tenuous tail around the sun, and then was gone again. 
Pluto, long suspected, came from hiding, and Neptune made but 



234 



STABLICHT NIGHTS 









little more than half a circle round the sun. Deep in space Bar- 
nard's runaway star moved among the other stars one-half the 
apparent diameter of the moon. Nearly all the other stars seemed 
frozen in the sky, though now and then a nova spent its substance 
in a futile flash, then settled down and sulked. 

The cosmologists were vastly busy during all ihese years in 
scrapping old ideas and inventing brand new models. The 12-inch 
had been born in the long reign of the nebular hypothesis, it grew 
up in a rain of planetesimals and it matured during the leisurely 
eons of continuous creation and the bang of the primordial atom. 
Its golden years will doubtless be spent amid favorite phantoms 
equally interesting and equally ephemeral. Man is a most auda- 
cious artist. Only yesterday he was drawing pictures of wild 
beasts on the dimly lighted walls of his cave. Today he would 
picture all the universe and how it came to be! 

Of all the signs of changing times which my telescope has seen, 
the ones it views with ominous concern are neither on the earth 
nor in the depths of space. So often, of late years, strange lights 
pass across the star-field I am watching through the telescope. 
Some of these lights are bright, still others are so faint that they 
have halfway crossed the field before I notice them. Nearly all of 
them have been moving in an easterly direction and for all that I 
have seen there comes a moment when suddenly they fade and 
disappear, and by this I know the thing I have been watching 
was lighted by the sun and now is lost within the long black 
shadow of the earth. All too well I realize that I have been 
witness to mankind's latest pollution in the name of progress— the 
contamination of the skies. 

Already, in only the eighth year of the Space Age, the sky is 
littered with a jumble of jettisoned nose cones, carriers, and drop- 
off stages from the multitude of spacecraft placed in orbit round 
the earth. Unlike the graveyards of the Automobile Age, whose 
slowly oxidizing carcasses can at least be zoned, these cerements 
of space will circle uncontrolled across the skies until, in time, the 
pressure of light and the slight resistance of the upper atmos- 
phere will slow them down until at last, as man-made meteors, 



OBSERVATIONS 



235 



they will make their final fiery plunge, trailing behind them a 
wake of ashes to continue the contamination. 

In these strange lights that cross the sky my two scopes see a 
gloomy portent, a distant early warning of the nights to come. 
Forty years ago, on the top of Mt. Wilson, the world's largest 
telescope could look down and see the gathering lights below. 
Today the approach is from above as well. 

So much that man touches he destroys. Less than five centuries 
ago three tiny ships dropped anchor off the coast of a little island 
and there began the greedy pillage of the Americas. Today man 
is reaching for the moon with those same eager hands of con- 
quest. Already we have been informed that the moon is a chal- 
lenge which we, as a nation, must meet. 

Time after time we have been told the story of the noted 
mountain climber who was asked why he felt impelled to scale a 
particularly difficult peak. His reply was simply: "Because it is 
there." A less dramatic but more forthright answer would have 
been: "Because my ego demands it." The conquest of the moon, 
as planned at present, is simply a higher mountain with, at its 
summit, the same dubious prize— prestige. 

I know that someday man will reach the moon but I sincerely 
hope this will not happen for a long, long time. He has a lot of 
growing up to do before he will be ready for the moon. When he 
finally does set his sails for a journey into space, may it be a 
voyage of the Beagle, not the Graf Spee. If man must meet a 
challenge he can find one here on earth. If he must conquer 
something let it be himself. 

The moon and I have been firm friends for all these many 
years. On a thousand nights I have turned my optic tube to her 
and she has gaily entered. From my little observatory, in contour- 
cushioned comfort, I have explored her rocks and rills, her plains 
and craters, and I have watched a thousand times the play of 
light and shadow on her face. In our western wanderings we once 
stood spellbound as she rose, incredibly large, above the sands of 
Alamogordo, and on another night we saw her slip into a mid- 
night bath in the Pacific, her face half hidden in her shadow. 



236 STARLIGHT NICHTS 

Tonight, as lustful eyes are turned in her direction, I see again 
the gently smiling face of Lady Moon, my early love of Second 
Reader days and once again I hear the repetition of her soft 
reply— "All that love me, all that love me." 

The light has all but faded from the sky as I start along the 
hilltop path to the observatories. From somewhere in the shad- 
ows my big collie, Canis Major, noiselessly appears and trots 
along ahead. We round the big lilac and I pause for just a 
moment at the small observatory to throw back its lid before 
going on to open up the larger one. Spring and summer both 
have gone and there is more than just a hint of autumn in the air. 
The tempo of the cricket's chirp is beating slower night by night 
and surely frost can not be far away. Far to the south lone 
Fomalhaut is marking out a trail for winter stars to follow and 
through the eastward-opened dome I see the Pleiades. 

Even as I watch, the dome above me fades away and now its 
opened shutter is a darkened kitchen window through which I 
gaze in childish wonder at seven little stars that sparkle in a long- 
gone autumn sky. 






He got a good glass for six hundred dollars. 
His new job gave him leisure for star-gazing. 
Often he bid me come and have a look 
Up the brass barrel, velvet black inside, 
At a star quaking in the other end. 
I recollect a night of broken clouds 
And underfoot snow melted down to ice, 
And melted further in the wind to mud. 
Bradford and I had out the telescope. 
We spread our two legs as we spread its three, 
Pointed our thoughts the way we pointed it, 
And standing at our leisure till the day broke, 
Said some of the best things we ever said. 

From The Star-Splitter by Robert Frost. 
MACMILLAN