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What's Up in the Sky, August '09

posted Jul 20, 2009, 9:56 AM by Marvin Stewart
        Hildene, the retirement home of Robert Todd Lincoln, was completed in 1905. Situated on 500 acres near Manchester, Vermont,  it had 26 rooms and a formal garden that was made to look like a stained glass window, a pipe organ that has 1000 pipes and an observatory. Robert Lincoln, the oldest son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, had a life long interest in astronomy,  In 1908 he built a 14' round observatory,out of brick.  It had a wooden roof that was covered with canvas. Mr Lincoln situated it on a high point near his home. In it he placed a six inch refracting telescope made by Warner and Swasey for a purchase price $1,920.00.  The objective lens was made by John A. Brashear. I spoke with Brian Knight, the Curator of Hildene ,who gave me a brief history of the scope. It was made of brass, with a bright green finish and very unique for the time because it had a clock drive. Mr. Lincoln corresponded with many other astronomers and had a vast library.
        When he died in 1926, the telescope was donated to a local high school who built an observatory to house it. In the 1990's they returned the scope to Hildene in non working condition. In 2002 the scope was restored, except for the clock drive, and is now cared for by the Hildene Astronomy Club, which list 45 members. The observatory building at Hildene had been used as a smoke house after the scope was removed. It to has also been restored and again houses the scope, and it is open to visitors.
        Robert Lincoln didn't have the close relationship to his father that his younger brothers had. He may have gotten his interest in astronomy from him however. Abraham Lincoln had a real interest in astronomy. He sat on the front porch of Norman B. Judd, who was the Illinois State Republican Chairman, and his wife Adeline and talked about the mysteries of astronomy and discoveries that had been made since the invention of the telescope. He thought it was wonderful that scientist had measured miles of empty space and the distance to the stars. Oops, I forgot to mention the Judd's lived in Chicago.
        Having been born not far from Vandalia, Illinois, I have had pointed out to me several times a certain window at the old capitol building there. It is here that State representative Abraham Lincoln and Joe Gillespie and another fellow Whig jumped out of that window so there wouldn't be a quorum to take a vote on some issue. Joseph Gillespie was an attorney and judge from Madison County, Illinois, and President Lincoln invited him to come for a visit with the promise they would go to the observatory and look at the Moon. What observatory? My guess is, it was the U.S. Naval Observatory located on the Potomac River on "E" Street about six blocks west of the White House.  The observatory was relocated in 1877.
        Robert Todd Lincoln was present for three presidential assassinations. He did not go to Ford's Theater with his parents the night his father was shot, but he was in the room at the boarding house when his father died.  He was Secretary of War to James Garfield and was with him on the 6th Street Rail Road Station platform in Washington D. C. when he was shot. He would continue as Secretary of War under Chester Allen Arthur. Robert T. Lincoln was Ambassador to England under President McKinley and was invited to accompany him to the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, and was in the next room when McKinley was shot. His comment was " I guess they are going to stop inviting me to go places."
        Robert Lincoln was also an avid golfer.
        Mister and Mrs Brashear's ashes were placed in the base of the telescope of the Allegheny observatory, now the University of Pittsburgh. A simple plaque reads:
                                     Though our souls may set in darkness
                                     they will rise in perfect light.
                                     We have loved the stars to fondly
                                     to be fearful of the night.
       02    Look for Regulus 0.6 deg below Mercury very low in the western sky thirty minutes after sunset.
       05    Full Moon
       09    Saturn's rings are edge on
  11,12   Perseid meteor shower at it's peak
       13    First quarter Moon.
       14    The Moon passes through the Pleiades.  Jupiter at opposition
  16-18    At dawn the crescent Moon will be to the lower left of Mars, on the 17Th Upper right of Venus, on the 18Th The lower left of Venus.
        17   Saturn is about 3 deg above and right of Mercury low in the sky at sunset.
        20   New Moon
        26   The shadows of Europa and Ganymede will fall on Jupiter at the same time starting at 9:20CDT untill 12:12 p.m.
        27    First quarter Moon
        29    Mars less than a degree below M35 at dawn, can be seen with binoculars