Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lost History?

Years ago the late Walter Cronkite had a TV series called You Were There. In the show important events from history were recreated but with modern reporters on hand to ask questions and bring the accounts to listeners (when it was on radio) and to viewers (when it was on TV). The first run of the series ended before I was born, but it came back in the early 70s on Saturday mornings and at least once I turned my head away from the Bugs Bunny Roadrunner Show to watch Walter Cronkite as he brought me back to 1609-10 and the discoveries Galileo made with his new telescope.

It was a great show and just perfect for me as I was already very interested in astronomy. The show attempted to capture and show in a modern format what could not have been captured as it happened.

Thankfully, in modern times we have many ways of recording history as it happens. It has been my pleasure working at Palomar to receive examples of this from the observatory's past. Many photos and other accounts have come my way in recent years and each of them is a treasure.

June 3, 1948 was the dedication of the 200" telescope, naming it for the late George Ellery Hale.

On the reviewing stand was Ira Bowen. In an oral history recorded 21 years later this is part of what he had to say about that day:

We had a thousand people seated on the main floor of the dome, with a speakers’ stand to the west. We could get in a thousand chairs, we found, on the main floor without using the balcony; and they were practically all filled.

The photographers were out in force that day and many fine photos of the day still exist and should continue to for years and years to come. But the photos taken that day reveal that moving pictures and audio recordings were made too. Where are they?

A closer look at the photo above reveals a movie camera on the observing floor pointed at the speakers' stand:

In a second photo you can see that there was also a movie camera on the catwalk:

Here's the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the California Institute of Technology, Mr. James R. Page, giving one of the speeches at Palomar on June 3, 1948:

In front of him are a few microphones, including one from KFI in Los Angeles. KFI was also on hand the day the 200-inch mirror made its way up Palomar Mountain. You can read about it here. One of the observatory's docents recently contacted KFI to see if any tapes remain from either event. It seems that they are quite likely lost.

KWKW from LA was also on hand and from this photo they obviously made a recording of the speeches given during the dedication.

Google tells me that they are now a Spanish language station. They have not yet been contacted, but who knows what may have been tossed out duirng the conversion.

I know that the producers of The Journey to Palomar documentary performed an extensive search and came up empty handed, but it may be that somone out there knows where some of these things are. If so, I would certainly love to be in contact with them.

It would be a terrible tragedy if they were recorded for history and then lost. The media was there. The people and their voices should be heard. Walter Cronkite would have wanted it that way.


Anonymous said...

The writer errs if he thinks that the purpose of these microphones, movie cameras, etc. were to record history. As they are from commercial media outlets, their only purpose was to attract audiences and thence advertisers. That function being complete, and having no further value, out "history" was tossed. All of "history" is doomed to such a fate under the present way society operates.


Scott Kardel said...

Perhaps I am naive.

Thankfully I think I have found someone who has a copy of a recording that was made a the dedication of the Hale Telescope. If so, we will hold on to that and allow others to experience that moment in time.