The Most Interesting Man of the Van Vleck Observatory

He doesn’t always drink beer, but when he does, he drinks his own.

Thornton Page sits in his office. Photo from the Van Vleck Observatory.

Thornton Page sits in his office. Photo from the Van Vleck Observatory.

One of the difficulties of dealing with the types of archival material that rest in a historic observatory is that, while we have a lot of material, little of it captures the personality of the people we’re dealing with. We have plenty of scientific books and teaching slides; we have fewer photos of professors and their dogs.

Thornton Page and his dog pose next to Erwin Rommel's Mercedes. Newspaper clipping in Van Vleck Observatory. Publication and date unknown.

Thornton Page and his dog pose next to Erwin Rommel’s Mercedes. Newspaper clipping in Van Vleck Observatory. Probably from the Middletown Press (based on where it is filed), date unknown.

But we do have one such photograph, and it’s of Thornton Page, the most interesting professor of the Van Vleck, a man whose idiosyncrasies capture the weirdness of the 1960s UFO-obsessed, Space Age astronomy.

We have written before on Page’s interest in UFOs and modern space science. As a Wesleyan professor, Page created the Science 1-2 program, a course for non-science majors that explained the science behind then-modern phenomena such as UFOs. In an 1966 interview with Walter Cronkite, Thornton Page–and  Carl Sagan!–explain the findings from actual scientific research on the subject. One article from the New Haven Register summed up his personal experience of the phenomena: “UFO expert has never seen one.”

Article on Page's UFO expertise. In Van Vleck Observatory. From New Haven Register, October 9, 1967.

Article on Page’s UFO expertise. In Van Vleck Observatory. From New Haven Register, October 9, 1967.

As a researcher, Page involved himself with government projects. Before coming to Wesleyan, he observed the nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll. He also did classified work during the 1950s for the Operations Research Office at the Department of the Army. During his tenure, he was often on leave, working instead for NASA and assisting with the Apollo programs.

But while his scientific life was focused on the new technology and space-obsessiveness of the Cold War, his home life was focused more on capturing—and re-enacting, one might say—past events.

Page drove the Mercedes supposedly owned by Erwin Rommel (pictured above). (Yes, that Erwin Rommel) The vehicle, he explained, had no prior records of ownership but was likely owned by Rommel because it had bullet holes in it. The Deimler Corporation, Page said, also identified the car as Rommel’s.

He also owned an 18th-century New England farm. Inside his house, he brewed his own beer. The beer’s labels displayed his old property.

And the beer’s moniker? “Pagerbrau,” which loosely translates to “Page Beer.” A fitting title for the most interesting beer of the most interesting man of the Van Vleck Observatory.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s