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Interview of Helen Hogg by Owen Gingerich on 1987 August 18, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/29928-1
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The interview begins with a discussion of Dr. Hogg’s early interest in astronomy and her initial exposure to astronomical research while an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke. The discussion then turns to her working with Harlow Shapley as a graduate student and the move with her husband to Canada in 1931 where she would remain until the time of the interview. While there is some discussion of her research, the primary focus is more on her experiences in Canada and with Shapley, as well as the various administrative positions that Hogg held in scientific organizations. The interview concludes with Hogg sharing additional thoughts about her experiences with Harlow Shapley.
Now I have some material about your own background which you have given at the Observatory at the Shapley centennial and also now in this book which I have shown you for the first time so that I don't think we need to repeat some of that, which tells about your own school background and how you got into astronomy and how you came to Harvard Observatory. But I will ask you to repeat just a little to have it on this particular record. You got interested in astronomy at Mount Holyoke?
Yes. My family had given me a background in it. They were great nature lovers, everything. We collected tree leaves, ferns, etc., and they took me out to look at the sky – Orion especially and as you know I saw Halley's Comet in 1910, and then it was at Mount Holyoke with Miss Young who was a wonderful teacher and the eclipse of the sun the total eclipse of January 24, 1925. The whole college got on a special train and went down to Connecticut to see the total eclipse. The combination of my background and Miss Young and the total eclipse kept me interested in astronomy for life.
What was your father's occupation?
He was a banker. Some of the things in that scrapbook show the heading of the old bank, he was cashier, vice president of the Prescott National that combined to form the Union Bank which is still going in Lowell.
Did you also get interested in science in reading books?
I did after I got to Mount Holyoke. I am not sure how much before that, in high school I graduated very young from high school '21; I was 15 when I graduated and I took an extra year to age before I went to college. And my high school teachers had me reading the English novelists. For one thing, I read the Bible through three times and Shakespeare several times, plus Scott, and Thackery and those longwinded people. I find nowadays they're too long winded for me.
I was wondering if you remembered any particular scientific titles?
Not in high school. By the time I got to Mount Holyoke, the library right there at the Williston Observatory was very handy and very fascinating and I read a lot of astronomy books. Russell, Dugan and Stewart was one of the texts and the publication Observatory. Of course we didn't have Sky and Tel then, we had Popular Astronomy. I found it fascinating, the periodical Popular Astronomy. I can't offhand say that an astronomy book got me into astronomy. I just did a little article on the centennial of the NGC catalogue by Dreyer, and Dreyer got interested in astronomy by reading a book on Tycho Brahe.
Yes, he wrote his biography of Tycho in 1890 before he had done the great edition of Tycho. I thought it took a lot of courage but it is still the standard biography.
One of the astronomy books was Splendors of the Heavens. Once I got to Mount Holyoke they were… in fact I still have my copies of them.
Then when you graduated from Mount Holyoke that was with a degree in astronomy?
That was magna cum laude in astronomy and I already had Miss Cannon's visit in January of '26. She went back and told Dr. Shapley about me and he wrote me and wrote Miss Young the chances are good that I could go there as the Pickering Fellow.
Now that was a research fellowship, or specifically for graduate school?
Yes. For graduate work at the Harvard Observatory; it was $500 or $600 for the year. And I stayed the first year in the Radcliffe dorm, Trowbridge, it was right across Garden Street from the Observatory.
That was a big frame house that was serving as a dormitory?
Yes, I lived one year there. Then I moved into an apartment with Katherine Hazen and another Mount Holyoke girl, Helen Bragdon. After one year with them, I was at 146 Upland with Elinor Lane — by that time we became tied in with the Canadians. When I first arrived at Harvard I had been engaged and had been going for some years with a Lowell man whom I expected to marry and we fell out after about a year. I became more interested in intellectual things and he became less interested. Frank was there on the scene and Frank's good friend Jim MacGillawray came from Toronto in English. Jim MacGillawray, curiously enough, is the person that helped my present husband get his doctorate at Toronto. So we are all kind of tied in here together. James MacGillawray married Elinor Lane two weeks after I married Frank Hogg in September of 1930.
Now let's come back to the fellowship that you had. This was a fellowship that was relatively recent that had been made especially for the graduate school?
When Dr. Shapley came into the directorship. He started to attract more students and one of the things that is the most amazing to me about the whole of my 'being there at Harvard, which I didn't realize till years later, was that I was at the start of the Harvard graduate school in Astronomy. I had the impression somehow that it had just been going on and in the last decade or two it has been startling to me to see that I was right at the beginning of it.
There had been some MAs only along in there as well?
We were rather separate. I think there was a little jealousy between the Harvard Yard and the Harvard Observatory and Harlan True Stetson was at the Yard and he was prominent in solar work, which was not being done out of the Observatory at all; we didn't visit down at the yard. I don't think I ever went down to see the classroom at the yard where the students were taught in the 1920s. I did when I was back there in summer school in '52.
That is the astronomical laboratory you're referring to where Stetson was teaching.
Yes, I was not in that.
So you didn't take any courses with Stetson?
No, but I did take some courses at Radcliffe and I took some meteorology course with Prof. Ward. Robert DeCorcy Ward. I think I have one of his meteorology books. He was fine. I had courses at the Radcliffe Yard, not many but some, but most of my courses were with Cecilia and Dr. King. And working informally with Shapley a great deal of the time and often very late at night — I can see that part of that was so that he wouldn't be disturbed. During the day he would be interrupted, I think, with so many people wanting to talk to him about this and that, but at night the place was much quieter. Except for Cecilia, they weren't people who were trying to intercept Shapley. They would leave him alone, so he would work in his office until 2 or 3 in the morning.
And what time would he come back in the morning?
Well, not too late usually. It would vary — half past nine, 10 o'clock. And we seriously worried that he would not live to be old with the short night's sleep that he was consistently having. So his 80th birthday party was a big surprise to me and he lived on until 86. That is interesting, and his vivacity was remarkable. I didn't quite realize that I was the first graduate student for the doctor's degree that he was training in his own field. And because of that, he worked with me really more than I think with anybody else with the possible exception of Adelaide Ames and the big nebulae catalogue.
But she wasn't a graduate student? She was just one of the …
She had got her master's, I think, by the time I got there or close to it, and she was not going on for the doctorate, so she was a some kind of research assistant. And they were being paid very, very little in those days — hundreds of dollars a year — and she and Dr. Shapley got along beautifully. Margaret Mayall was there for the long hours but she was with Miss Cannon not with Shapley. She had very little connection with Shapley, but she was an enormous help to Miss Cannon. And I worked in between what really were Miss Cannon's two offices. We went up the long flight of stairs in the old building and I verged to the left and went through Miss Cannon's room, the edge of it, to my office. It was an office all to myself, the next small room and that is where I worked [in the middle room of the northeast side of the upper floor of building C]. And so I listened to Miss Cannon calling out the classifications for Henry Draper Extension day after day. Then there was a small room beyond mine, the north east corner of the building, and that was Miss Cannon's for special work when she wanted not to just classify but to look further at stars or do some measuring of variables. She would take plates and work in that room, often with Margaret Mayall, but most of her work was done in the big room that I went through, where she had room for two or three assistants in addition to her own desk.
That was on the north side of the building and on the upper floor. The rotating desk was also on the west side of the building.
Yes, let me see, to go to Dr. Shapley's office you turn right at the head of the stairs.
Let me draw you a map of the building. This is building C and it has the stairwell approximately in the middle of it.
Oh there was a big space — Cecilia was here on the right and Antonio Maury was here.
Here was the bridge that came across to the dome and this is the residence. In the other direction, is where I think the AAVSO had its headquarters.
They were in building A was it, or a building over there right on Concord Avenue. You came up the steps and right into the AAVSO office.
I don't remember it until about 1948, but this was the old frame building that had a dome on top of it. The tutorial library was upstairs.
I remember the stairs in Building C because I fell down them. I missed my footing and went down that whole long flight of stairs. It was quite an event for the Observatory, I assure you. I assume the stairs go up that way and to the left [southeast] was to Cecilia, Antonia, and someone else was in there, Florence Cushman maybe; [northeast:] Miss Cannon, Helen Sawyer, Miss Cannon; [west side of stairs] Shapley and A.D. Walker in here. We went around the stairs from my office to get to Dr. Shapley.
Now you mentioned Antonio Maury. She was there only occasionally; is that right?
Yes, she was one of the people with whom I had almost nothing to do. Because she was very aloof. She was quite superior, I mean we felt that she was quite superior. And she was aloof enough not to approach us, so that I had very, very little to do with her. I can't remember, for example, sitting down in her office, or in her alcove or whatever it was, talking to her and there were quite a few of the other people that I did chat with you know, and Miss Cannon was perhaps the most approachable of the whole lot. In spite of the fact that she then had an honorary degree from Oxford and we had her right up on a pedestal, she was very approachable and very interested in the graduate students and in talking with us. The word aloof was not in her vocabulary.
Margaret Mayall said that Miss Cannon very often had teas for visiting people.
Yes she did.
Now you were right next door, so you must have gotten in on those.
Yes, but probably not as many as Margaret did. I don't know how often Miss cannon had them really. But she had choice things around. She brought up silver from Peru from when she had been down there. And she loved the pretty things she had around Star Cottage, which is of course what of course she called her place. I imagine Margaret helped with many more teas than I ever went to because Margaret was Miss Cannon's helper for everything from the classification right down to helping at the house. Margaret, from the time I knew her at Cambridge, was a lovely house keeper to help with things like that. So she would fit in with Miss Cannon's need for a helper very much. I went to a tea in Miss Cannon's house. Miss Cannon must have been away and rented that house to the Plasketts. — No I am wrong there — the Plasketts were guests, Mrs. Plaskett was a guest at a tea of Miss Cannon's. That produced one of the funniest faux paux. Miss Cannon started to pour tea and said to somebody, like Margaret perhaps, "Oh dear I haven't got any lemon today," and then turned to Mrs. Plaskett who was the main guest of honor. That was when the Plasketts hadn't been around Cambridge very long and she said to Mrs. Plaskett, "What will you have in your tea." "Just lemon please." She had been talking to somebody beside her and missed the remark.
This was the Harry Plasketts.
Yes, the Harry Plasketts.
And they had come, while you were still there, to begin teaching?
Frank started out entirely as Cecilia's graduate student but when Harry Plaskett came on the scene, I guess in about the end of '28 or ‘29, he worked along with Frank too, and I have around some notes from Plaskett to Frank.
I know that Cecilia was a little bit jealous of his coming in, because she felt that she could handle these astrophysical things herself. Might the fact that he was coming in and taking her student away perhaps have something to do with that?
Harry Plaskett's attitude toward me as a women left something to be desired, I think. Harry was devoted to Frank and Frank was devoted to Harry, but I don't think that Harry and I got along all that well, though Harry's father and I got on to perfection. J.S. Plaskett was at Victoria. J.S. was wonderful to me, but I don't think Harry got used to the idea of women graduate students. I think he did in time, but this, his first exposure to them, I am not sure of.
So he was still there then when you got your degree and left.
Yes he was.
And you both left when your degree was finished in '31?
Frank got his degree in 29, and he spent virtually the whole next year as Parker Traveling Fellow in Europe — that was a Harvard award — and he came back in the spring and he went out to Mt. Wilson. And that is when Frank and Francis Wright climbed the California mountains in the summer of 1930 and Frank took exposures with the 60inch — I don't think he had any with the 100inch — plates for intensities of globular clusters, and this was a paper that was published in the AJ about 1931 or '32. And then we were married in September of '30 and he had a research appointment at Amherst and I had a full time appointment at Mount Holyoke and carried a huge load that year. Five courses and something, plus finishing my thesis. We went to Mount Holyoke the day that we were married and we had a college apartment right on the campus. Frank commuted in the car, to Amherst, and we were there until June. I received my degree in June and I remember that for more than 48 hours before my handing in the thesis I had not slept. I went two nights and a day to finish it. And then Dr. Shapley offered Frank a Harvard appointment and J.S. Plaskett offered a Victoria appointment and it was a very, very difficult decision. I have often thought how totally different our lives would have been. That was the huge turning point — which of those two places to take, and Frank chose Victoria. We drove out there in August of '31, and the transcontinental highway was not then what is now. There was one place in North Dakota or Wyoming where they were working on the road. There was no road. The workman said, "You just drive up this pasture (we were then at just about 10,000 feet) and after you get up to the top you will see the road again.
Have you ever thought back, if you had to make that decision again, would you have gone back to Victoria.
Well I don't spend my life wishing I had done something different. The next big one came in '34 when Dr. Chant asked Frank to come back here to Toronto to the opening at the David Dunlap — that was not quite as big a one. Harvard versus Victoria was a tough one.
How much did you keep in touch with the Harvard Observatory after you left?
Dr. Shapley said that the mail still goes. And in those days in Victoria I knew when I mailed a letter there what day and hour it would be delivered in Lowell. I have a postcard that my father sent to me about 1909 from Colorado, stating what hour I would get it and which day. That is how the mail was. It went by train and you knew exactly how long it took the postman to do the delivery. It was fantastic and I wrote almost every day from Victoria back to my family in Massachusetts. And on one day of the week I would say I won't write you today, because they wouldn't get the delivery on Sunday, they would get it on Monday. Compare that with 1987.
Did you have a chance to go back to be actually present at Harvard?
Not from '32 to '35, I was never back East. There was no airplane and it was three days or three and half each way and we didn't come back. But from '35 on I was here in Toronto and we went to Massachusetts almost every year. And I went to meetings. Shapley was here for an honorary degree at the opening in May of '35. He was back I think to the AAS and came to the AAVSO in '40; he came up to speak at the Royal Canadian Institute and he was back and forth here a number of times and I was at Harvard a number of times, and his letters were relatively frequent. So we kept in touch and from my house in Dunstable I could look out toward Mt. Monadnock and Peterborough Mountains and we went up to Sharon a number of times to visit him there.
Oh I see he had the place in Sharon already in the 1930s.
No, not in the '30s, I think in the '40s. I am not sure just when he got it.
Now while you were still there building D was under construction.
It finished in '30, didn't it?
I believe so.
It finished just shortly after I left. '31, I guess.
In '32 was the IAU meeting.
I was not there because I was out West. '32 was the year when Adelaide Ames drowned.
So you were not there at that time. Did you hear any details about how that happened?
The drowning. No. Except that she was a strong swimmer. It left people that knew her both sad and puzzled. I don't know. And I was told afterward about Adelaide's incident of the plates, I think I told that, did I?
I don't remember.
Well she and the staff helped move the half million plus plates from the old building to the new [from C to D in 1932]. And Adelaide was one of those who helped and in the process of moving, she had quite a pile and the whole pile went to the floor. And many of them were broken to smithereens in the fall and of course Adelaide felt terrible about it. She was a whimsical person. She was delightful. Everybody liked Adelaide. Some days or weeks after she had recovered from the shock she went around saying, "I am glad to say I haven't ever broken a girlgig plate at this Observatory."
I guess I had heard that story … that's marvelous. When you said earlier that some people had gotten MAs through the Yard, was that through Stetson and the people there?
I don't really know that for sure, Owen.
Did you ever hear Shapley remark about Stetson or did you have any indication that that was a total world apart.
And I just thought that graduate astronomy at Harvard is something that had been going on for decades. Until I looked back on it and saw that there were masters there but not doctors.
In the graduate program was there a real structure, a certain number of courses required or certain courses that were specifically required or …
I would say that there wasn't a real structure. It was worked out between Cecilia and Shapley what I should take. I had variable stars with Cecilia and at some point I made a written translation of the German from the Handbook der Physik, the German chapter on variables.
This was to pass your German exam?
This was for my own information. I did the German requirement without the course. I got a whole bunch of books down at secondhand stores at the Yard. (I gave those books to the University of Toronto a year or so ago.) They had vocabularies in the back and I read about two dozen of them and the German grammar and so forth.
Was the German exam done by the Astronomy Department or did you have to go down to …
No. It was done down at Radcliffe.
This was a uniform exam given by the department?
A reading exam — you didn't have to speak it, you had to read it. And I passed it to my great joy.
You did French as well I assume.
I had French already at Mount Holyoke.
I want to ask a few more questions about the graduate school. These courses that you were taking — for instance, when you did variable stars with Cecilia — was that essentially a reading course?
Well she talked to us, Owen.
I see, okay there were enough of you that …
There was a handful of us. It might be that some of the assistants were sitting in, some of the people who were working on variables. This was one of the rooms at the Observatory. [Later, when touring the Observatory with me in October, Helen identified it as the old classroom in Building C, formerly at the foot of the stairs to the east on the main floor.] There was a lot of reading; it may have been it was for that or when I was at Mount Holyoke that I translated [the variable star chapter] from German. That was quite a job it was a great many pages. Ludendorff was the author of it and we felt that that was the last word on variables at that time. I still have the English translation around somewhere.
On the first floor of Building C was there a classroom with blackboards in it.
Near it was a fireplace mantle where the mail was put, and that was where the famous postcard to Annie J. Cannon from Boris Gerasimovich rested. Dr. Gerasimovich was one of the most polite and particular people that we ever had around the place. He worked in the basement and it was hot and he would take off his coat jacket. I guess Cecilia was working behind him and you had to go through his little place to get around to Cecilia and If somebody came to go through his place when he had his coat off he would rise, bow, and put his coat on. That is the kind of manners he had. Well, he went out to California and he sent Miss Cannon back a card, and Miss Cannon happened to be away for a few days, so the card sat on the mantelpiece there on the first floor. And the card said, "Dear Miss Cannon, Greetings from this hell hot country, Boris Gerasimovich." And the staff was absolutely appalled that Miss Cannon would get a card with language like that because in those days it was very startling indeed. So that was on the first floor.
I know where the fireplace mantle is. I suppose the library and the plate stacks were also on the first floor?
They were to the left there — as you went through the walkway, the plate stacks went to the left, now the library where was that? A lot of the library was over in the rotunda.
What used to be the prime vertical room.
There were still books when I came [in 1949], but there were books also in building C, but of course that area may have had the plate stacks in it at that time. In the basement then there were other offices for visitors. You say Boris Gerasimovich was there. Who else would have been in the basement?
Luyten with a blink. He was remarkable because he had an eye injury from tennis. I think he got it before I came or shortly thereafter, and we marveled that he could do for all these years such wonderful work with a blink with his serious eye injury. A tennis ball as I recall, but maybe my memory is a little capricious here. I think a tennis ball broke his glasses into his eye.
Ah, let’s see. Bailey was still around?
Oh yes, and he was wonderful, and the more I think of it, Owen, I think he must have had a hard time in that year and half or so after Pickering died and he was acting director but never made director. If you sort of read between the lines in his History and Work of the Harvard Observatory, I think you can see that he must have had a couple of tough years in there.
There were certainly people who were advocating that he should be appointed director.
I think that's true and I don't know just why. Perhaps because he was sort of classical rather than innovative.
I think that President Lowell was very keen to have the Observatory forced out into new directions and he felt from his advisors that perhaps Bailey was a little too conservative and wouldn't do well.
I could go along with that, yes. But he was there and King was there. The Kings entertained us. Oh yes that lovely small brass plate is what the Kings gave us for a wedding present and the brass work on it is really beautiful. They had a connection with India somehow so that it is most superior.
Now where did they have their offices?
Some of them, maybe Bailey, were in Building A. I used the photometer from Building A, you know, where you sat inside. I did TU Cassiopiae with that one winter, and it was wonderful.
Was that the polar telescope over there in Building A?
That is the one I used with a wedge that Pickering or Bailey had got designed. And I got the bumps after maximum on TU Cas that no one believed. But they were true, a few years later other people got them. But I remember how bewildered Shapley and I were, yet they were way beyond my error which was 3/100 of a magnitude or something, and here was this star starting down and then bang up again, twoday Cepheid doing that and there have been lots of papers on it ever since.
So that was a room in Building A reserved for the telescope or did somebody else also have a office there?
No I think that was all telescope and so comfortable for a cold winter night.
Now the AAVSO was in that general area? The telescope was definitely in the second floor. And the AAVSO was under us sort of. I had forgotten all about that telescope, but it was there when I came as a graduate student in '51, and we sometimes would play around with it, although it was an antique at that point.
Now my TU Cas work is in a Harvard Bulletin of 1927 or around in there.
So that telescope was then being fairly actively used. How regularly was it used?
It wasn't fully used. No. And Dr. Shapley was the one that suggested it for TU Cas. He didn't expect that it was going to have a bump. He thought with this accuracy we could get a nice period on it.
You used a wedge photometer with a Nichol prism that gave double images?
[Laughs]. Sixty years ago.
Well I just thought I'd ask!
Maybe it gave sextuple images but after sixty years! I don't know. No, I have forgotten how it looked, but I had great faith in its accuracy and I knew that the readings I was getting were not in error.
Well obviously you could keep repeating them as the period repeated so…
Well no, the bumps don't repeat always. They can sometimes …the flair ups you see, but they are real because I kept a list for awhile of other references to that star and other people got it later on. It vindicated me.
Interesting, that is a pretty far north star. Obviously a polar telescope like that couldn't get to the pole itself. You must have been working reasonably close to the limits of it. So you could only get it for a certain time when it would be above the building and if it had a two-day period…
Yes, I had to pick my times. That was quite a chore, the winter I was working on that one.
[Pause] So, obviously Dr. Shapley was serving as the department chairman — but I guess there wasn't anything really defined as a department chairman in those days.
No, not really and having it at the Observatory, it was just growing into a department there. I realize it now, but I didn't realize it then. Strangely enough Emma was working (Emma T. R. Williams that became Vyssotsky), she was working with Cecilia on spectra and Cecilia of course had the first degree in '25 from Radcliffe; Frank had it in '29 from Harvard, Emma had it in '30 from Radcliffe and I had it in '31 from Radcliffe.
Had she come earlier than you, or was she…
She came at the same time? I am not sure that she didn't come a year after me with more preparation so that she did it in a shorter time. She might not have come until till '27; I am not sure whether she was there in '26 or not.
Did she sit up on that same floor as well?
I think she was downstairs. Maybe some of the spectroscopy people were downstairs.
There must have been some other people around who were being the computers or recorders.
Yes, there was a general kind of office when we went upstairs. We went through a general office before we went into Miss Cannon's office — that was right there at the head of the stairs and there were some computing machines, the old kind as I remember in that. I think some of the assistants like Miss [Louise] Wells and some of the others that were just very poorly paid assistants worked in that office.
What sort of work did they actually do?
Well some of them made out the cards for the variable star catalogue. I don't think Hodgie made out all of the plate cards. Somebody had to make out cards for …
Who was that? Hodgie?
Miss Hodgson, she was the plate curator and she was a real character. She was at times a little fiery when people were doing something that she didn't like. But people liked her, I mean if she got cross and scolded them, they took it. She was very likable and devoted to keeping the plates straightened out. All of the plates she put away. We took them out and she put them away. We weren't, I think, supposed to put plates away, just as in some libraries you are not supposed to put books away. So that you wouldn't get them wrong because if you got them wrong heaven help anybody to find them. And she came in—I am not sure if she was entirely full time — she was there most hours in the day, she had a table of her own that we returned the plates to and she was supposed to mend them if they got broken, too. She had been trained in that. This anecdote I think I told in Cambridge and its one that I remember quite vividly: If you broke a plate you had to write on the cover when you broke it and sign your name, and this was as strict as the Bible and everybody abided by it. And one day a plate appeared on Hodgie's table for us all to see when we took back plates. We saw things that were there and this plate was left where everybody would see it and Hodgie had written on it, "Miss Payne says she does not know who broke this plate." And oh my goodness! would anything annoy Cecilia more than putting in the word "says," it was the last straw; if Hodgie had written simply, "Miss Payne does not know who broke this plate," it wouldn't have been half as bad, but the implication was Cecilia really did have a strong idea who broke it.
[Pause] The Mussells or Mussells' girls ....
Mussells girls yes [accent on second syllable]. Sylvia and Muriel, and Sylvia married Eric Lindsey. Frank and I visited them at Armagh on our way to the Stockholm IAU. I think I must have pictures of that in my unsorted cartons. And then, Muriel married Carl Seyfert.
And where did they work or sit?
Well, Sylvia worked on galaxies, I think, maybe she was helping Adelaide with the galaxies. And Adelaide sat where? Adelaide was working on the big Bruce plates 14 x 17. And Adelaide may have been working on the middle floor toward the left if you face the passageway to the 15", I think Adelaide was working in there toward the left (west) and she had a big frame set up to take the 14 x 17 groups because that was what she was on.
So I get sort of a feeling for the Observatory around that time. If Dr. Shapley, let’s see, did he have his hollow squares then?
Toward the end of it.
I can envision those of course as taking place in the Phillips Library or in the Building D.
They were not called hollow squares to start with. We had weekly symposiums of great value.
So there must have been a classroom or a meeting room somewhere.
There was a meeting room. I seem to visualize going through the 15" dome to get to it, in Building A. That was where the Bond Astronomical Society met, and we heard Henry Norris Russell — and never have I heard anybody talk so fast as he could, not in science anyway. Maybe just in ordinary chitchat, I could think of somebody that could go as fast but he just left us open mouthed with his rapidity for carrying on a talk.
So this was someplace In Building A. It must have been in the old transit room, just to the west of the dome and between there and the AAVSO office. When I came, it had been made into an exhibition room for sundials and such. [comment added in October]
Yes, I think that's right. Those weekly symposium or colloquia were invaluable. We had wonderful speakers. Shapley as you already know was grand in getting people from outside to come in and as I said I remember Russell forcefully, and of course Geras[imovich] could talk — we called him Geras behind his back. As you know he was the one that got liquidated [when he returned to the USSR in the 1930s]. And oh there would be a whole flock of outside people — I would have some names scattered around here. The Observatory must have a record of these speakers but this was weekly and very helpful. And it was part of my job to go to the Bond Club, Shapley pointed out that went with working at the Observatory. And also I spoke to high schools and things he got me into that — I still have posters upstairs of my talks to the high schools and places around Boston.
Yes, sometime around then Shapley also started radio programs.
Yes, I don't think I was ever in on the radio ones.
But you were aware that they were happening.
Oh yes! Miss Cannon did some, Harlan Stetson was in on some of those. Yes, there is a book. [The Universe of Stars: Radio Talks from the Harvard Observatory], edited by Harlow Shapley and Cecilia H. Payne, 1926.
That is fascinating to think about who was there and what the activity was.
W. H. Pickering came, but never Lowell, he died before I came on the scene. W. H. Pickering was one who came up and talked, I think he talked to us about his planet. I forget what he called his planet. Lowell called his one initial and Pickering was another initial. 0 and X I think.
I think that's right.
And of course I was in Dr. Shapley's office the day that the discovery of Pluto was announced and Miss Walker came in with a telegram and gave it to Shapley with great excitement. And Goodspeed’s had had a sale the previous week or two of a lot of astronomical books for 10 cents, 15, 25 and one of the ones that was on sale was the Lowell Observatory prediction by Lowell his write up of the transNeptunian planet and that was 10 cents, and at that time the planet was a joke and I didn't pay 10 cents for it. After the discovery of course I rushed back to Goodspeed's and so did Peter Millman. He’d been down the week before and he thought it was a joke and he hadn't picked up the 10 cent copy, but it was gone by the time we got there. [Laughter] But that day was very exciting.
That must have been one of the more memorable astronomical happenings while you were there.
March 13, 1930.
But of course other things that were not so dramatic to pinpoint such as Oort's analysis of the rotation of the Milky Way. Things like that. Do you remember those coming in as astronomical news?
Well, I remember Trumpler's absorption of light and that was really upsetting for Dr. Shapley.
Yes I would be interested to hear more about that.
Well he put his faith so strongly in the blue stars in NGC 7006, which is still one of the most distant globulars in the galaxy. And how could there be blue stars if there was absorption of light? And this had been his tenant or whatever for a decade, really. And when Trumpler came out with his very convincing paper, in a way it was almost — I suppose it's too harsh to overemphasize — it was the end of an era for Shapley, but he had had a fixed idea for nearly 15 years by then, or certainly for a decade, and to have it finally smashed…
His book on clusters had just come out saying very definitely not any absorption…
Well, it had been written, but it hadn't quite come out.
But it was passed the point of no return, probably.
It really was a colossal blow for him. He adjusted, but I don't think I myself have ever had a fixed idea in astronomy that would hurt me so much to have invalidated as that idea hurt him to have thrown out.
I don't think that I have a preconceived notion with as much emotion attached to it — if you know what I mean. This is a little hard to describe, but I don't think I do. I mean if somebody said to me, "Now, well, we have found that the distance to Messier 13 is only 10,000 light years after all," I would say, "Well, live and learn. It wouldn't have emotionally upset me even though it would be quite a shock and surprise. That really hit him where it hurt.
That's a very interesting thing to learn about and some of those kind of things I would very much like to pursue with you sometime.