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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Henry Giclas by Robert Smith on 1987 August 12,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Born in Flagstaff, Arizona; spends professional life as astronomer in Flagstaff, 1931-1981. Early life in Flagstaff, the Lowell Observatory's place in it, and how he became a research assistant at Lowell, with particular emphasis on V. M. Slipher, the director from 1916-1955. Describes how the Observatory was transformed as a research institution after World War II, due to changing research topics and shifting patterns of patronage.
The area I'd like to start with is basically your own background, Henry, and I know that you were born in Flagstaff in 1910.
And I know that your father at one point was involved in these telescopes on the hill.
But I don't know much about your family background. I wonder if you could describe that a little, your father and mother?
Well, my father of course was of French origin. His parents were born in Dinam, France and my great-grandfather was a finish cabinet maker for interiors of Pullman cars in East St. Louis. Carondelet I think was the name of the subdivision there. And this was a predominantly French quarter of St. Louis. My father was born in America, and he was—I think you called them in those days—a stationary engineer. They were engineers that operated steam engines in different types of industry. Then also, he became a railroad engineer, a locomotive engineer, let's put it that way. This is really how he got out in the West, and he was a steam locomotive engineer in the division between Albuquerque and Los Angeles, and used to come through Flagstaff on the locomotive, and it was always so beautiful and cool in the pines that he thought it would be a very nice place to be. And the opportunity arose before the turn of the century. The Santa Fe, Atchison-Topeka and Santa Fe needed to develop more water for their locomotives.
They were all steam locomotives at that time. It seems in the early days, an engineer covered a lot of things. They were versatile. You might say he also was a civil engineer, used the transit and all. So one of the first things he did in Flagstaff, he developed more water. I know he was here in 1900, so it might have been 1898, '99 or something. He put in the second pipeline from the inner basin of the San Francisco Peaks, which is north of Flagstaff about, oh, 14 miles air line, and the original water system was a 3-inch line and that was not adequate to bring down enough water for the locomotives, so he kind of paralleled that first line and brought in a second line. Then instead of going on with Santa Fe and being transferred some place else, he decided to stay in Flagstaff, and became the second water superintendent for the city. This was around 1903. Then there were certain politics involved and all, and he got a job at Arizona Lumber and Timber Company as the chief engineer there. He had two brothers that lived in Washington, D.C. They were both sheet metal contractors. They would put the copper roofs on some of the big government buildings in Washington, Treasury Building was one, and some of the others. So he would go back and visit them, and at that time would get his dental work done, and he happened to run into a person of German origin who was the dentist.
His name was Grazer. And my mother at that time was the dental nurse, and that's where he met her, and then they were married here in Flagstaff in 1909. She had just come a year or two earlier, come from Germany. She was I think born in Berlin, and lived in Dresden, and then they came over, and Flagstaff of course was pretty primitive, especially for a young person who was used to all the amenities in a big city like Berlin, and of course, Washington and Baltimore. There were some other sisters back there. So as you can guess, she was not too happy with things in Flagstaff for a year or two. She stuck it out and all, and then I know my father said, "Well, if you really don't like the West, if you'll try it one more year, and then you go back and if you like it back there, I'll move back." Well, evidently she went back, and I think I was three or four years old at that time. After a month or two there, I guess it was summer time, she decided, no, that she didn't like Washington and she was quite willing to move back. So that's why the roots became pretty deep, and my father worked for the lumber company until 1924, when he died. Then my mother for a while ran a boarding house while I had my teeth straightened in Denver, and then she finally retired and moved over with another sister near Ontario, California. Of course, I went to school over there. That's really why we kind of left Flagstaff in 1929 or 1930, temporarily, because I entered USC for a year or so. Then she stayed over in California the rest of her life, and of course I came back at every opportunity and ended up here.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
I have no brothers or sisters. No.
I wonder about the early schooling you had, was that in Flagstaff?
It was Flagstaff, yes, through high school, of course. I did go to high school in Denver while I had my teeth straightened, and I think I was in high school there for two years and lived with a cousin. I graduated from high school in 1928. But in 1925, when I started high school here, Dr. V. M. Slipher was the chairman of the board, school board, and I remember in the 1925 Annual, I was just a freshman at the time of course in high school, that particular Annual was dedicated to him, and I think that's the last year that he was on the school board. He retired. But it was a brand new building, and there were three school board members, and they were the ones who were instrumental in building a new high school, and I was in the new high school the first year it was opened. The high school now is torn down and gone, but all I can say is that that was probably my first contact with V. M. Slipher. Of course I knew his son, who was about my age,—that was David, yes—David was I think one year behind me in high school, but of course the town was small then, and you knew practically everyone, let's put it that way, and you knew who David was and saw him.
I wonder if you ever had any members of the observatory come and give talks at the school, any contacts like that? Did you ever see the observatory people? Do you have any recollections of Miss Williams?
I did not see them from the school. But Mrs. Lowell and Mr. Hamilton who worked here and Miss Williams, who was the computer here, were all members of the Episcopal Church, and my parents were members of that church. And Mrs. Lowell had a residence and a house catty-corner across from the Episcopal Church, and in the back of the house there was a very large kind of reception room, and very often, one of the observatory staff would put on programs for the Episcopal parish people, and I would say that was my first introduction to astronomy. Of course, I never dreamed then that it would be my career. But I do remember. Miss Williams was my Sunday School teacher at the Episcopal Church and as I recall she also was head of the Girls' Friendly Society. She was a nice and well-thought-of person. In a small town, why, these people interact much closer than if you were in a big place.
I wonder how the observatory was regarded amongst the town people, if you remember? Was it seen very much as a kind of adornment to Flagstaff?
Yes. Of course, it always enjoyed a very high reputation, let's say that, and a very prestigious place, as far as I know, to most of the town people. Many years later, there was a little dissension, when we asked to have lights shielded and a few things like that, and got a search light ordinance, but that was 50 years later or more. But certainly in the early days it was never a problem. And of course, Percival Lowell lectured and gave the Commencement address at what was at that time Northern Arizona Normal School. It's now Northern Arizona University. But Lowell was very active in Flagstaff life, you might say. He was interested and interested politically. I don't think he was ever on the city council or anything, but I think that's because he was not around. He would be here for two or three months and then gone, gone to Europe or gone back to Boston. But he was quite interested in the political goings-on in Flagstaff.
I read in your reminiscences about how often children from the town would play near the observatory.
Yes, of course. You see, Flagstaff was really a dual town, in those days. The old part of the city was of course Flagstaff, and then the south part of the city was called Milton, for Milltown, and the whole area was owned by the Arizona Lumber and Timber Company. It was a company town. In other words, all the residences, all the buildings, everything there belonged to the lumber company. And I grew up there. In fact, where the Holiday Inn is now, was a millyard. But the young people in Milton of course were right at the foot of the hill, you might say, and we would climb up, climb the hill. We'd look for beanie-crotches? and hunt for squirrels or whatever we could, you know, in those days, with slingshots. We didn't have guns of any kind. Of course, that was probably the first time I saw the grounds up here. We eventually walked through them and all. I remember, there was a little pergola or gazebo out on the edge of the hill by V. M. Slipher's house, and we always would try to go in it and just sit and look over the town of Flagstaff, which was of course what the V. M. Sliphers used it for. But if Mrs. Slipher caught us, she'd come out, chase us away, tell us to get off the hill. I don't know, I must have been nine or ten years old then, something like that. I wasn't very old, because I went with other contemporaries, but with their older brothers too, that were a few years older—those were the introductions up to Lowell Observatory.
You also talked in your reminiscences about looking through the telescope with your father.
Oh, yes. Yes. Golly, I looked it up—it was Mars, I remember that. Whenever the mill would need a new steam engine placed or something like that, my father always got the job of doing it, so he was kind of a millwright, designer, too—I don't know just how, except that he was quite interested in astronomy and in scientific things in general. He had many textbooks on plants and animals and stuff like that. He must have known, I don't know how, and he had met Lowell, and the Sliphers and all, but in 1909, they asked him to come up and help place the new 42-inch reflecting telescope, mainly because it was a heavy big operation like a big steam engine would be. So there are pictures in the archives, and I remember him telling me that he had helped in the construction of that particular thing, 1909-10, I think in 1910 it was put in operation but the work began in 1909.
That's when he would have met Slipher?
Right. If he didn't know them before. And it was obviously long after that, I must have been nine years old or so, for that particular opposition of Mars. I remember the lumber mill ran ten hours a day, from 7 AM till 6 PM, so he always had to be there to shut down the big engines and blow the whistles and all for six o'clock. Then we ate our supper, and he and I would walk up the hill to the dome. And it would be just about dark, dusk, and of course he'd go through the woods on a short cut. I didn't like it because I was afraid I'd get lost, especially going home at night. But there was never any problem. But I do remember looking at Mars, and I do remember that David was assisting his father, and was you might say the dome assistant, and was allowed to turn the dome, pull the control ropes that used to turn the dome, and I thought that was one of the greatest things that could be, for a young boy to do. And I was contemporary with him at that time.
So you made visits with your father to the dome on a number of occasions?
There were two occasions. The others were alone. Well, of course, then later when I was in high school, I would come up here with David and some of the other people, and we really started using one of the dark rooms down in this building to enlarge photographs of our girl friends and other things, you know, and that was my first introduction to photography, you might say. That was at quite an early age. I don't think other people ever had the opportunity to use enlargers and work in the dark room you see, like that, and it was only through David and his friends and because I was one that we came up here. And then while things were washing and all, I would go up in the library and pull out a book and sit down and look at it. So that was my later introduction. And even at that time, I had no idea that I would ever be in this business professionally. In other words, I hadn't made up my mind then that I would spend a career in astronomy.
I think when you went to USC you went to the school of engineering and architecture.
That's right. Right.
Were you intending to be an engineer?
I went into engineering mainly because I wasn't a very good artist. In architecture, you had to make what they called an eskees which were sketches of something, and I was great at doing the mechanical parts, but very poor at doing the artistic parts. So I finally switched entirely to engineering, and almost had a degree in engineering, civil engineering, when of course the Depression hit. That's when I decided that I would take some astronomy courses and that's when the change came. It was at the University of Arizona. I had I think one year to finish the civil engineering, but at that time, engineers were, you might say, a dime a dozen. There were a lot of them. There were very few jobs available for engineers.
So even then I didn't have a job in astronomy, but the only reason I wanted to be an engineer was to make enough money to buy myself a telescope, and then I thought, well, if there's any chance, why not let someone else buy the telescope and I'll look through it and use it? And that's when I got interested in asking for a job up here. But of course, in the early thirties, any kind of a job would have been a welcome thing. By that time, David Slipher had gone back to Purdue University, and he wasn't here, and Allan Cree, another contemporary friend in my class, was a great friend of the Slipher's, and he was given some odd jobs up here. In fact, he did secretarial work. He did library things. And then he told me about a project that was coming up. It was a Harvard-Cornell meteor expedition, that Boothroyd from Cornell was kind of operating with Ernst Opik of Tartou, and of course Harlow Shapley was the contact person at Harvard, and they were going to set up two observing stations about 30 miles apart, and try to, from a baseline, get the height of meteors. And that was a project that of course came to fruition. It was established here, and there were two meteor observing huts, you might say. They faced north and south, and there were very coarse reticles.
The north one, of course, was a polar reticle, the south one an equatorial one, and two observers would sit looking in each direction, back to back, and they would, on sheets of paper, with a reticle plot, plot the path of the meteors, and they would of course time them with a stop watch, and then there was a similar set-up, to the west of town, out by Bellmont. During the winter, it was so very, very cold out there. They didn't plow the roads off the main road at all, so it was so hard to use that particular one that the second year they moved it the other way, east down by—let's see, Canyon Padre, I believe—which is down near Two Guns, and this was a couple of thousand feet lower or 1500 feet lower, and in the cedars, so they didn't have the problem of getting there in the winter time. That was operated by a young person by the name of Donald Hargraves. He was the young person who was put in charge of observing meteors. And then of course Öpik had developed a rotating mirror in which he had a wide field refractor pointing down on the mirror, and you'd sit and observe the mirror, and you knew the speed of it and how it was turning, and if a meteor happened to come across the objective, it would make a path, and it would have certain convolutions due to the speed of the mirror and the speed of the meteor.
This is all in the literature you can look up—and there was a fellow by the name of Mussen that came from Cornell to do those actual observations, and there was one year, they moved up to the Observatory's Shulz Peak Station. It's one of the smaller peaks near Fremont Peak in the San Francisco Peaks area—and the rotating mirror was taken up there, plus an observing station, one of the reticle stations, and that was used. Of course that was strictly a summer time operation because you couldn't get up there in the winter. But of course, I wrote Shapley and asked for the job, and was being considered, and then about that time, this Allan Cree decided he would go to the university, and kind of left a part time job here, and V. M. Slipher offered that to me. And I think that was in 1931, and I think I started to work for $70 a month and a room to live in. That's how I got started up here.
And I think the previous summer you'd been assisting Professor Cogshall from Indiana.
Yes. Of course, again, I would come up on my own, years before that, again, being interested, and Professor Cogshall was here with his family, and he was always very good about teaching young people. At that time, that was when the 13-inch was first put in operation, and he was interested in doing some very long exposures in the Southern Milky Way during the summer when he was here, and I would go out to the telescope with him, and he taught me how to guide it, and he would let me guide it. He'd sit over and smoke his pipe and tell me astronomical things, which of course were very interesting and I enjoyed very much.
You already were known to Slipher, you'd been around the Observatory.
Right. You see, that was probably the summer of 1930, after Pluto was found in January and announced in March of that year, and this must have been the next summer, because I'd come back from USC for the summer to be here. That was that summer.
I wondered about the atmosphere at the observatory when you first went? It was the year after the discovery of Pluto. I wonder how much effect that had on some of the staff?
Well, of course, I think it impressed the general public and other people and certainly me much more than the people on the staff here, because I was a student in Southern California then, and of course read about it in the papers, and I thought, oh, there goes my chance of ever being back at the observatory. They'll be so inundated with work and busy that I won't ever be able to stick my nose in there any more. But it turned out to be just the opposite. They were very happy and by that time, the newness of the discovery had subsided, I guess, and there was still a bunch of argument about why accurate positions weren't developed immediately after the discovery and sent in. Van Biesbroeck and some of those people were rather put out with Lowell, the attitude at Lowell, because they didn't make those observations available right away to help determine an orbit and stuff like that. That's probably in the literature some place, but I know there were some pretty hot letters went back and forth between Van B and I think Shapley too, because at that time, Harvard did the announcement cards as they still do—now Bryan Marsden does—but in those days, it was Harvard College Observatory. It was the Harvard Announcement Cards. Now of course it's the IAU there at the Astrophysical Observatory. Yes.
When you joined V. M. Slipher was the director, and you mentioned that you'd seen him on occasion before.
I wonder, with your friendship with David, were you ever invited to the house?
Occasionally, yes. But this was probably not till the later years of high school. In grammar school I didn't see him very much because he went to Emerson School at the foot of the hill and I went over to the University Training School for grammar school, and so I really didn't know him very well till we got together in high school, you see.
I wonder what sort of impression V. M. Slipher made on you.
Yes. Well, of course, he was a very dignified person, let's put it that way, and in those days, he really dressed very well. I think he was always in a suit of clothes and really Lampland also. Lampland always wore a suit of clothes to work, except when he was observing, of course, but V. M. Slipher always wore a vest. And very often, there was a white liner like the white collars that were put on, you know, the stiff collars and there was a little white liner that buttoned inside of the vest and protruded about a quarter of an inch or so, and any time he was dressing up to do something down town or something like that, he would always have this extra thing which of course made him look much more dignified than normal, you know.
I think I've never seen photographs of him without wearing a tie.
—right. Yes. Yes.
I wonder how he appeared to you as a junior member of the staff? Was he for example someone you'd have much contact with? Did you find him approachable?
Oh, yes. Everyone was very approachable. The office door, you might say, was always open, and all you had to do was just go knock, and of course you worked very closely with him, because he would tell me what to do, you see, and so it was contacts many times a day, in various things. I really was the assistant at that time. I think the first day of my work, it was mending a lens for a spectrograph, and needed some Canada balsam melted so I was set to watch it, put it in some warm water, boiling water, and it was kind of crystalline to begin with, but it had to be very liquid, no bubbles and all, and we re-cemented the elements of a particular lens. I forget just which one that was. But that was my first little job.
So that at the early stage you very much learned to assist him?
Yes, it was you might say a day-long contact with V. M. Slipher—well, you came in the morning, you worked. Of course it was a little later that I took on the observing programs, not much later, I think within a month or two. There was a fellow by the name of Pittman, Swarthmore professor, Pittman had either ruled or found a grating some place, and he wanted to have objective prism, objective grating spectra made by putting the grating on the 13-inch, and I was assigned that job by V. M., to do, and I of course observed and got many plates for Pittman. I remember the first region I got the objective spectra of, was the Delphinus region, which of course was a summer constellation again. The bad part of it was that the lens was not very achromatic and therefore only a very limited region of the spectrum could be in focus at any one time, and the rest of it tailed out into something that wasn't useful, so you either had to focus it for the blue, which worked very well, or you'd have to try to do the red, but it was not too successful. But the records are all here. I don't know how many plates were sent to Pittman. But I don't think we kept any of them, and as I recall, the grating was about 5 x 7 inches in size, and I'm just guessing off the top of my head. It wasn't very finely ruled, I would say maybe 400 or 600 lines an inch. It was kind of coarse in that sense.
Just to locate this in time, this is when?
—well, this was 1931.
In 1931 you were actually working at the telescope—
Almost immediately after you arrived at the observatory?
Now, were you given any sort of training by V. M. or was that something you already had picked up from the previous summer?
Well, both ways. I mean, I picked a lot up from Cogshall, of course, and then V. M. would tell you what to do. Of course, he had to, at that time, I didn't know very much—I had no professional training. So I pretty much was under his direction.
I wonder if you also assisted Slipher on his observing runs?
Yes, of course. He had finished doing the long radial velocity work on the very faint nebulae, on the spirals and all. By that time he was interested in extending the spectra of the planets into the red. And of course C. E. K. Mees of the Eastman Laboratories was very much interested in astronomy and was a great friend of the Sliphers and Lampland and would stop here two or three times a year, and was always sending experimental photographic plates from their laboratory to be tested, and then V. M. was trying to sensitize plates. V. M. was trying to sensitize plates further out in the red, to get the atmospheric absorption bands in the planets, and it fell to my job to test all these aniline dyes that he bought from a well known German company I. G. Farben industrie.
I guess IGA Agfa was the generic name. It was the big aniline dye company of Germany at that time, and these were tiny little vials, no bigger than probably a half-an-inch height, that would have these dyes. They were very, very expensive, and of course they were diluted, and I would dilute these in different concentrations, then bathe the plates, and then also dry them in alcohol and so forth and test them for speed and for the extensions into the red—there was dicyanine pinaverdol, many, many of those dyes, and it was cut and try. And with certain concentrations, if you got too much dye in, they weren't near as sensitive, they weren't nearly as good as if you had a less amount of dye in. I remember, there must have been 40, 50 bottles with different concentrations. And then we had a white target which hung between the trees, right up there. The test spectrograph was in this next darkroom. And we'd point it toward the sky so you got skylight. I think I still have dozens or hundreds of old pieces of plates that we tried that on.
And when V. M. Slipher finally found the most sensitive and best concentration, then of course he would dye it and put it in the three prism spectrograph on the 24-inch. And then I inherited the job of guiding on the planets, and I think out of that work came his Halley Lecture at the Royal Astronomical Society in London, and the publication of the spectra of the planets. That's where it got into the deep red and so forth, deep as it was in those days. See, we didn't have Z plates or anything like that at that time. Those came much, much later in time. It really started with Eastman 40 plates, which were blue sensitive. Well, there were panchromatic plates, but they were again just a very short range of wavelengths, and we didn't try many, for some reason, we tried panchromatic plates and tried dying those, but they'd already been dyed so much that we weren't able to really extend the spectral range too much more than the dye that was already on them. And that's why we went to the other dyes.
So these were commercially available plates?
In fact, I've seen quite a big file of correspondence between V.M and Mees in the files here.
Clearly something that was going on over a number of years.
—right, many years, yes. And at that time, of course, Mees was a real researcher. He wasn't interested in making spectroscopic plates pay for themselves. In other words, at that time, the policy of Eastman Kodak was to put X number of dollars into research, and one of the best ways was to give certain observatories plates to experiment with, and to work with, and of course, they reaped the benefit of anything that we would find here, you see.
You mentioned that by this time, the early 1930s, V. M.'s research on the radial velocities of spiral nebulae had come to an end.
I wonder if he ever discussed that particular research with you? Did V. M. ever discuss his own family and childhood?
Not particularly, no. No. He was a very, very modest person. I mean, he never would have told me, unless I had asked him, and I don't believe I ever asked him very much about that. I think I read more about it in other publications and all. It never occurred to me to particularly ask him about it in person. Often I would have to make enlargements of his spectra for some textbook that would ask for something, you know, and I would do that, and that's about the only discussions we'd have. I know I made a bunch of Saturn, showing the rotation of the ring and the different tilt—of course, Keeler did it at Lick first, he did it here only I think for calibration purposes and so forth. V. M. Slipher never discussed in detail his own family, and only occasionally made references to life on the farm. He did bring his youngest brother, Claude, here to Flagstaff. Claude was an invalid for the first six months, but then gained strength, and finally became able to work on V. M. Slipher's farm. : The reason I asked about radial velocities was there's a story that John Hall referred to in a piece he wrote, I think it was in SKY AND TELESCOPE, about V. M. Slipher's trailblazing career.
And he refers to the fact that V. M. got a standing ovation in 1914.
I wonder if that story was told amongst the observatory staff?
Well, I think I didn't know too much about that till many, many years later, and of course, he never mentioned anything like that. He would never say anything like that. So it was only through Duncan and John Hall, I think, that those things were brought out. He was very modest.
I wonder about the impressions you had of some of the other people on the observatory staff, when you joined? I'm thinking for example of E. C. Slipher.
Yes. Well, E. C. Slipher of course was a favorite brother or character, you might say, and I don't know whether I should put this on record or not, but there was a great deal of contention and animosity between Lampland and the two brothers. Lampland always kind of felt that the two brothers stuck together a little too much, and it was not always on the merits of some project that things were decided. There were sometimes pretty heated discussions among the three of them about what they should do. And of course, of the three older people, E. C. was not trained to a degree where he could carry on anything except what he did do, you see, and he did a great job of that, photographing the planets and interpreting the changes on the surface and atmospheres and so forth. But Lampland was a real scholar.
He was a scholar all his life, and he was interested in all aspects of it. He was kind of like Henry Norris Russell. He'd sit down and do problems in three dimensional geometry, and calculus and so forth, just for fun, just to see if he could get an answer. And he was very good that way, and he was an avid follower of all the literature in astronomy at that time, and he would always say, "Well, I haven't had time to read this," but he'd blurt out in detail just what was in the article, so he had to have read it, but he would always apologize, "Well, I haven't had time to read it. But "this occurred there, or that occurred". He was absolutely remarkable for being able to find a piece of literature that you were interested in, or anyone, I mean any visitor would come and they'd discuss something. The next thing you know, he'd run down the hall or to the library,—he'd come back with the publication, and he'd quote out of it, again saying, "Well, I didn't have time to read it." It was the same way with popular journals, I mean, like LITERARY DIGEST, or the POST or something like that. He got all these magazines, and he'd say, "Well, I haven't had time to read it," and then I'd read the article and he'd tell me about it. But he was the scholar.
The only trouble was, he was a perfectionist. Everything had to be absolutely without a doubt before he would ever think about publishing something, and of course this was his great mistake, and why he was not a famous astronomer at the time. He would go out and make maybe 50 or 100 observations, specially the radiometric observations, which of course was the technique he and Coblenz developed, and he would just not publish the results, because he thought, if 100 observations were good, 1000 would be better and maybe 2000 would be something you should have. This was the trouble with everything he did. He just had to have more in depth and was really a perfectionist. That was the problem, I believe. And it was only through forcing that you could get him to write an article or write up his work. And of course, Coblenz being at the Bureau of Standards had to produce, and he just told Lampland, he said, "Now, you've got to do this," and Lampland didn't want to but they did it, you know.
So you're talking about Lampland's work in the 1920s?
Yes, I'm talking about the radiometric work. Yes. But it was Lampland, you know, who made the most sensitive thermocouples. His thermocouples were much more sensitive than anything the Bureau of Standards ever made. And he worked hard on it. He would try all kinds of things, new and different metals, to make a couple, and of course the only kind of a vacuum pump we had in those days was the old Central Scientific, they weren't even the High Vac that they had later you know. It was just an oil pump. And you couldn't get a very good vacuum. But he made these things out of ink bottles. He would use an ink bottle and cement on rock salt or a calcite window or something and put a couple in there and evacuate it, and try it out, and he was a real pioneer in that, I would say.
This seems to be something that's also common in V. M.'s life, this business about publication.
Yes. They were very reluctant to publish, and I know our trustee was always urging them to do it, but it was pretty hard. They didn't, they just didn't publish much.
I wonder to what extent that might have been a result of earlier criticisms of the observatory, over the business of canals on Mars and so on—
—whether that was something that had led them to adopt this publication policy?
I am very sure that is exactly the case—they were very reluctant and they had to be very, very positive, and be sure of what they were doing. Of course, the amazing thing to me is that V. M. had the confidence in what he observed in those radial velocities to stick his neck out on it. I mean, when you find one, the only one that we know of, coming towards you, and then the others receding, you start to wonder. But you see, he had worked so many years on the spectra of standard stars, with their velocities and all that, that he was absolutely confident of what he had, you see. And I think that's a great credit, because he could have sat on that, you know, for years, till someone else did it, and that would have been bad.
Was this business of publication something that was discussed?
Well, we certainly discussed it when the trustee came. And I'm sure that the trustee must have urged other people, other astronomers that were friends of stature like Henry Norris Russell and some of these other people, to urge them to do this. But it didn't seem to carry much weight, obviously.
That was one of the things I was interested in, interactions with the trustee. I was looking through some of the files today, particularly from Mr. Putnam.
And there, what seems to happen, he says he's coming and then the letter might say "I enjoyed my visit" and so on. I wonder what was actually entailed when Mr. Putnam came to the observatory?
Well, there were of course two kinds. Mr. Putnam would of course see V. M. Slipher alone quite a bit. He'd see Lampland alone and talk to him alone, talk to all of us alone. Then we'd all be together, and we'd be together for social events. We'd usually have dinner some place all together, have some kind of a social event, and it was pretty open. Of course, I have no idea what was said to V. M. alone, but I'm sure they discussed everything in pretty good detail.
Yes. I noticed looking through the files, often there was a shortfall of money, and Mr. Putnam could somehow turn up a thousand dollars or something like that.
Yes. It was pretty tough going when I was here first, especially during the Depression, and when you consider that Mrs. Lowell received half the income, you know, she had half the income for herself, and here were five, six people plus all the expenses of the utilities and everything else coming out of the other half. And earnings were way way down, of course, at that time, so the observatory check, as I remember, was from $1500 to $2000. And then some way Mr. Putnam or Mrs. Putnam, I don't know which, put a certain sum in a place, and you can guess about what it was because the check was $330 a month, I believe, and that was Mr. Putnam's check, and that was not out of the estate or out of anything else. That came regularly for many, many years, and was part of that estate, but I know we were very, very far in arrears in many things, utilities, the water, and books.
There was always a great deal of contention between V. M. and Lampland because Lampland was in charge or had taken charge of the library, and he felt that the library had to be kept up, at any expense. He said, even if he didn't have shoes, we ought to keep the library up, because when books went out of print you couldn't get them any more, and specially certain textbooks, and technical books. He felt that one book could give you a big idea and could help you much more than any other way you could spend money. And so G. E. Stekart in New York was the big book dealer, and we had an open account there, and I remember, the account was over 3000 bucks at one time—and it was so hard, and V. M. was always admonishing Lampland not to buy any more books, we didn't have money. Lampland would go ahead, when it was something he thought the library needed, he'd buy it. And I think that's why the library is so excellent and so good here, because he had the foresight to do that, and second of all, I remember many, many books that he paid for himself out of his salary, because he just felt that it was something the observatory needed, and he was willing to do it, and he did that, he paid for those—
—are those available?
Yes, they're in the library. Yes.
I wonder how the situation with the funding changed over the years through the Depression and all, if the financial position later eased somewhat?
If it eased?
Well, yes. You see, the observatory was given the use of the section next to the west of us by special act of Congress, May 30, 1910, mainly to keep out the lights. It was kind of a buffer zone and all. We did not get the timber rights or anything like that. But the section was fenced, and there was a dairy down at the foot of the hill called Pinewood Dairy. It was run by a man by the name of Andy Matson. And Andy used to rent forage or rent the pasture rights to that section, and I know many times Lampland would have to find Andy Matson and get, I forget what it was, probably $50 a month in the summer time only, or maybe even less, but he would go see Andy for that money, and of course it went into the observatory account to pay for something.
So it was every little bit that could be found, and I know of one or two cases when he asked if Andy could pay it in advance. We were really scrounging for money at the time. And many times all of us went without our salaries for maybe a week, ten days, two weeks, and I'm sure there were many months that V. M. Slipher did not draw a salary, that there just wasn't money, and if it eventually came in, he probably made it up, but I know that he would try to pay the other people first. [June 24, 1932 the local bank went broke and closed its doors.] I think that really shows why there was an awful lot of insecurity around the observatory. And you see, especially after Percival Lowell died, everything was in a turmoil for ten years there, and these men never knew who was going to be the director, who was going to be the administrator, after Mrs. Lowell challenged the will, and they really didn't know how secure their salaries would be. So you can't blame V. M. and E. C., both of whom had families; they had to try to find other income. And of course, V. M. started in buying rentals and doing little business things on the side, and you can see why they did it, and Lampland never had a family so it was just a question of his own and his wife's bread and butter, and he kind of looked down his nose at anybody who wouldn't spend ten or twelve hours a day on his astronomy, you know.
I think in Bill Hoyt's account, biographical memoir of Slipher, he mentions these outside interests.
—yes, right, but while V. M. might have been gone from the observatory several hours a day, he was always here at night, and he put in the hours. As far as neglecting the observatory work is concerned, I don't think there was any of that, at least in the number of hours that were put in. Now, we didn't know anything about a 40 hour week in those days. You were 60, 70 hours a week. And I'm sure that even V. M. qualified for that. And then, E. C. got into political things, you know. He got into being on the city council. I think he was mayor of Flagstaff one time and all. And of course, Lampland was not very sympathetic about this. On the other hand, E. C. again would come up and observe most of the night or something. So it really worked out. Of course, maybe in later years, when E. C. was state senator and was gone for several months at a time, it might have been a little different. But on the whole, I don't think there was too much neglect of responsibility in trying to do something, let's put it that way. And they were really just protecting themselves, which you can't blame anyone for, when things are so uncertain.
This would be a criticism that would be made sometimes by Lampland?
Yes. Yes, because, again, Lampland was a theoretical, pure scholar, and he thought anything that detracted from that was not the proper thing to do, which really I think it was just as proper as anything else, under the circumstances.
I wonder how V. M. ran the observatory as director? I think there were three on the staff who were very much more senior, and then everybody else.
And often to the trustee V. M. will say, "I've discussed this with my colleagues." I wonder if it was in a way a three man corporation?
More than just a director who would decide on everything, if that makes sense?
Yes. Well, I think—well, what it really amounted to was that I think V. M. and Lampland carried more weight with the trustee, whatever they would do was all right with him, you see. That obviously had to be or there would have been some changes made. So, they were not, shall I say, very aggressive in seeking out and doing new things in new fields, or anything of that kind. And I think they had kind of the same Old World attitude that all the departments of astronomy at the universities and all had in those days, that the senior person in the department was there the rest of his life, you might say, till after retirement, which of course was the way it was done in Europe. Most of the astronomers at the observatories there, they kept them all their life even after they were 80 years old and infirm. I think the same thought prevailed here. It was never a thought of turning the place over to anyone, or encouraging or trying to carry on new and different research. I think this was forced on them by Mr. Putnam finally in 1948, in there, when—
—that's when the planetary atmospheres project came here—
—yes, right. Yes, when we got in with the Weather Bureau, and then on with the Air Force contracts, and that was when the first outside money came in, and it was of course the only way to survive, but it met with a lot of resistance, but you might say was tolerated, and that's what started the observatory growing up into a real institution, you might say.
I was wondering about that point about outside funding in the 1930s. There are sometimes references I've seen to small grants that might get tried for.
I wonder if there were any other efforts to try to get some major sorts of other funding that you were aware of?
Well, I think V. M. got a National Academy of Science grant, that I know of, and then another American Academy, but they were small amounts, kind of like 500 or 1000 bucks. I've looked back in the business records and I find that V. M. used part of one of those, I think the National Academy, to pay my salary for a few months in there. So those were the only grants that I know of. There were no bigger ones until we got into the Air Force thing.
The era of government funding.
Yes, right. Yes. Let's see, I think we're trying to get one from the Research Corporation, but I think that might have been after Art Adel was here. I think he put in the grating or prism or something and started it. But I think we tried earlier from the Research Corporation, but I'm not sure that grant ever came through.
I was wondering even about links perhaps say with Rockefeller Foundation or Carnegie, if that was a possibility?
I'm sure that, unless you find it in the correspondence, I don't know of any. As far as I know, they were very reluctant to go out and do that. I don't know why. But as far as I know, it was up to Putnam to try to do it, to raise the money, and I think Putnam tried various places.
Yes, because I think at that time there was a plan in the thirties for kind of a National Research Fund, and there are references to that National Research Fund which I don't think got anywhere actually in Washington, but Mr. Putnam refers to the battle plan for that.
OK. We talked about some of the people at the observatory when you joined, and you mentioned a Mrs. Hamilton who was a computer. Were there other computers who were around at later periods?
Yes. That was before my time. See, I only knew them socially or from the outside, and I had no idea at that time what they were doing, and it was only later that, but there was a fellow by the name of Edwards. Then there was a fellow by the name of Gill. And Hamilton of course, and Miss Williams, who later married Hamilton, and there may have been some others, I don't know.
I guess the best place to look for them would be the annual reports.
Right. In the annals, or they may have given them in the Transneptunian planet, the memoir, he might have given the names in there, but most of those people worked in Boston. You see, a lot of those people were in Boston. And it was only later that he sent some of them out here, and they stayed some years, and then of course Hamilton moved on to work for Pickering on the island of Jamaica, you know, and he married Miss Williams, and then they left.
Was it usual, during your period at the observatory, for there to be a computer on staff?
That was I guess an extravagance by that time?
Yes. But when I came, there were two mechanical computers and that was the old millionaire that was an old computer that Percival had had and that they used on the Planet X and there was a Munroe, we called it the galloping goose, it was the first Munroe and was not even automatic for division. You had to shift the carriage, each unit of ten, you know, and Lampland was very good also at showing me and I appreciated all the training he gave me in position work. Of course, that's where I learned it, from him, and I assisted Lampland and was his computer. He would of course measure the Pluto positions from the 42-inch plates. Of course, in those days we measured everything on a hand machine, and you did ten bi-sections in four directions. There were 40 bi-sections to each image, and then you'd have to average those. Well, those were done in your head. We didn't do those on the machine. But then doing dependencies and working out positions and all, why, that was done on these computers, and the old millionaire had the beauty of the nines would go through as fast as the ones, and of course, with the Munroe, you'd have to sit there and wait for nine revolutions, and it was so much slower. On the other hand, the division on the millionaire had to be done by trials, and you had a table in the top of the cover of the old millionaire that you would get your first two numbers in, you'd try it and so forth. It was very, very slow. The first Munroe, you had to do it the same way, by trials, but then we finally got a Munroematic that would do division automatically which really speeded things up. Whatever you wanted to divide, you'd shove the divide thing and it would do it automatically, which was great. Those, of course, were the only machines around for 50, 60 years, till the modern computers came out.
Do you know when the new machine arrived? The Munroematic.
Well, I would say, 1934 maybe. I know I used the old one, they were all second hand, we never could afford a new one, but they'd make advanced ones and then this Munroe salesman would come up here and finally they got enough money to buy this Munroematic. I would say '33, '34.
I can look in the files.
I think I only used that manual one for a year or so, and then got the better one, and it had more places. It was a bigger capacity machine.
Where I'd like to start is really with the kind of life at the observatory when you first joined in the thirties. I'm thinking, for example, of the visitors who came through, and what sort of effect they had, and what sorts of people they were, if you remember any.
Yes. Well, you can go through the Guest Book upstairs. It is not really complete, but it started way back in Lowell's time. You'll find really I'd say the greats of astronomy, the astronomers. They always stopped, even though they did not agree with what's going on, I'd say that, but they did stop by. Some of them were guests that came and stayed for several days, and some several weeks. The person and family that probably came the most was Henry Norris Russell and his family. They enjoyed Flagstaff. They enjoyed the area around here. In fact, I think the first time that I remember Russell coming for any extended period of time, they bought a car, and this was downtown, from the Studebaker garage, and Russell had never driven a car before, so he took lessons. I think Joe Waldhouse and maybe Lampland and some others taught him. But Mrs. Russell did quite a bit of the driving.
They would go out on the Indian Reservation to Sunset Crater and down to Oak Creek, places like this, and they enjoyed it very much. And during his time here, Russell would write the articles that appeared in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. He was writing the articles that appeared in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN for many years, and he would kind of try out the different topics that he was writing about on the staff here. I remember, he was on Goldstein's abundance of elements, and then he did a great bit on the theory of spectral lines that he'd been working on, things of that nature, and it was about once a week, after lunch, that we would have an hour's lecture.
They usually always took place on the northwest porch of the office building, right off of V. M. Slipher's office, and there was a blackboard out there, and of course chairs and Mrs. Russell would attend. Of course the staff would attend. And Mrs. Russell invariably would bring her knitting, and she would start knitting and then fall asleep. And I know V. M. had an awful hard time, but Coblentz and Mrs. Coblentz, Katherine K. Coblentz, would come and she was an author, of course, of children's books, but she would come listen to these lectures, and Coblentz had a hard time keeping awake, so the next, and all the following lectures he would come with very dark glasses on. You couldn't tell whether he was asleep or not. But they were very stimulating lectures and very good, and of course typically Henry Norris's way of presenting things was very, very good and interesting. I don't know if the trustee encouraged Russell to come and do that, but anyway, he always did, and even if he was just going through on the train alone without the family, he'd always stop off for a day or two or three, and he'd always give us a lecture. If it was winter time, it would be in the reading room or some place, and he was very, a very stimulating person, for that reason. Some of the others were Wood, R. W. Wood, from Johns Hopkins, and of course Wood brought out some of his replica gratings.
I remember one time we had a 16-inch aluminized mirror with very, very long focal length, it was a very thin mirror, and put it on the side of the 24-inch refractor, and had a secondary and brought it down and had one of these little round inch-square gratings there. They were trying spectra of the planets at the time, and I think he was experimenting with certain liquid filters that they would put in, to see how, what bands were absorbed, and things of that kind. And Wood would stay in residence for a month or two months or something like that, and he would give lectures, and his were a little more technical. They weren't of course astronomy-oriented so much as Russell's were. I remember one summer we had—it was a kind of a rainy season, and there were June bugs, and there were also a bunch of these little lightning worms, so he and Lampland conceived the idea of getting the spectrum of a glow-worm. They were really glow-worms, I think. So we were picking up glow-worms along the sidewalk, up to the 24-inch, and then try to drop them with their rear ends on the slot, slit of the spectrograph. But every time you'd drop one on, the spectrograph slit was so cold, their glow would go out on them. But I think he finally got something, because there was an article, and I believe it was in SCIENCE, many years ago, when he said it was something like glow-worm spin therascope, something like that, or glow-bugs or something. Anyway he had done it some place else. He finally got enough light to try to find—and I remember reading the article. I think it was in SCIENCE. And then there was of course Frank Ross, who came often, the lens designer from Yerkes. He did the photographs for the Calvert-Ross Atlas. They were made here with his famous 5-inch Ross lens. There was also a Xenar lens here that was used in conjunction with that, to check defects and other things like that. A fellow by the name of Newman, Kenneth Newman was an assistant here at the time, that did most of the guiding for those. I didn't. I was on other programs, so I didn't do it. And then of course, Professor Raymond Dugan of Princeton would come occasionally, and they would stay for maybe two or three weeks, sometimes months.
So this is Dugan of...
—Russell, Dugan and Stewart. Yes, right. Raymond Dugan. And the last one or two times he came, of course he was very crippled with arthritis, and it made it very difficult for him to get around, and then of course he passed away, but I think Annette Tombaugh, for example, who was Tombaugh's daughter, was named Annette because of Annette Dugan. They were summer friends and of course just lived close by and Mrs. Tombaugh had high regard for Mrs. Dugan. There were many others. Of course Hubble came by often, whenever he'd be through, and would stay for a day or so, and those were not particularly formal lectures. He mainly talked to V. M. and occasionally we'd all meet in the reading room and there'd be just general discussion about astronomy in general and what he was doing and so forth, but he did not give the formal kind of lecture like some of the others did.
I just wondered what sort of figure Hubble cut when he came. I remember reading somewhere that he was usually referred to when he was at Mt. Wilson as Major Hubble.
I wondered if you recall that.
Gee, I really don't know. He was very interested in V. M.'s work, and especially the precision of it, because evidently he'd repeated a bunch of that and found what V. M. had done was correct, and of course he had much better facilities to do it with and all. I don't know whether that was before the expanding universe came, but it was about the time it was being formulated, I think. So then, well, again, you'd have to look at the Guest Register up there, and you'd find that many of these people. We had Hamilton Jeffers from Lick Observatory; he used to come quite often. In fact, he used to fly over, and he was a great fan of the Tremaines and the Meteor Crater. I'm not sure but I think they had a landing strip out there, and he would come out there as well as here, and he took several of the people out here. In fact, some of the first aerial views of the Crater we have here in the exhibit room were made from Hamilton Jeffers' airplane. And well, there were a lot of people at Mt. Wilson, Theodore Dunham would come often, and his family, and Humason occasionally, Sanford. In those days, I think there were only 350 or 400 members of the Astronomical Society all over the world, so you knew practically everyone, you know. It was before specialization and before there were too many—so many people, let's put it that way—in the field.
So the impression I'm getting is that there were a large number of visitors coming through the observatory.
Yes. Continually. All summer and winter long. Yes. And you could really get a quantitative idea by looking at the Guest Books. I can't think of all of them now. And then there would be others that would come and stay for certain periods to do certain observing. I know Sarge Korff that was doing cosmic ray work and all came and stayed in the area for a long time. He started here in the basement to measure these things, and then went outside, then went up on the peaks, then various places. More, of course, from University of Michigan came for a while to do certain things, and then the people from Cornell. The first aluminized mirror in astronomy was the 15-inch here. But at the same time, R.W. Wood was perfecting the technique of depositing metals in a vacuum, and I think it was almost simultaneously done, completely independently, at Johns Hopkins, and then there was Ketcham and Robert Shaw, some of those people from Cornell, and we did not for some reason get any of the aluminized mirrors from Johns Hopkins, but Cornell did take the 15-inch here, and it was one of the first aluminized mirror.
From what you say, I get the impression that quite a lot of the time it was expected that visitors would give a talk.
Or a series of talks.
Yes. Well, you see, Ketcham and there was another one, Robley C. Williams, could it be? I think there was Ketcham, Williams and R.W. Shaw that came here, and stayed for some time. Yes. And occasionally Boothroyd would come back, you know, stay for several months or so. Not necessarily on a project like the meteor expedition.
I also wonder about the social life, the interaction between staff. You mentioned in the reminiscence, that it was often the case that say at holidays and so on, that the staff met for dinner at Slipher's house or—
Yes. Of course, in the earlier days, we always entertained everyone that came, because there weren't that many. What I meant was, maybe one or two a month, sometimes more, depending on who it was, but we would always try to entertain them. V. M. Slipher or the Lamplands would always invite them to their house for dinner some time, and very often they'd invite some of the others, some of the staff people and all, and then we'd take them some place, like Meteor Crater, Sunset Crater, Oak Creek, these various places, and just kind of show them the local points of interest, and this was routine, I would say, for the first 15, 20 years I was here. And then of course when travel got easier and more and more people came, why, you couldn't do it for everyone. You had to be pretty selective. But people like when Lundmark or some of these foreign visitors would come, we'd always try to show them, and they would sometimes ask, how to get to say Meteor Crater? They'd want to see it. I've taken many people there.
When the older staff members couldn't go, then I would be the one. The observatory at that time maintained three or four vehicles. When I first came here, there were two Model T Fords. There was a Model T truck that hauled the wood, and then there was a Model T sedan that was used to pick up the mail and so forth. Then shortly after that, they bought a second hand two door Studebaker, and then, well, they already had a four door Studebaker that was fairly new, and that was kept in reserve for visitors and dignitaries. That was not used every day. The other one, of course, since I lived here and was single it was always my job to go get the mail and take the mail down and all that, so I drove the observatory car twice a day. I'd go down in the morning and get the observatory mail, have breakfast, come back when I wasn't observing, and conversely at night I'd take whatever mail there was, take it down and mail it, and see if there was any mail there and have supper and come back. So that was that. Then, as you know, when Lowell was still alive, Lowell maintained buggies and wagons, which was the mode of transportation at the time, and also there was—we always used to call it the Astronomical Cow. Its name was Venus.
When I first came, there was milking by the barn man or maintenance man every morning and every night, and he would bring a bucket of milk to each family on the hill. Each family got it. That went on for many years till the cow finally got so old and died, and then they never replaced the cow. But that was one of the perks of living here, was the milk. And of course Lowell approved of it. You'll find some places in the archives where he directed V. M. to please take milk to somebody down town, that their cow was not working or something, stuff like that. And I remember when the last old horse died, and I think the horse's name was John, Old John, and that was kind of a sad day for everyone, and the buggies were stored in the barn. One of them was a beautiful black buggy with black velvet cushions, and of course had PL's crest on. He had—well, it was kind of like the Pluto symbol, but he had PL and the little oak branch or something, and that was on the buggy. And then there was the two seater wagon, and then there was another work wagon, and so those—that of course was something that had to be taken care of, in the early days. And when the horse left and the cow gave out, why, they were never replaced, let's put it that way.
Why don't we just return to one of the other visitors again, because this leads on to another point that I have in mind. I think that you went back to college in '36?
Let's see. No—let's see. My son was born in '37, and I think he was about three years old when we went to Berkeley for graduate work.
Oh, that's where I got confused. In the WHO'S WHO it mentioned that you had a BS from University of Arizona in '37.
I'll tell you what happened there. You see, I mentioned that I'd been in engineering, and I had so many technical engineering credits and what I wanted was a degree in astronomy and math. From the engineering school I went into Letters, Arts and Science, and they would not let me take say, advanced mine surveying or strength of materials and apply that to a degree, because that was a technical thing, so the last year I was at the university, I think was 1934, and I had to take two humanities courses and I think one of them was history of music, which I took by correspondence, from the university. Another one was some kind of an English thing, and instead of doing it the next year, I didn't, I just put it off. So it was two years that, you see, I was working here all the time, and I didn't do the correspondence course, so I didn't get the degree until about three years after I left, but I had to do the requirements for it, the non-technical things, and that's why the degree looks like it's a lot later. But I wasn't down there in '35, '36 and '37. I wasn't down there. I was up here. It was '34 I think was the last year I was down there at the University of Arizona.
OK. I wonder what happened to the position that you'd been filling? Was that the year that Frank Edmondson came?
I expect he filled in for you?
Right, Edmondson took my place. You see, he came as a Lawrence Fellow from Indiana, and evidently Percival Lowell had set up a Lawrence Fellowship, and that must have been named for A. Lawrence Lowell, his brother at Harvard. I'm guessing, I don't know. But the first Lawrence Fellow was K. P. Williams, and he was the fellow that did the orbit book, you know, the first little orbit book, long before Hergit did. And K. P. was—well, wait a minute now. I think it's the other way around. It may have been John C. Duncan that was the first Lawrence Fellow. And you see, John C. Duncan came for a year or for a while on it, and then K. P. Williams was the next one, and then Edmondson. V. M. had made a lot of spectrograms of globular clusters and had measured a few of them, but there were a lot of them that weren't measured. Edmondson measured those, and then did the solar velocity from them, and got his master's degree out of it, and then I think the next Lawrence Fellow came along ten or fifteen years later, was Lewis Larimore. Larimore came out and was doing, I think working on the Teekoff effect, the out of focus images, some of that work. The Teekoff effect, I think it was, yes. So those were the Lawrence Fellows. Those were the people that came in. Edmondson was here for about a year and a half or two years, I think, and of course it was here that he met his wife, Margaret Russell, one summer, and then of course you'll have to get the rest of his history from him.
But there are also things I think that come from the early stage, a very strong link between Lowell and Indiana.
Yes. There always was. And let's see how it, I'm trying to think, there was J.A. Miller, who was the head of the department at Indiana for many years, before Cogshall, of course. And I've forgotten whether or not he was a Harvard graduate or something. Anyway, he influenced of course V. M. and Lampland and the others, and I don't know exactly what that Lawrence Fellow connection is, but it was for graduates from Indiana and maybe, I'm not sure, but maybe E. C. Slipher was, the first year he might have been a Lawrence Fellow.
Edmondson's presence here, in effect, enabled you to go back to the university?
He was taking over some of your work.
Yes. Right, yes, he went on and made a lot of the search plates. I think I made some the year and a half before. And then he took over that work, and made them. Again, those are all in the record books. You can see the dates. I've forgotten exactly.
Right. One area that I was interested in exploring a little bit was something I think you've gone into in quite a bit of detail in reminiscences, is Arthur Adel coming to the Observatory.
Right. Yes, well, of course, that was Mr. Putnam's idea. He felt that since Lampland had pioneered with Coblenz in the infra-red that it was only appropriate that maybe that work be continued. That Adel story should come from Art himself, and he'll tell you in detail just how and why he was hired and the circumstances, and all about it. The sad part of it is that Adel was never allowed to really finish the infra-red work that he had in mind doing, and that was really pioneering research, and it's very sad that the Lowell Observatory didn't get credit and do that work, probably four or five years or more before Kuiper did it down in Tucson. And that's just kind of the clash of personalities, and it's unfortunate that it happened.
One of the things I noticed from your account is that more equipment that had been prepared for Adel.
The equipment was ready, sort of waiting, and Lampland never seemed to have taken it to the telescope and actually used it.
Right. That was really the sad part. It was all developed here, and you see, Adel suggested and I'm sure designed the first infra-red spectrometer to go on a telescope, and it was completed and done, but it was never, it was maybe tested but never used, and it's still sitting here. It probably is crude but it was a pioneering piece of work. And that's bad too. It was years later that of course, Kuiper with more money and bigger and better telescopes was able to do something with it.
Did Lampland ever discuss why he'd never used the spectrometer?
No. I think, again, well, I think there were two reasons. You see, Adel was trained in theoretical molecular spectroscopy, and Lampland was not, and so really Lampland did not have the scientific technical background to do it, and being timid anyway, he wouldn't set out to do something that he didn't know about. So I think that was the main thing. The sad thing is that he didn't let Adel go ahead and do it. That was the sad part.
That also raises another point about the use of the telescopes. I'm not sure whether you actually say it explicitly in the reminiscences but the impression I got was that the use of the telescopes was decided very much by the senior staff, and they controlled their use.
Right. Yes. Well, each senior staff member had his own field, and they were very zealous and narrow about each field, and even though of course I think I mentioned to you that Lampland developed the planetary cameras, as soon as E. C. came and was asked to take over that work, Lampland never touched those or did any observing at the 24-inch again. And then the 42-inch was gotten and put into operation, and I know that there are letters in the files where Percival Lowell wanted V. M. to design a spectrograph for the 42-inch, and Lampland of course took that over, and again, no one else was allowed to use it for anything except Lampland himself. So that was a closed thing. And of course, after Percival died, there was no one to arbitrate the thing and say, yes, you can go ahead and use it, so it wasn't until 1948 or '49 when Mr. Putnam absolutely insisted that we do something else with the telescope that we were allowed to use it for the Air Force Solar Variation contract at that time. So that again, I'm sure that Adel would have conceived a bunch of things to do with the spectrograph. There was a grating, reflection grating being gotten, and V. M. started building a grating spectrograph. I was the person that had to focus it and try to get it working and all, but I don't think anything was done with a celestial object. But you see, Adel would have been very good at doing that and doing something useful with it.
I wonder if a similar thing applied to the use of the photographic plates that were being taken by each of the astronomers, if say Lampland took a plate, whether that was then his plate, his own personal property?
Right. It kind of felt that way, yes. Of course, all the photographic plates, as far as I know of, are here in the plate vaults. There may be a few original planetary plates that E. C. Slipher took down to his office to work on, when he moved down town, that have never come back, but there are very few. We have a record of them, and I think they're coming back. But all of Lampland's, everyone else's plates are here. There was a big contention about the infra-red spectrometer tracings that Adel did. He took all of those away, and we do not have any in our files. I know that Putnam and Slipher both tried to get those back. We felt it was part of the observatory records and they should be here. But we do not have any of Adel's original tracings here. And I think that it is very short-sighted of Art Adel. I have no idea what he's done with them, but those were paid for by the observatory and they should be here.
Maybe this is moving forward too rapidly, but I know that from '31 to '42 you were classed as a research—
Then in '42, that changes, and I wondered what perhaps that meant in terms of what you were doing, your responsibilities? I think '42 you were just called an astronomer, I think.
Until '53 when I think you become termed executive officer.
Yes. Well, I'm trying to think what prompted that. I think it was about that time that—and I think it was Lampland's idea, that when, after he had trained me, you might say, in position measurement and all, then he was very happy to see me take over and do that, because he felt that it was along the lines of what the observatory was doing. In other words, even Percival Lowell in the early days would take the position of a minor planet off of a plate when he was examining it for Planet X, you know. We took the minor planets that Tombaugh had marked during his search, and got approximate positions. This was done by drawing accurate reticles for the scale of the 13-inch, and then taking, there were degree areas, of course, and taking proportional wedges, and you could go down to about, oh, a tenth of a minute of time, something like that.
They were just approximate positions, but at least we were allowed to publish them, so that the orbit computers could have them if they wanted to, and I'm sure many, many orbits were computed with those approximate positions. They weren't good, but in those days, that's what you had. So then I kind of struck out on my own, and would get the plates and measure the objects that were interesting, especially comets, and I worked very closely with Leland Cunningham. Whenever a comet would be found some place, why, you can guess that Leland Cunningham was on the telephone, and would ask me to go out and observe it and send him a position. And I did that for years, of course, and the thing Cunningham always said, well, there were Lowell positions and then there were van Biesbroeck positions. Van Biesbroeck was very competent in a lot of ways but he was also very fast, and half of the time he'd get the precession the wrong way or something else, and it would be off, we'd make observations oh, three or four or five hours after van Biesbroeck, and our positions would be way off from his, and the next thing, you'd see that he brought up precession with the wrong sign or did something else with it, so I think that's how I got into the astrometry of the thing.
Then of course later than that date, Putnam asked me if I would take over the books and take over the daily operations of the observatory, that is, doing the grounds work, supervising the maintenance and paying the bills and payroll and everything. It was getting more complicated because Social Security was starting to come in and later withholding and all that, and really V. M. didn't want to be bothered with that kind of stuff, and it was getting more complicated and involved more people, so that's how I got into the business office, let's say, and of course I ran it alone for many, many years. That is, I had to do all the actual bookwork.
This is when you become what was termed the executive officer?
Yes. In fact, when I first took that over, I was really the bookkeeper, because there wasn't anybody else to do it. And then a few years later, we hired a secretary that worked under me that did the books and kept them, and finally she became the bookkeeper, but I was still the officer in charge, and mainly because we were starting then into the Weather Bureau, the Air Force, and the NSF and other grants, and there was an awful lot of paperwork and detail that again V. M. just didn't want to do, no matter how much money he could get out of a contract, he didn't want to spend the time to even read the contract over, much less abide by what it said in there. So the first contracts were very awkward and onerous in the sense that they were still experimenting with property management, and everything had to have property labels, and every six months you'd have to do an inventory, all this, and then we had people from the Air Force down in Phoenix come up and inspect, and it was an irksome bunch of red tape, but that was part of it.
So this is a development after the Second World War?
When it changes radically?
Yes, right. Yes.
I forget the dates on the records, but it sounds as if you were doing this a perhaps a little bit before '53, because I think V. M. retired in '54.
And you were actually doing the title executive officer in '53, but maybe you were doing the job earlier?
Yes. I've forgotten now exactly, but yes, it was many years, and it was kind of—I was kind of eased into it in many ways, and probably not all at once said, "you're this or that." It just kind of evolved, let's put it that way.
OK. I'd like to go back a little because I wondered what the effect of the war was on the observatory, how it played into the operations and the staffing.
Yes. Right. Well, you see, at that time, there were only the three older men and myself, and of course at that time I had to register. I was at Berkeley, and registered for the draft with the Berkeley Draft Board. Even though I'm sure I put down my residence was Flagstaff and Lowell Observatory, the clerks over there goofed it up and my registration was never transferred to Arizona, and so I was always under the Berkeley Draft Board. I'm trying to think, I think I was called or something, and also they had a blanket thing that any family person working in a research institution had a high deferment probability, or something, I don't know. But anyway, along came another document, before I ever went to get a physical, that I was deferred for the time being, anyway, and that's the way it went. I volunteered to get into the Navy, wanted to get into the Navy. At that time I was 19 pounds underweight and had bad eyesight and they were very particular. Of course, that was the beginning of the war. Then later I never tried again. But I still hadn't gained the extra pounds to be at the minimum. You wouldn't think so now!
I wonder what it did to contracts, for example, if there was war work taken on at the observatory?
Yes. I think we tried. And you see, Adel was asked to do more work. In fact, that's what he did do. He went over to White Sands. And he will tell you in detail, I have it written down, but I think if you're going to talk to him, he'll tell you about that, and he can tell you exactly what he was doing. And that could have been done here just as well. In fact, much better. Everything was here already. But the senior staffs wouldn't go for it, and as I say, it was a personality matter. The older men did not like Adel, and he'll probably tell you some surprising things about E. C. E. C. Slipher, you see, was on the draft board here, and I think he practically told Art that if he didn't find some place else to go, why, E. C. would take some actions. But I'll let him tell you that.
OK. I just wondered if in fact during the war it was still largely business as usual at the observatory, or whether there were in fact war contracts undertaken.
Well, certainly the older men didn't. I tried to do some things like make slide rules with current positions of stars on it, so that if somebody got lost at sea, they could take sightings with it and find roughly their latitude and longitude. I think I sent some things in, but never heard much of it, so it was a pretty weak war effort, let's put it that way. Of course, I worked civically. That is, I was on the committee to gather, I don't know how many, tons and tons of scrap metal. We worked till our backs were sore, plus, all that. We were always doing something like that, as an extra thing. But there wasn't much you could do in Flagstaff because we had no defense industries. We had nothing of that kind. So that was that.
I was wondering if there was any kind of consulting on optical instruments.
No. Surprisingly not. No. There wasn't anyone really here that had ever designed anything new or done anything. If they did, it was with the older men, and I never knew about it. I don't know anything about it.
OK. There was one member of the observatory staff we haven't mentioned at all so far, and I know you've written about him. Just for the sake of the tape, I'll read this in. This is from the JOURNAL OF ARIZONA HISTORY, summer of 1985, and this is an article on Stanley Sykes by Henry Giclas. Sykes seems to have been an indispensable person at the observatory.
—yes, he was a very remarkable person. He had great ability to conceive and execute equipment. As mentioned in the article, his father was a great artist in England, and he inherited that artistic ability, but he also had a very astute mechanical ability, and he could conceive and actually design and build something without drawing it. In other words, if someone would come down and tell him they needed a piece of equipment that would do this or that, he would do it, and he built dozens and dozens of spectrographs for V. M. V. M. was always trying a different kind of a spectrograph, and of course he built the spectrographs that went down to the South Pole with Byrd for aurora and night sky mission observations and well, you'd have to go up in the attic, and you'll find probably ten or fifteen old carcasses of spectrographs that V. M. experimented with and worked with. And of course Stanley Sykes built all of those. He built the radiometers.
He did not build the thermocouples that Lampland used, but he built the double slide plate holders that were all used on the 40-inch. He built the planetary, the second and third planetary, cameras for Lampland and then E. C. later, and then the radiometers with the filter disks in them, and some of those filter disks were water cells, you know. They were water cell transmission. He built all of those, and he built measuring engines. He built the spectrophotometer that was used down here, and oh, all kinds of different things. He built a Stetson type photometer for me, and then later a photoelectric photometer, and then of course one of the beautiful things he built was the spectrometer for Adel up there, and the spectrometer that should have gone onto the telescope. Those are all here. Well, you look, if you go in the old instrument morgue, you'll find just about everything. He and his brother came here in 1886, and of course in 1894 they met Lowell, and it was really his older brother that first started working for Lowell.
And then when Red, his older brother, decided to go to Tucson to the Desert Lab, Stanley was still up here in northern Arizona and so when Red Sikes left he said, "Well, my brother will take care of things," and sure enough. He was the one that stayed around, and though he worked, I would say, not full time, but he'd work for several months at a time from oh, say 1896 to 1910 or so, but after 1910, there's paychecks almost every month for Stanley Sykes for the rest of his life, till he died. So he was a fine instrument maker, and of course, had a great sense of humor. He was a great friend of Percival Lowell's and A. E. Douglass, the astronomer that Lowell brought out here in 1894. Douglass really ran the observatory till the turn of the century, and then he became a probate judge here, then went down to the University of Arizona and got the money for the 36-inch I guess and started the Stewart Observatory. Then he went into dendrochronology and the tree rings, and made himself famous by dating things with tree rings.
So if someone wanted a spectrograph or something worked on or changed, it was to Stanley Sikes that he would go?
Yes. Right. And I think—well, you see, he built the first UBV photometers in the early fifties for Johnson, and the first photometer I used on the solar variation project about that time, so he built all of these things.
You point out that he was active almost until the—
—yes, he was actually on the payroll at age 91 and would work two or three days a week up here at that age, which is remarkable.
You mentioned the amount of time people would spend working. I wonder if in effect there was an official six day week that you worked?
Well, we worked Monday through Saturday, yes. And Lampland of course actually put in the most hours. That didn't mean that he accomplished more than say V. M. or the others, but he was always here, 8:30 or 9 in the morning, and he'd go to lunch and then at 6 o'clock he'd go home to dinner, 7:30 he'd be back, and 10:30 or 11 he'd go home, or later, and this was every day except days that he would be working at the telescope, and then of course he'd work whatever it took at night, if it was a few hours or all night or whatever it was, and if it was all night for maybe two or three nights, then he wouldn't be in till noon or so. He barely got enough sleep then, I think. A Census taker come up, and I've forgotten exactly but I think he told her how many hours he worked a week. It was 70 or 80 hours. She wouldn't believe him, you know. "That's not right, you couldn't work that—." And so he started counting up, and I'm sure that was true, that he worked that many hours. He was a fiend for being around and he would also be up Sundays. There were problems about that among the staff too, in this sense, that we were always afraid of fire hazard on Sunday. Of course we were always around Saturday. But Lampland wanted to make a list and let all the senior members plus the junior members each Sunday take their turn to be around to watch for forest fires. Well, of course, the younger people did. There wasn't any choice. And Lampland always did. But the Sliphers would never pay any attention to it. They'd go off and leave the place alone, and this used to concern Lampland. He was very conscientious and he would see that there was someone here before he ever left the hill, which meant that many, many Sundays, he was here, and of course I don't think he wanted to particularly go any place, but he resented the other people not taking their turns at fire watch. And that was a little local source of irritation.
I can imagine. We touched on, one or two times, the kind of changes after the war, at the observatory.
You mentioned that they were very much in a way driven by the trustee.
I wonder how you saw those changes develop and come about?
Well, they came about first, I think, through economics. To keep alive and keep going, we had to expand and get some outside money in, because there just wasn't enough earnings in the trust. It was through Harry Wexler, who was I think at that time the head of the Weather Bureau, that this idea came up of applying meteorological techniques to what you could observe on the planets in planetary atmospheres. It was the Weather Bureau that first supported this project, and then the Office of Naval Research, I think, ONR thought it was a good idea, and I believe they came in. On the other hand, then it was the Air Force. The Air Force Research Center, and I can't think of it, I have to look at the contracts.
Yes, right, Cambridge. Then they came in it and I think our fiscal agent was out of Rome, New York, I believe. Of course the planetary atmosphere thing expanded, and that's when oh, there was Blackenar? Shapiro there was—well, we'd have to look at those reports. Seymour Hess. People like that. Hans Panofsky. Those people all came, and worked for a year or two or so, and then of course we got into the sustaining program, the solar variation one, which was to try to investigate the constancy of the sun's light in the visible spectrum. It was really to try to corroborate Abbott's work on the solar constant which of course involved a temperature measurement really. We got into that, and that kept refining itself because when we started that, there were not even resistors for stepping down accurate magnitude ranges that were stable to temperature changes.
The cells were very subject to temperature fluctuations, and there were all kinds of problems. We had no way of calibrating them, and so the early work was really not very good, and there was a lot of hardship and bad feeling about that. I inherited it, not because I wanted to but because I was the only one, and Johnson, Harold Johnson, was brought here to do that. Of course if anyone knew Harold, you'd know, as I mentioned in the article, Sykes told him that he was twice as old before as he was before he thought he knew everything, you know. Well, anyway, Johnson had started out on the solar variation, and then he got fed up with the place here. He didn't like it, so he decided to quit and leave, but the deal was that he was to build a photometer. He had enough electrical engineering, he was supposed to be a specialist in this, and so he was going to design an alternating current amplifier that was much more stable than any kind of a DC amplifier, and it was built here, and I inherited it. Johnson never tested it, and I worked with it for almost a year and couldn't make it work, and I'd be in correspondence with him, call him up, all this.
Well, it never worked. And of course the Air Force was breathing on my neck, because there were no results coming, nothing to report except the photometer didn't work. Oh, it was tough on me. It was the nearest I ever came I think to having a nervous breakdown, because I didn't know enough about the techniques of circuitry to be able to see what was fundamentally wrong with it. Well, after a year or so, we backed Johnson into a corner and he finally admitted, well, he didn't think the thing would ever work. And so then under his design we built a DC amplifier and then the work got started. That new amplifier worked after a fashion, but again we did not have any calibration, and so we were looking for say half or a third of one percent variation in light. Well, we could do maybe one percent but we couldn't get down to the finer points, to that precision, with that instrument. It was not till much later, when Bob Hardy came, that Bob and I designed another one. Bob Hardy had worked with some of these people that had built photometers—I'm trying to think who it was. It might have been Whitford, somebody. Anyway, each year the precision and the reliability of these photometers got better, and we got standards, and then of course Johnson came back to the employ of the observatory. And then he was instrumental in getting the 21-inch mirror mounted on the old 15-inch, and it was with that that he did the standard UBV stars all over the sky, when he and Knuckles and some of the others worked on that.
But that was separate, and it was after that that I think Hardy and then later the person that did the polarization work from Poland, Sirkowsky, came, and then they conceived the idea of bringing along a series of solar type comparison stars along the path of Uranus and Neptune and testing them for the constancy of their light. In other words, it was a kind of a differential thing. Well, this was just the evolution of thought and technique and photoelectric excellence, you might say, as it came along. So I was sorry if we wasted Air Force money for a year or two there, but it was in the early stages before we had ways of calibrating and putting these things on a precision basis, to do better say than Abbott did. And now of course Wes Lockwood here has gone on with that, and it's still supported, so we're looking at 30, 35 years of this one program still going on.
I guess the Carnegie Image Tube project also got started here in the late fifties?
Yes, right, that's right, yes. That was a joint commission, Merle Tuve and Bill Baum, and that came here, of course, yes. The 24-inch Morgan reflector was brought here for that purpose, for testing image tubes.
I wonder what the Air Force's interest was in the constancy of the sun?
Well, I think it was long range weather forecasting. To be sure whether it played a part in long range weather forecasting, and whether there were other effects like that. I think that's why they maintained the Climax and other solar observatories, you know, for studying prominences and the effect on the atmosphere, things of that kind.
Right, and also the interest in applying meteorological techniques to the planets.
OK. I've come across a reference to a project which seemed to involve tracking the flight of V-2s.
Which Clyde Tombaugh was involved with—I don't know whether that was a major institutional commitment to that project?
There were two projects. I don't think Tombaugh had the V-2, the rocket thing. That came again from an Air Force project. We were given the job to try to observe any rockets leaving White Sands. It was at that time very secret, and there was a folded telescope that we took up on Mt. Elden and we also had other devices mounted on the 24-inch up here, and we were told exactly where to point, and when to observe, and all this, and then there was someone here that picked up the film and took it away, so we never knew whether anything came of that. The other thing that Tombaugh was interested in, or one of them, was natural satellites, that were within the moon's orbit and beyond the moon. That was a project with the Schmidt telescope attached, I think it was the lower Schmidt that we had attached on the 13-inch mounting, plus a couple of aerial cameras, and those were used for tracking in a certain way, and then examining those for any objects that might be there. Well, to my knowledge, none were ever found. But that went on for a couple of years, I think, two or three years. Yes, and it was Tombaugh's project back there. He was the chief person. I was the one that executed it out here, and the observers were here. That's when Capen and Brad Smith and some of those people were in residence here and worked out here with it, and examined the images and all of that.
So these sorts of activities, after the war, are very different than those before the war.
Did it also mean a heavy administrative load on you, administering these various contracts that are coming in, keeping those moving?
Yes. We had quite a few contracts at that time, and then we also had a supplementary one with the Office of Naval Research for some things going on out at the Naval Observatory too, so there was all of that.
Right, and I've also seen a reference to, this might be a very short-lived attempt, but a reference to some sort of joint relationship with the Smithsonian and Harvard at one point.
I used to work fairly closely with Brian Marsden. Brian was kind of like Leland Cunningham. If there were any problems, why, he'd always ask me to see if I couldn't verify a comet before he'd stick his neck out, you know. But that was just on a personal affair. It wasn't anything formal that I know of.
This was a letter that was sent to Putnam in 1956, and this came from Menzell.
He said, "Thank you for your letter of November 2nd. I just happened to run into Mac at a cocktail party. I gave him a briefing when he told me that you were trying to get in touch with him about something." And he goes on and talks about an association between Lowell, the Smithsonian and Harvard, to provide the staff rotation, stimulation, association with other minds, fresh outlook and on and on. And this seemed to be floating the possibility of some sort of closer connection between these institutions. I wonder if that rings any bells.
Only, I think I remember kind of the discussion, and I'm sure the older men were not at all in favor, because they were never Donald Menzel fans. There were certain things happened about Menzel, when he came by here, and they felt he was prying into a lot of things, and so there was a kind of a barrier up about that, and I know that there was something else. Putnam was in communication with Menzel, and the older men were not in sympathy at all with it.
This is '56. And I guess V. M. was retired...
Yes. Well, yes, that may have been later, yes. Well, nothing came of that.
We were just talking about the possibility of a link between Lowell Observatory and Harvard. Also, about the infusion of new staff that was coming in in the 1950s. I'm thinking of, for example, Gerard de Vaucouleurs.
Right, yes. This was after the old barriers were broken down, and there was an imminent change in directors, and about the time John Hall came. With a new director, the entire situation changed, of course, in the sense that it went from a private closely controlled personal observatory to a real research institution, I would say. It began, you know, as an amateur's dream, and was a hobby of Percival Lowell, and of course I'm sure that he would approve and wanted it to be a real research institution, and not a private retirement place for some of his people that he had here. I'm sure he didn't intend for it to be, and it finally came of age.
So this you think is a profound shift that occurred?
Yes. Yes. The profound shift came into being then.
Now, I've seen a letter from somebody called Albert G. Wilson.
I'm going to have to do a lot more research on this and it's something I don't really know very much about, but was he a kind of acting director between Slipher and John Hall?
Yes. He was appointed director.
He was appointed director.
Right. I think that Mr. Putnam told V. M. Slipher and Lampland that it was now time to have a new director, and so the older men had to resolve themselves into that. I think there were quite a few suggestions made, and it was very difficult for Roger Putnam to put the old men out to pasture, in other words, because he'd been with them so long, and they were entrenched in certain ways, so I think he decided anyway that he could get a new director in here who would be all right. The way this director was chosen was that: John C. Duncan was a great friend of V. M.'s and Lampland's, and being an old alumnus of Indiana, Duncan used to go to Mt. Wilson each summer, and you know, made long exposures with the 60-inch on nebulae and other things.
I'm sure that V. M. discussed the thought of a new director with Duncan, and Duncan said, well, there was a very pleasant young man that he would see walking down the halls at Caltech and at Mt. Wilson, and thought he might be a good person. Well, that's as much as Duncan knew about Wilson. You see, Wilson was in charge of doing the Palomar Atlas. That was his job. And so he made that suggestion to V. M., and of course V. M. and Lampland didn't know anyone any better, so probably the next time Putnam came, why, this might be an acceptable person. So you can guess that Putnam was so happy that they would accept anybody that that was just fine with him. So they got Al Wilson to come over, and it was a transition time, and Wilson of course had absolutely no rapport with people. He had no definite ideas of what should be done at an observatory anyway, you see. So again, he was forced in from the outside, and that's when the original Air Force and other programs came in, and that's how Harold Johnson came and all that, so that was the beginning. Then Wilson would hire some people that just were not competent in any way, which generated an awful lot of friction and probably I made as much friction as anybody, resisting some of these newcomers that were not astronomers or anything of that kind. So after a year or so, he was having some marital problems and all, and that thing kind of blew up. But he was the appointed director for, it must have been a year or two years, I don't know, something on that order, till John Hall came.
So Wilson resigned?
That's right, yes.
But he was in there in place in effect because of the pressure of the trustee to go on to—
—I think the trustee was so glad that the older men would accept anyone to come in and be the new director, that that's how it came about.
Yes, because I guess V. M. must have been about 79 by that time.
Yes, by that time, and I'm sure there might have been considerations of Donald Menzel or somebody like that, and those would be the ones that they would blow up about, you see. So I don't know, I'm just guessing. This is pure supposition, from remarks that were made about certain other people, and I think there are letters in the files here where some of those people wanted jobs here, and they even wrote to V. M. for positions here.
It sounds as if the astronomers had a remarkable degree of power, because one thinks of a trustee in relationship to an institution, that it's the trustee who would be running things, whereas here it seems to be much more that the astronomers were in charge, but Mr. Putnam is trying to move things in these new directions.
Was that the impression you had?
Yes, it would be more indirect than direct. Of course, he had the power, in terms of the will. He could have dismissed anyone at any time, and changed things around. But I don't think he wanted to get into the daily operation of an observatory. He was a busy man, you know. He was an Economic Stabilizer under President Truman, after the war, and settled the coal strikes with the coal union, and then of course he was the mayor of Springfield for many years, and then he ran for governor of Massachusetts against Saltonstall, and that all took time, you see. So he really didn't have a lot of time to spend on the day to day operations of an observatory, besides running Package Machinery Company back there in East Longmeadow, Mass.
So he wouldn't have very much to do with the day to day operations.
—at the observatory itself. One person we haven't talked about really in any detail is Mrs. V. M. Slipher. The impression I got from the reminiscences was that people seemed to be quite fond of her.
Yes. Yes, she was a very, very nice and kind person. She was an ex-school teacher from New York, I think. Munger was her name. Emma Munger. And she was very, very dignified, very cultured, very well-informed, and was a real, you might not say leader, but she was very highly regarded in Flagstaff. She was a member of the Women's Club. She was on the Library Board. She and Mrs. Lampland both were members of the DAR, and were officers in it, both local and state officers, and she was active in the church group, I think, in supporting various things they were doing. And of course, a beautiful housekeeper, and I think she did a great job raising the two kids. They were very fond of her. They weren't too fond of their father. But he was a very nice person. They lived well. They both lived very simple and healthy life, let's put it that way, because V. M. of course was a good old farm boy, so he was quite frugal, and so was Mrs. Slipher, and of course in the early days, we didn't have anything, so you just automatically became that way, you know, and it's probably bad in later years that V. M. was really very, very generous in many ways with helping his students. He gave some students many thousands of dollars to go ahead and do their university work, and I'm sure he never got any of it back. But he was always very good that way. And he didn't have a reputation for being very generous around town, with his many tenants. You know, he had a lot of rental houses, and things would go wrong, they'd ask him to fix them and he'd say "Yes, I'll fix them," but he never quite got around to sending anybody around to do it, so—Yes, he was very nice. Of course, my wife lived with the Sliphers for a year before we were married. She was the secretary here, and lived at the V. M. Slipher house here on the hill.
So Mrs. Slipher was a well known figure in Flagstaff?
Yes. Yes, she was a very fine person, and very attractive looking. Of course, she was an older lady, but she kept herself very trim and nice and was very pleasant always.
This is a kind of over-arching question, I guess, one that again we touched on at a few points, but that's the influence of Percival Lowell after his death on the observatory. How was he regarded by the staff—particularly by Slipher and the older members of the staff? Because it seems that the research programs that they pursued were very much the ones that they'd been given or worked on during Lowell's life.
And then they very resolutely stuck to those lines of research.
Pretty much. Of course, the things that V. M. did later of course was trying to extend the spectrum of the planets into the longer wavelengths. He did all the night sky work on the aurora, persistent aurora bands and all that. That was all done long after Percival Lowell died, you know. And let's see—there were several other things that he worked on. But—
I was thinking that the main orientation still remains towards the planets.
Which makes the institution fairly unique.
Right, yes. Well, you remember the placque over the fireplace that says, "Specially the study of the solar system," so I think they felt that they owed or should emphasize the solar system.
So that was in effect their charge?
I think that they regarded it as that, yes. Yes, and then I think that of course was the moving thing behind going ahead and trying to find Planet X, going, building the 13-inch and all that. You see, that was entirely Lampland and V. M.; E. C. said you'd never find it. He discouraged them. But the two older men stuck to it, and actually, the older men were going to examine all the plates, and they found it was just too much of a job, and that's when Tombaugh happened to step in. But they actually blinked the first bunch of plates, and they were going to do it, but when they saw what a monumental task it was, they decided that they would let somebody else do it.
Did V. M. or Lampland ever talk about Lowell with you?
Well, Lampland did, a lot. He was always quoting Lowell, and what Lowell would think about this, or if Lowell was here this would be it, and he was much closer to Lowell than Slipher and really, I think, venerated Percival Lowell, because he felt he was a great personality and a very competent research person. And V. M. didn't stand in awe of Percival Lowell like Lampland did, and I'm quite sure if V. M. didn't believe that Lowell was right in asking him to do something, he would tell him, and they would discuss it, whereas I think Lampland would just blindly do anything that Percival Lowell asked him to do. There was that difference, and just from the stories that Sykes has told me, that sometimes Lowell kind of enjoyed giving Lampland a bad time about things, just because he was so conscientious and—
Just to tease him?
Just to tease him, exactly, yes. But he did not do that with V. M.
I wonder about V. M.'s physical vigor in later years? Because again, the Bill Hoyt memoir—
—yes, the story, oh—
—going climbing with them.
Yes, he had a remarkable physique, and he never, of course, he didn't smoke or drink, and—
He was a teetotaller?
Yes. I don't think he was against it for any religious reason whatsoever. I think he just felt it was something he didn't need in his life, and it cost money and he never, never got around to it, even though Lowell, you know, would ply these boys with whatever they'd like. And we had the old wine cellar, you know, over in the old house. It was left stocked beautifully. But it was Lampland that parcelled out the liquor out of the old wine cellar, and every—oh, Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving, he'd go down in the cellar and pick out a bottle and bring it down to the house and say, "Here's something out of Lowell's cellar, would you like to have this?" But V. M., never did, he wouldn't touch it, didn't want it, didn't care about it. But he didn't care about other people having it. Didn't matter in the least. But he—many times, Bernice tells me, on Sunday nights, V. M. would have just bread and milk with a little sugar.
Take fresh bread that Mrs. Slipher had baked, put it in milk, that would be his supper, you see. But we went on, we'd go on picnics, observatory picnics, and I remember several times, one time in particular we went to Sunset Crater out here. It's oh, probably 300 feet high, something like that, very loose cinders all the way up, and I'm trying to think of the year this was. Probably 1940 or before maybe. Anyway, he and Bernice had a race going up that hill. Those two people climbed that 300 feet in 20 minutes, they were on the top—we timed them from the bottom. I sat down and watched them. And V. M. right up there. Of course, did you read Bill Hoyt's story about going up on the peaks, he and I and Mohler, and V. M. was always ahead of us, and I was having a hard time huffing and puffing keeping up. I was 30 years younger or more. So he was in great shape. I don't think he actively tried to be in good shape. It was part of his living, that's all.
Yes. He just did it. Yes. And of course, he lived to a pretty ripe old age.
Did he talk much interest in the observatory in the years after he'd retired?
Well, that was a very unfortunate situation. I don't know why—this is something that John Hall did after he became director. John Hall decided that he would look in to see whether it was Mrs. Shane at Lick who had measured the first radial velocities of the spirals and I don't know where he got this idea. I have no idea. But he got this idea and he talked it over with people at the American Astronomical Society and all, and it got back to V. M., and he felt that John Hall was trying to discredit him for the work he had done, and V. M. was very bitter. He wrote the trustee letters and he tried to have John Hall fired as director because of it, and it was very unfortunate. There was no basis for it. And it was some obscure reference that Hall had found some place, but he made the mistake of telling too many people that he was looking into this and all that stuff. It really upset V. M., and as a result of that, the observatory lost much, much good will and much money. I think V. M. would have given the balance of his estate back to the Observatory, and as you know, he set up two or three scholarships, and it was a very bad situation. What happened was that Al Wilson's wife, after they were divorced, became V. M.'s secretary, and housekeeper, you might say, and all, and he gave her lots of money. He told me he gave her several hundred thousand dollars. And then that evidently didn't seem to be enough, so Francis Wilson and her boy-friend and an unscrupulous lawyer got together and changed his will. Of course, he had made the will and had cut the observatory out of it, but he'd left most of the money to the National Academy of Science to begin with, and the American Academy, for certain things. It was a beautiful will. And then these usurpers came in. They change all of that and they try to plunder everything out of the estate, and I won't say on tape what actually took place, but if John Hall had been a little more understanding and all, I'm sure that V. M. would have left everything as an endowment for the use of the observatory. That's just one of the things that happened.
So he was bitter towards the observatory because of this?
Yes. And you can see he was a bit bitter about the trustee, because the trustee didn't for once do what he said, and so that's what estranged him from the observatory. And it's unfortunate that it did happen.
You mentioned earlier about V. M.'s modesty. I wonder if he ever spoke to you about what he thought of as his main achievements, as the most important things that he'd done? Did he ever discuss Lowell's position relative to other observatories? For example, did he ever discuss how well Lowell was able to compete with Lick and Wilson? (we touch on this a bit on p. 100).
I've never known him to ever discuss with anyone what he had done. You'd have to ask him and draw it out. And I know there was a writer from LIFE MAGAZINE came, and the LIFE MAGAZINE writer, after half a day, finally got him to talk a little bit, but she knew more about what he had done than he could remember, I think. He was very modest. I never, never heard him say, "Well, I did that," or "I did that first" or anything like that. Never. You'd have to look it up. In fact, I found out these things only by reading other texts. It was never anything from him. He was just that way. There was some discussion about the programs at other observatories, the capabilities and the reasons they undertook, for example, to confirm or refute V. M.'s water vapor work on Mars. There was always the feeling of defensiveness that carried over from early Percival Lowell days. They knew and always strived to do first class work that would be above criticism.
So never boastful?
No, he never tried to impress anyone. Never. And this was true with everyone. The only real heated arguments I ever heard him have is with Lundmark about the direction of rotations of spirals. They would get into this, and of course, I think Lundmark thought they were winding out and he thought they were winding in, or something like that, or vice versa, I've forgotten which was on which side. But they were quite congenial, went to dinner together, went every place when he was here, but there was this, and they'd sit together for an hour looking at spiral nebula pictures and spectrograms and stuff, and V. M. would try to convince him, you see. I don't know how it came out. I don't think it came out. Didn't change either of them, either one's mind.
I also think that if he thought a result was accurate, then he had no problem about sending it to other people to use in their computations. Rather than publish it himself.
Right. Yes. Well, you see what he did with the cluster work, and I'm sure he sent Hubble a lot of velocities that I'm not sure he ever published. I don't know. But yes, he was pretty generous about that. Of course, he was very much defensive with Wright, the director at Lick, because Wright was so critical of Lowell's work, you know. There was quite a bit of that with W.W. Campbell, they were both spectroscopists, and even though they wrote to each other, they were pretty much at swords' points because there were certain disagreements. You have to look in the correspondence and see about that, but I know they didn't trust each other, let's put it that way. He felt that they were out to discredit the observatory, and this goes back to what you say, why they weren't aggressive, and why they wanted to be so very sure of what they were doing. It was mainly the people at Lick that were questioning some of the things.
There was a dispute on content of water vapor on Mars.
Right, especially that, yes.
I wonder about general relationships with other observatories, whether there was a kind of sense of friendly competition, or sense of cooperation, exactly how that worked?
Yes. Well, the sense of cooperation was not very high. On the other hand, I think they felt like they were probably a bit ostracized. The Observatory was a specialty; it still carried over from Lowell, a private institution, and so that feeling of difference was always there, I think, that carried over, and kind of guided the destinies of things, I would say.
That they had a certain charge to fulfill and they were different from these other kinds of observatories, Mt. Wilson or Lick or Harvard or whatever?
Yes. Yes, and they felt that some other observatories had certain advantages about doing certain things, and it was fine, that was fine, but they didn't want to attempt to be in that field here, which you can see, there wasn't the funds to do it at all.
So this would be due to size of telescopes and the basic equipment? That sort of thing?
I think I've covered most of the specific items I've got, except there was one on the Planetary Data Center. I was interested in how that had come about. For example, I wonder if Roger Putnam was involved in that too.
Fairly closely. It really came up, I think, at the IAU meeting in Berkeley. I think Kuiper and some of the other planetary people were wanting access, let's put it that way, to the vast library of planetary photographs. They thought one way to do it would be to propose this International Cooperation and this International Planetary Repository. Of course, they knew they couldn't get any plates away from Lowell, so they did it the other way around, suggested that it be done here, which was probably a very smart thing to do, and of course, for that reason it came to pass, and that of course was NASA's baby, and NASA finally came through with the physical facility to house an International Collection. That's the building over there, and I think that was very helpful, and really kept Lowell in the forefront of planetary research.
So this is part of this process of transition, in a way?
That we talked about, from a private institution to a research—
—right, exactly, yes. Yes, and of course, you know, the funny thing is, you go way back, I think you'll find among V. M.'s letters, there's a letter to either Professor Miller or somebody where he had the idea of bringing the Perkins telescope out here, 15 years, 20 years before Hall came here. So this was a seed that V. M. planted, probably in Putnam's ear, years ago, and of course it didn't come to pass till John Hall came.
That I think comes '58, '59?
Yes. About in there.
Right, because I think, was there an initial doubt about where to put the 69-inch?
It was a 69-inch, yes. It wasn't till we got new optics several years later, after it was moved here, that it's aperture was fixed—it came as a 69-inch, and the mirror was so badly pitted from repeated silverings and the acid and reducer on it that it scattered light very badly, and it was not the low expansion glass, either, so it was through another grant from NSF that a new primary mirror was put in there.
I wonder about the decision about where to site the 69-inch, where to put it, whether or not it could have been on Mars Hill or ?
Well, yes, we tried quite a few sites. We carried on site surveys for several years. Many of them probably are as good but were harder of access. We had towers for making seeing studies on Polaris, and measuring temperatures and all. Out here on 180 on the road to the Grand Canyon, was a lower altitude. You went up over 8000 and then you started dropping down again, and there were some hills in there that looked pretty good, and we tried those. We tried places out toward Cosnino out to the east. I think Johnson was all gung-ho for trying to put something up on the Oak Creek Road just above on one of those mountains, and same way with the eastern part. The highway, you could see the highway lights and all from there. We thought about Woody Mountain out here, and of course the Naval Observatory was already there, so that seemed to be an easily accessible place, and was on a mesa where you have the same downflow and the seeing should be good, so that was the site that was chosen, mainly because it was close to town and if we had gone out on the road to the Grand Canyon on 180, you would have had to build living quarters and have somebody out there, whereas here we're practically in the line of sight. You can get out there in 15 minutes. So that was the decision that was made.
Before reaching the end, I definitely want to talk to you about the proper motion survey you became involved in. That seemed to go on for around a decade.
Yes. Well, it was about 23 years. Yes. 23 years I think. Yes. Well, it was to try to find a good use for the first epoch plates, besides getting all the minor planets off, and Edmondson and I both were hoping to maybe get the variable stars off of it, but there were so darned many of them that it was just impossible to mark all of them and do all that, so then we looked at proper motions. And I did the first experiments by putting a reticule in the eye piece that was calibrated, just took a calibration and reduced it to the size that could go in the focal plane there, and with position angle on it, of course, and that was the first experiment. It showed that you could measure proper motions, and then of course there was a question of refining that. In fact, I think the first one or two plates were blinked with the eye piece reticule and measured. Then of course we went in and asked for a National Science Foundation grant, first for a projection blink, a Ridell blink, which was '67. The NSF gave us the funds.
Well, of course it took about a year to build it and get it here and get it started. And then of course I started it directly, blinking the first several plates, I forget how many, and had a college student part time that would blink, blink and also measure, and we just decided that it was much better to do it in tandem than try to let one person do it, because you'd miss so many, and I think in the first publication we compared how many had been missed by one person and found by the other, and so forth, to try to get a statistical handle on how many we'd missed with two blinkers and so forth. And then NSF decided to fund it a little better, and we got the money for two full time assistants and one part time. It never paid my salary. Mine always came from the original endowment, because even at that time I was still doing the executive work for the observatory. And of course we went on and covered the Northern Hemisphere, and then went partly into the Southern Hemisphere.
When I first started, there were less than 100 white dwarfs known. I think there were much less. And of course we found 1,500 or more with the program, and many other interesting objects. That is a story in itself, all the interesting objects. Of course, all we did was point them out, and then it was other disciplines that went in and found the magnetic stars, the helium emission stars, the first helium emission star by Mrs. Burbidge, and there were all kinds of firsts, and then of course, Greenstein and Egan took it up, Egan doing the UBV and Greenstein the spectra of the dwarfs, which really got things going, and I think the success of it was mainly making the finding charts. That was the greatest impetus, that it was done. Of course it also helped Luyten and if you ever want an interesting vitriolic person—somebody trying to give someone else problems—I'll show you some of Luyten's letters and work, and my replies. Of course he tried to have me thrown out of both the IAU and the American Astronomical Society, and fortunately all my good colleagues would send me verbatim what he had written to them.
Was this because he thought he had priority on the—?
—he felt that that was his field, that no one else could be in there. I think it started this way. He wanted but he did not have plates from zero hours to six hours and from the Equator down about 10 degrees, and he wanted to borrow the plates from Lowell to do that, and we wouldn't let him, and I think that's what embittered him, really. Then of course what he has done, he's taken about 500 of the new motions that we first published, that had no references because he had not found them, no one had found them, he re-labelled them under his name, his numbers. That's what he got after me about, me putting the G numbers to identify them instead of using his numbers or somebody else's numbers. Well, we used his, we always referenced everything. There was never a single proper motion star that he found, that was not referenced to his credit, in the reference column. But since 40 percent of ours were new, well, we couldn't start out with LTT 458 and then have a G star next or something else, and it was only logical to put them in some kind of order, you see. He objected to this.
I'll give you a few pages of his correspondence if you want to look at it, because I don't think these are on record any place that I know of. There was Vasilevskis, there was Kaj Straand, there was Murray over in England, these were the people that he sent these things to, of course, so it was a sad situation, because we always referenced everything that he ever did, and if you just look at his list, go down his list and look at when it was published, and ours, for those same stars, were two or three years earlier, we had them all there, and we had no one to reference them to. But you see, he wanted everything in his numbers, so that's where they are. So I should be bitter but I'm not. Greenstein and others always told me, said, "Well, you've finally arrived, Luyten's after you." Straand said the same thing.
Everybody also suffered?
Yes, and I think Sandage the same thing. "Don't worry about it, you know you've arrived when Luyten"—you know, he's feuded with Egan, he's feuded with Greenstein, and you know the bad things he's said about Kopal and all that, and you see the regular publications won't publish it, they just won't—so he publishes it in the MINNESOTA BULLETIN, and of course no one is there to edit that for him or censor it or anything else, so he puts it in—and the one on Kopal was terrible. He calls him a warmongering something, I've forgotten, but oh, it's terrible. He's always after somebody. Well, anyway, we got the job done. There is still a little area below the equator we could have done. Lick of course is now tying proper motions to galaxies, which is going to be very useful, and they have used our lists to identify certain stars—they didn't measure every star, of course—to measure the more interesting stars, and I undertook at one time to try to make a bibliography of certain proper motion stars that were unique and interesting and unusual, and had certain physical qualities, but it became such a big job, there were so many of them, that I just gave up after a while. But I still enjoy going back and looking at some of those early magnetic dwarfs and all that have been found as a result of just finding nearby low luminosity stars.
So in the research that you've done, where would you place the proper motion study? Would that be the most important?
Oh, I would think so, yes. I'd put the earth crossing, earth orbit crossing minor planets in kind of the same category as you would Pluto, as one of those chance things that come along when you're doing something else. They're very interesting objects and they were sought for, and this was long before Shoemaker got into looking for those very near things with the 18-inch Schmidt over there at Palomer.
So these are Apollo asteroids.
Yes, these are Apollo and Eros, other types. They're just outside the earth's orbit's perihelion or, some of them even touch inside the earth's orbit, come within the earth's orbit, like Anza and some of the others.
Just referring back to another part of the conversation today, I guess the study of the proper motions in a way is developing from that start you had with Lampland on positional astronomy?
OK. Now I come to the most important question that I will ask is: Have I omitted sections that I should have talked about, or issues we haven't talked about? It's always hard to answer this—sometimes it's a lot easier with a transcript in front of you.
I don't know. I've forgotten all the things we've talked about already. If you can think of something else, or if I can—I'd have to think about it, to see if there are other aspects of things. I don't think I should personally or particularly go around digging up any things that weren't a great credit, you might say, to what went on here. Those will probably come out some way, some time. They don't need to be singled out, I wouldn't think.
Well, as I say, it's actually a lot simpler when you see the transcript. If there are important areas that you think I have omitted, sections, scientific research or—
I don't think there are important things. I think they are probably a lot smaller but they show just what you were trying to find out, the attitude, the scientific life in the early days and how it evolved into another institution. Well, there are many, many things that happened here, even before I got here, you know. There were personality clashes between certain people that were here. It was very hard to terminate them, because it was during the transition time between when Lowell died and before Putnam came in as a trustee, so it was hard to fire someone under those conditions, you know, and this created a lot of problems and friction for a while. There was a person by the name of Truman, I guess, that was a fairly competent person, but he gave everybody a lot of trouble, and here there were a lot of problems with that, before he was finally terminated.
That seems a very important period in the history of the observatory in many ways, because one might suppose it's also when for example, if Slipher was really going to follow through hard on the radial velocities, that would be the time to really press home the attack.
Right—yes. But you see, it was a turbulent time. And they never knew if they would be paid the next month, you know, so when you live under those uncertainties, it's hard to do scientific work. Yes, well, if you can think of anything, I'll be thinking of some things. And I'll—I think maybe after, you don't know yet when you're going to go see Adel? Yes, well, you may have some more questions of me after you've talked to him.
Well, thank you very much for your time. It's been terrific. I've learnt an enormous amount.
Well, it's not very scientific, but there's a lot of human nature in it.
Right, and it really helps me to make sense of the documents that I read, and one comes to the documents with a lot more informed opinion about what's going on, rather than just reading them cold, as it were, so this has been enormously helpful.
Yes, you can't always tell from a formal letter what's behind it.
J. S. Hall, “V. M. Slipher’s Trail-Blazing Career”, Sky and Telescope, 39 (1970): 84.
W. G. Hoyt, “Vesto Melvin Slipher 1875-1969.” Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, 52 (1980), 410-449.
W. G. Hoyt, “Vesto Melvin Slipher 1875-1969,” Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, 52 (1980): p. 413.