One week to go! An Exhibition in the Making

Today is Friday, April 29, 1016. The Under Connecticut Skies exhibit formally opens Friday, May 6, 2016, exactly one week from now. That can only mean one thing: it’s crunch-time. Saying that there was a lot going on in the Observatory from the hours of 9am-7pm today would be an understatement.

To even properly explain what went on in the Observatory today, I need to tell you a bit of what went on yesterday. Essentially, Matt and I cut a lot of muslin. The cabinet shelves (which will hold all of the exhibit objects) will be covered in muslin to protect the wood and lighten up the exhibit aesthetics. So each cabinet needs a piece of muslin cut-to-size. Matt trimmed the fabric, which came in giant sprawling unwieldy sheets, for a couple of hours and then I took over and finished cutting 29 pieces of muslin for 29 similarly-sized shelves.

 

Fast-forward 24 hours: I arrive at the Van Vleck Observatory around 10:30am and get to work ironing. Before all the muslin can be placed in the shelves, all the creases need to be tamed, and so I spent hours–literally hours–ironing.  Believe it or not, muslin is a very crinkly fabric, so we were mostly concerned with ironing out the giant creases from having folded it all up the day before. When I left to get some lunch, Roy asked me to label everything with great detail so that if someone else came in–also to iron for hours–they would know where to start. I completed this task with great pleasure.

 

When I came back to the observatory a couple hours later, I found Roy, Paul, and Linda huddled around a table in the hallway with a giant piece of paper. When they saw me come in, I was immediately greeted with exchanges of “Abby! You’re back!” and “Do you know how to use an Exact-o knife?”

“Yes, yes, yes! I have used an Exact-o knife many-a-times,” I replied.

“Awesome, now can you help Linda with this?”

“Yeah, sure! But what is ‘this’?”

I feel like that could be the motto of museums everywhere: “yeah, sure, but what is ‘this’?”

Anyway, I helped Linda with cutting the paper because I’m quite comfortable with Exact-o knives. One time in high school, I accidentally cut myself really badly with an Exact-o knife, and ever since, I practice the utmost in Exact-o knife safety. I’m weirdly proud of this. While I was cutting the paper, sometimes I was pressing the blade so close to the ruler, that I actually started peeling wood off of it! In any event, we cut some paper to a certain size and then filed into the library.

 

Turns out that the paper we were cutting was going behind the glass plates with astronomical images in order to minimize shadowing. While trying to stick the paper to the back of the cabinets with double-sided tape, I heard Linda use all kinds of expletives like “this horse’s patootie.” She also repeatedly asked me, “Aren’t you glad I got you out of ironing?” to which I repeatedly emphatically replied, “Yes, yes, yes.”

Astronomical images backlit from inside the cabinets

Astronomical images backlit from inside the cabinets. Photo by the author.

Meanwhile, Paul was working diligently on quite a few other essential tasks.

 

Sometime in the afternoon, astronomy students that had been working in the observatory knocked on the library door and offered to give a hand. I delegated the task of ironing to the one person who said he had “ironed at one point in [his] life”: Julian. Later Girish relieved Julian of ironing-duties, mercilessly teasing the retired player. Apparently not many Wesleyan students know how to iron, so we were lucky to find two people who kinda did.

 

Julian was then faced with task of hauling many many boxes of very very old books out of the Van Vleck office and into the library. Roy has been saying for months now that we have a ton of books ready to be sorted and go on the shelves. The books come from the Exley Science Library, and although they will be resting on the Van Vleck library’s shelves from now on, the books can still be found in the Wesleyan catalog. A bit of a conveyor belt-system while moving books around formed.

Moving books across the room in a most-efficient style

Moving books across the room in a most-efficient style. Photo by the author.

While the team of astronomers–AKA the greatest volunteer help we could’ve ever asked for–was working on moving books around and sorting the “new” ones, I helped Roy finish up the interior light fixtures. That mostly involved tightening a few screws, laying down velcro on the undersides of the shelves, and applying velcro to the light fixtures themselves so that they could be attached to the undersides of the cabinet shelves. In a couple of hours, all of the exhibit lighting fixtures were complete and installed!

The inside of the exhibit cabinets fully-fitted with DIY light-fixtures

Ta-dah! The inside of the exhibit cabinets fully-fitted with DIY light-fixtures. Photo by the author.

By the time all the light fixtures were done, some of our helpers had to say goodbye for the day. So I took over repopulating the historic library shelves with historic books. I stood at the top of the library ladder as Kevin sorted books below. When he had a couple in the right order, he would hand them off to me.

 

When Kevin finished the last books in the box he was working on, we decided to call it a day. By that point, it was already 6:30 in the evening! Everyone was ready to leave. When I finally made my way home and had collapsed on my bed, I logged onto Twitter and saw all the pictures of the hard-work us student laborers had been up to (Roy had been tweeting throughout the day). It was a very sweet feeling, and I was so happy to have a chance to work with such lovely people for such an excellent project.

We’ve got one week to go! Come see the fruits of all our labors soon!

Photo of the author stacking books on the formerly-empty Van Vleck library shelves

Photo of the author stacking books on the formerly-empty Van Vleck library shelves. I appear to be floating because I was standing on a step-stool (not pictured) at the time the photo was taken. Photo by Roy Kilgard.

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Museum Exhibit or Construction Zone? 2nd Edition!

Roy works on his computer in the library

Roy works on his computer in his new office space. Photo by the author.

Recently, Roy and Amrys have moved into the Van Vleck Observatory library. I’m not sure if they ever actually leave these days…they’re so dedicated to this project!

A random sample of what was on the table one day I was in the library.

Roy works on his computer in his new office space. Photo by the author.

The content of the tabletops is always in flux. There are light fixtures, coffee mugs, paper towels, 5 different varieties of velcro, various objects in the exhibit, post-it notes and other office supplies, post cards, exhibit scripts, tchotchkes, computers, books, books about computers, books about human computers, full-scale reproductions of historical images, cameras, eye glasses, water glasses, glass plates, commemorative plates, and lots and lots and lots of notes and to-do lists.

Very very old unopened Campbell's soup can

Very very old (18-years-old) unopened Campbell’s soup-can. Photo by the author.

Furthermore, the 18-years old Campbell’s soup-can (it expired in 1998) has joined Roy and Amrys’s office table, which is really just one of the library tables that was there all along. Roy has called the soup-can the “talisman” of the project, and that sounds about right to me. I asked him if he thought that there might be a black hole inside the soup-can that would make opening the can rather risky. Because Roy studies black holes for a living, I trusted his answer of “it could be.” Additionally, a tiny moon-shaped stress-ball now sits on top of the soup-can because “sometimes you just need to squeeze a tiny moon-shaped stress ball.” That also sounds right considering the amount of things going on in the library these days.

Our exhibit also has the help of several tiny plastic soldiers who keep a faithful guard on the Van Vleck Observatory at all times.

Tiny plastic soldier on library windowsill

Tiny plastic soldier watches for the enemy (light pollution!!) outside the Van Vleck library’s window. Photo by the author.

Suffice it to say that some of us are going a little loopy up on Observatory Hill, where the air really isn’t that much different. In any case, all these tchotchkes and historical artifacts and office supplies all mixed together at once really does make me happy in a very silly way for which I cannot truly account. I share this post with you now, because if you come visit the exhibit, you most-likely will not find expired soup-cans, tiny plastic soldiers, yards of velcro, boxes of lightbulbs, or even office supplies in the exhibit.

Or will you? (*wink wink*)

Museum Exhibit or Construction Zone?

Door to the Van Vleck Library while the exhibition creation is underway.

Door to the Van Vleck Library while the exhibition creation is underway. Photo by the author.

At this point, it’s hard to tell. Creating a permanent museum exhibit on a budget is…let’s say…challenging. To cut down on costs, we’re creating a lot of what goes into the exhibit ourselves. Everything from the lighting to the shelving to the mat board that goes behind the shelving is student and staff-constructed. We’ve got Roy, Amrys, and Paul calling the shots, Tom Castelli at the Science Machine Shop doing all sorts of crazy things with leftover wood, leftover plexiglass, and an assortment of power tools, and the students who are willing to do just about anything else.

Tom has put together a bunch of the museum cabinet covers. When actually placed in front of a cabinet, it really feels like we are creating a museum!

Protective glass for cabinet space against cabinet.

Door to the Van Vleck Library while the exhibition creation is underway. Photo by the author.

Melissa’s been cutting and trimming mat board to fit into the cabinets, brightening up the space a bit with a soft green hue.

Cut mat board to go in cabinets.

Cut mat board to go in cabinets. Labor by Melissa Joskow. Photo by the author.

Matt’s been assembling light fixtures, literally brightening up the cabinet spaces. The lights will illuminate exhibit objects.

Matt creates lighting fixtures for the museum cabinets

Matt assembles lighting fixtures for the museum cabinets. Photo by the author.

Matt shows off a light fixture that he'd been working on.

It works! Matt shows off a light fixture that he’d been working on. Photo by the author.

Michaela’s cleaned up the vitrine in the hallway and lathered on a new coat of paint. The cabinet used to display objects like the Van Vleck guestbook, chronomoters, sextants, and other cool astronomical artifacts. Now a lot of that will be going into the permanent exhibit!

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Note the protective plastic bagging of the Fisk telescope on the left. Photo by the author.

As for me, I started on cleaning all the shelves in the library itself. Paul gave a hand, and then Roy and Melissa finished the job up another day.

Materials for cleaning the library shelves.

Materials for cleaning the library shelves. Photo by the author.

There’s a thousand things left to do for this project, but everyone seems really excited and ready to work! Can’t wait to see how things shape up in just the next couple weeks!

Scripting the History of Astronomy at the Van Vleck Observatory

For months it seemed as if the museum exhibit at the observatory was just a mirage on the horizon, something we knew we were all working towards but didn’t really know exactly what would be when we actually got there. At last, we’re so close to the opening of our exhibit! We have a finalized list of objects that Matt’s been laboring over and a script that Roy, Amrys, and Paul have been slaving a way at for weeks!

Writing a script for a museum exhibit comes with its own quirks and challenges. We’re not writing a history report or a critical essay; we’re trying to communicate to a public audience the significance of the Van Vleck Observatory to Wesleyan, Middletown, astronomy, and even the arts by showing some of the coolest objects we have around.

So, with some objects on the shelves and a draft of the script in all of our hands, we started to “run-through” the exhibit at our weekly Monday meeting.

Reading the script out loud for the first time in the Van Vleck Library

Reading the script out loud for the first time in the Van Vleck Library–future site of the permanent exhibit. Photo by the author.

Some shelves look just about museum ready!

One possible layout of one cabinet of the exhibition.

One possible layout of one cabinet of the exhibition. Photo by the author.

cabinet with an array of interesting objects and books

One cabinet with an array of interesting objects and books, layout to be finalized. Photo by the author.

And some shelves are still being used as office supplies storage space.

Museum shelf currently used as office supply collection space.

Museum shelf currently used as office supply collection space. Photo by the author.

Amrys and Roy project to camp out in the library up until the opening of the exhibit.

Amrys and Roy discussing the exhibit script in the Van Vleck Library.

Amrys and Roy discussing the exhibit script in the Van Vleck Library. Photo by the author.

Now what would a run-through of the exhibit be without a consultation of our exhibit-creating Bible, Beverely Serrel’s second edition of Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach?

Michaela reads from Serrel's "Exhibit Labels"

Michaela reads from Serrel’s “Exhibit Labels” reminding us that word count for each Introductory Label, Group Label, and Caption Label is extremely important! Photo by the author.

We’re really getting down to the nitty-gritty of the exhibit now! More to come soon!

Arts at the Van Vleck: spotting (moon) in the dome

From John Cage to Eiko Otake, we’ve seen that the Van Vleck Observatory can be a welcoming space for art. While these artistic giants have made great use of the space, students, on the other hand, have not truly capitalized on the observatory as an art studio or performance space. That is, until now. Cut to: ( moon ), a performance art piece by Helen Handelman, Wesleyan University class of 2016.

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Poster for ( moon ), a performance in the Van Vleck Observatory by Helen Handelman ’16

The performance took place in the observatory dome on November 13, 14, and 15 of last year (2015), just a week after Otake’s performance. ( moon ) is an ensemble performance based on the Cold War Space Race. Handelman, a Religion and Theater Studies double major, became interested in the topic last summer when she visited the Bullock Texas State History Museum and saw an exhibit about the year 1968, the year of the Apollo 8 mission. Since her visit in Texas, Handelman has begun writing a thesis about that celestial body that orbits the earth, and she is using ( moon ) as a creative way for her to explore her thesis further.

When I talked to Handelman about her piece and why she chose the Van Vleck Observatory as the performance location, her answer was surprising: she admitted that she had never actually been in the observatory before scouting it out as a performance space. Once she saw it though, she knew this was the place for ( moon ). She found the dome space to be “majestic and beautiful” noting that it “kind of evokes something like a church or the vastness of space in its openness and bigness.” To be sure, Handelman used every part of the dome for her performance: the walls were a place for shadows to lurk; the telescope was something for the actors to climb towards; and the landing was a space for everyone to move and dance.

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Performance of ( moon ) at the Van Vleck Observatory.

Going forward, Helen hopes that more students will use the Van Vleck Observatory for performance. She feels that the VVO is specifically special for artistic explorations, explaining, “it has a lot of warm intimate spaces as well as the open and cold space of the dome….The fact that there are only a few rooms [in the building] means that the space of the observatory is contained in a way that I think makes art-experiencing conducive and exciting.”

The Van Vleck Observatory has always been a great place to see stars in the sky, and now visitors can see different kinds of stars up close down here on Earth.

One for the money, two for the show…

Although the two phases of our exhibit planning overlap a great deal, at some point in the past several months, the Under CT Skies project transitioned from its research phase to its implementation phase. This means we’re starting to make the decisions that will definitively determine the form of our exhibit. It also means there are more power tools involved.

And so, last Friday, Tom Castelli of the Wesleyan Science Machine Shop (located in the basement of the Exley Science Building) paid a visit at the Van Vleck Observatory. Tom has been mocking up potential panels for the exhibit using lexan sheets and leftover wood from recent construction at the Usdan Student Center. The wood is quite lovely and matches that of the VVO library very well.

Tom showed us what he’s been up to, and now I’m going to show you!

Mock-up panel in library

Ta-da! This is a mock up panel that Tom made for the exhibit. Note: the protective sheet is still on the glass! (Photo by the author).

It might not look like much yet, but this is quite an important step in this phase of our exhibit-making. Just one panel raises a whole set of questions about the shape the exhibit will soon take.

For example, how are we to best protect what goes on the other side of the glass? Do we need to use material that filters out UV light so we can preserve our historical artifacts and, perhaps a bit less-importantly, our exhibit labels?

Library window facing college row and the 20-inch dome

As far as windows go, this is a pretty great one. And just look at the view! (Photo by the author)

We ruled out using UV-filtering window shades because the Van Vleck library has rather lovely windows that we wouldn’t want to hide completely.

Other questions that I had included, “What is in Tom’s mysterious bag that he keeps going back to??”

Tom searches his bag

Tom searches his seemingly magical bag. (Photo by the author)

 

What was in Tom's bag

Nosey author discovers what magic was indeed inside Tom’s bag.

And with that mystery, and a few others solved, Tom went on his way to search for UV-filtered panel options.

 

I’ll leave you with this artsy picture I took of Tom, Amrys, and Roy investigating the  wooden overlay to the glass plates on the opposite wall of the library.

 

Roy, Amrys, and Paul in the library

Tom, Amrys, and Roy in the library. (Photo by the sometimes artsy author)

Bonus points if you noticed that the glass plates are missing. The reason why? Stay tuned for more exhibit updates!

Don’t judge a book by its cover: the hidden treasures of Mildred Booth Stearns’s library

The books of Mildred Booth Stearns are a prime example of the joy and insight that can be found by poking through a few objects. Mildred Booth Stearns was a computer at the Yale Astronomy Department after graduating in 1920 from Vassar having specialized in Mathematics. Today, the word computer is only used to describe the object you’re probably reading this blog post on, but in the pre-IBM world, a computer meant a person, often a woman, who made calculations, especially for scientific work. She would have been doing complicated and time-consuming measurements and calculations at Yale, and it is within the Yale Astronomy Department that she met her future husband  Professor Carl L. Stearns, then a grad student. She moved to Middletown, 8 Brainerd Avenue, when Carl became a professor at Van Vleck Observatory, and during World War II she taught physics to Navy cadets at Wesleyan.

Van Vleck Observatory has eleven books that Mildred wrote her name in the front cover of, with such scintillating titles as The Elements of Electricity and Magnetism, New Analytic Geometry, and Simplified Theory of Flight. Many of the books were college textbooks, indicated by her dorm room number inscribed and her annotations like “Learn,” “Do some,” and “Try a few.” Those college textbooks must have stayed relevant to her life, considering that they did not stay behind at Vassar but followed her to Yale and then Wesleyan. Mildred Booth Stearns’s life shows the opportunities for women in the sciences during early and mid twentieth centuries, opportunities that are now often forgotten. Pieces of paper tucked unobtrusively inside her books suggest the priorities and diversions of a woman actively engaged in scientific research and teaching during the first half of the twentieth century.

I opened up one book, The Elements of Electricity and Magnetism, expecting annotation but nothing else. And while I found an inscription “Mildred Booth – 1920/201 Lathrop” in the front cover as expected, I also found something completely unexpected. When I opened the book, I found three yellowing, folded newspaper cut-outs, and when I unfolded them, I discovered three crosswords. They were all from the New Haven Evening Register, and dated Monday, November 17th, 1924, Tuesday, November 18th 1924, and Wednesday, November 19th, 1924. Monday and Tuesday are blank: Wednesday is completed except for 26 across and down, each three letters, with the clues being, respectively, “A unit of electricity” and “Part of a wheat plant.” Wednesday’s crossword is Valentine’s Day themed, a heart with February 14th written in it: she had married her husband in 1923, and one wonders whether that influenced her decision on which crossword puzzle to complete and which to leave blank.

An almost-finished Cross Word Puzzle by Mildred Booth in the shape of a heart

A crossword puzzle with a Valentine’s Day theme, nearly completed by Mildred Booth. Van Vleck Observatory collections, Wesleyan University. Photo by the author.

By leaving crosswords from 1924 in a textbook inscribed in 1920, Mildred Booth gives further context to her life and usage of these books. According to the Vassar Alumnae Register, Mildred Booth Stearns was a computer at Yale between 1920 and 1923, meaning that she left the same year she was married, probably after marriage—but she was still using her textbook on Electricity and Magnetism in 1924, consulting it frequently enough to tuck unfinished crosswords in it. It is impossible to know whether she was helping Carl Stearns with his research or just looking at the books because she genuinely enjoyed physics, but either way, this technical physics textbook was still important to her after marriage, when she no longer had an official scientific position. Women’s interest and participation in science cannot be measured by job records alone, as this serendipitous clipping tells us.

Mildred Booth Stearns’s books did not only contain crosswords; they contained a wealth of primary sources on the domestic war effort during World War Two. During the war, Mildred brushed up on her college courses in order to teach physics to Navy cadets at Wesleyan, but she also learned new things about the practical reasons such cadets would be learning physics: flight. The only paperback in the collection is a slim book entitled The Effects of Flight, published in 1943 “by the Authority of and under the Supervision of Training Division, Bureau of Aeronautics U.S. Navy.”

Paperclipped to the title page of this book were two yellowing clippings of text with parts of color pictures on the back. They are excerpts from newspapers, and begin: “Tension is the enemy of endurance. We civilians haven’t got a right to indulge in it, for it’s dangerous to the war,” and on the next clipping, “effort.” The clippings are from an essay called “Give Yourself A Chance!” by Louise Redfield Peattie, which was printed in the Spokane Review in Spokane, Washington, on June 19th, 1943 with the same layout, but possibly in other newspapers as well. The article discussed the dangers that would be encountered if civilians worked too relentlessly on the war effort, to their own detriment and the detriment of the country.  To remedy this problem, the piece encouraged “recreations that really make us into better Americans.”  It’s a poignant clipping for a teacher and mother of three who was making an essential contribution to the war effort. It made me wonder whether Mildred Booth Stearns clipped it for herself or whether a friend or relative, possible in Spokane, clipped it out of the newspaper and sent it to Mildred to encourage her to enjoy herself more and work less.

Effects of Flight, Mildred Stearns’s personal copy. A slim book with a drawing of a men piloting a plan into a large bomb cloud.

Effects of Flight, Mildred Stearns’s personal copy. Van Vleck Observatory collections, Wesleyan University.  Photo by the author.

 Simplified Theory of Flight is another book Mildred used during the war, one with two pieces tucked into it that illustrate the economic effects of the war effort. Between the back cover and the last page is a pamphlet on the 4th War Loan, encouraging people to “Display Your Colors” by buying bonds. The pamphlet admonishes readers that “We can’t afford to let up now” and informs them that the starting date is January 18th, 1944.

Even more charmingly, the book also contains the July 1943 record catalogue from Columbia Masterworks, a record label owned by Columbia Records specializing in classical music, with 231 Mary and 107 Jon written in Mildred’s handwriting. The pamphlet is stamped with the label Payne’s Music House, Middletown – Conn. Payne’s Music House occupied a historic building, build in the mid-nineteenth century, at 107 College Street, right off Main Street, between 1929 and 1974. The pamphlet is intensely aware of the war: the back advertises Henry Lowell’s “Tales of Our Countryside,” music “essentially simple, direct, melodious, affecting, and richly and racily American in spirit.” It also announces that “OUR FIGHTING MEN NEED RECORDS, TOO” and promotes an organization called “Records for Our Fighting Men, Inc.” which collected unwanted records to be sold as scrap in order to fund the purchase of new records for soldiers. The pamphlet is from July 1943, the month after “Give Yourself a Chance” was printed, suggesting that Mildred Booth Stearns took the advice to heart and invested in her own recreation through classical music. Did she fear becoming burned out from the work of teaching physics to Navy cadets, a role that would not be open to women at Wesleyan except during war time?

Columbia Masterworks – a patriotic design of red, white, and blue shows the infusion of the war effort into all facets of life.

Columbia Masterworks – a patriotic design shows the infusion of the war effort into all facets of life. Van Vleck Observatory collections, Wesleyan University.  Photo by the author.

A section in the back tells reader “You can help supply this need” and admonishes them – “Act today!”

A section in the back tells reader “You can help supply this need” and admonishes them – “Act today!” Van Vleck Observatory collections, Wesleyan University.  Photo by the author.

Mildred Booth Stearns’s books indicate that historians must leave no stone unturned: more importantly, they must leave no page unturned. The intimate artifacts of historical lives linger with us, and can be found through just a little bit of flipping through some books or shuffling some objects around. Mildred Booth left pieces of herself in every dry textbook she had, and her sources of small joys and concerns, such as crosswords, music, or articles telling the reader they are working too hard and it is dangerous, are immediately familiar to anyone. Mildred Booth Stearns was a woman involved in the sciences for her whole life: from mathematics at Vassar to her continued use of physics textbooks even after she was no longer a professional computer to her return to the world of professional science as a physics instructor who had to teach students about flight in the Second World War. Her life shows the limitations of the ways women were professional scientists in her era, but more so, it drives home the point that women in the past were doing so much more than fulfilling the stereotypes of the era.

Let’s put on a show!

One of the major goals of our project is producing an historical exhibition, the physical component of which will be located in the VVO library. In essence, we’re building a small museum. We’re now at the stage of planning the displays themselves–layout of items, photos, and documents and writing of text–and realizing precisely the unique challenges imposed by working in a space whose layout will remain essentially unchanged throughout the process.

The student researchers and faculty mentors spent the day last Thursday (with a pesky astronomer) in the library, sketching out exhibits on “blank canvases” (the backs of old conference posters we scrounged up from around the observatory). Here are a few behind-the-scenes photos.

Caption 1

The team attempts to answer a challenging question: What is the first thing we want visitors to see?

Caption 2

A possible panel along the eastern wall.

Caption 3

It was an exhausting day. Student researcher Abby Shneyder gives the meteorite a needed hug.

Getting our hands dirty

People often think of history as a largely intellectual pursuit, the product of extensive reading and thinking in libraries and archives. And while it’s true that much of the historian’s craft involves these activities, the research process itself can be very hands-on. When you’re working with old documents that haven’t yet been catalogued or conserved, you’re quite likely to get filthy in the process, as the edges of carbon copies disintegrate on you, or a deteriorating leather binding stains your fingers. Since we’re simultaneously researching and assembling a collection, we’ve had many opportunities to roll up our sleeves and get down to the sometimes messy work of history.

I had just such an experience last week after going through a shelf full of old notebooks in the observatory library. It turned out to contain a number of gems: a blue exam booklet from Wesleyan in which Frederick Slocum had penned a log for a sailing journey he made between New Bedford and Bermuda in the 1920s, several decades’ worth of clock records, a stenographer’s notebook containing B. W. Sitterly’s notes from the 1932 eclipse trip to Conway, New Hampshire, and more.

A shelf of old notebooks, many belonging to Frederick Slocum, in the observatory library.

A shelf of old notebooks we discovered on an upper shelf in the observatory library.

Of course, after decades—and in some cases more than a century—on the shelves of Van Vleck, these notebooks are not all in prime condition. As I climbed down the ladder from which I had been accessing the shelf, I noticed that, in my research reverie, the dyes and papers and flakes of covers had coated my hands with a layer of historical grime.

Amrys's hands were very dirty after going through a shelf full of materials in the Observatory Library.

History hands: an afternoon inventorying library shelves left Amrys’s hands quite dirty.

The folks working on the telescope restoration clearly aren’t the only ones getting their hands dirty at Van Vleck this summer!