Stargazing through the lens
During the Roaring Twenties when flappers stayed out late to dance, vendors sold alcohol in secret and buggies drove on bumpy terrain, Wally Everest and his Old Town Pump telescope spent hours together gazing into the sky.
In 1962, Everest passed away and left behind his beloved telescope. His family donated it to a private school in hopes it could be used in an observatory. Everest’s descendants later learned his prized scientific tool had been abandoned by the school. It was only visited when vandals came or someone needed a spare part. It was by then a lost telescope with a cracked lens.
The Everest family rescued their broken telescope from the school with hopes its voyage wasn’t yet complete. Everest’s son, Wallie Everest Jr., housed the telescope in his garage for more than 40 years. It was a treasure waiting to emerge, longing to view the stars again and to discover constellations in the sky above.
When Wallie Everest Jr. learned of the formation of the Adirondack Sky Center & Observatory, he saw a potential home for the telescope. In October of 2006, the Old Town Pump was moved to Clarkson University, in Potsdam, New York to be restored. A voyage of over 350 miles.
The Sky Center & Observatory, a small wooden shack with a 400 pound conveyor roof, is nestled amid the tall grasses of Tupper Lake. Volunteers at the center, a group of old-time buddies and lifelong friends, have become enthusiasts. On Friday nights, through Star Parties, the center offers an opportunity for visitors to be mesmerized by the moon, stars and planets.
Astronomer Gordie Duval’s interest in astronomy began around the age of 5. He recalls leaning against his father’s round top Chevy, searching the endless sky for traces of Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite launched into orbit by the Soviet Union in October 1957.
Today, he attempts to convey just how vast, open and truly unknown space is by talking about The Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation today.
“There were 10,000 galaxies in this one picture. Each of the galaxies contains billions of stars; there are planets around just about every star,” Duval says, pointing to a photograph taken by The Hubble Space Telescope. “There are hundreds of billions of stars in each of these 10,000 galaxies. But, the area of the sky they photographed is comparable to taking a grain of sand between your fingers.”
Tupper Lake is one of the few towns in New York that can boast an absence of light pollution, making it the perfect location for the center. Excessive light pollution can wash out the view for astronomers, waste energy and stunt astronomical research efforts.
Gib Brown, a professor at Clinton Community College and a retired NBC meteorologist of 30 years for Burlington, Plattsburgh and Montreal, explains the lack of light pollution in Tupper Lake.
“Tupper Lake, the community, has invested 20 years into making one-way directional lights— so the lights in Tupper Lake don’t produce a lot of light pollution,” he says. “If you drive into Tupper Lake from any direction, you won’t realize at night that you’re coming into Tupper Lake because you don’t see that glow of the city or the town.”
Seth McGowan, Vice President and Superintendent of Schools, says Tupper Lake is an oasis from the light pollution present in most of the state.
“Up here in Tupper Lake we are a black hole of light pollution, since there is nothing around us. We are tucked away in the hills and we are 22 miles in each direction to each nearest town,” he says.
By the spring of 2007, the restoration of the telescope was complete. Old Town Pump was brought to the observatory, a home that would cherish it the same way Everest did. The view of the sky in Tupper Lake would be the most similar to the skies of those nights in the 1920s.
Brown believes people are only grazing the surface of astronomical studies and that space is comparable to the wilderness. He knows that it is an exciting time for extraterrestrial exploration.
“There are hundreds of billions of stars, probably with eight or ten planets going around them…. The planets are far enough away from the sun so they are not burning out and are the proper size to hold the right ingredients for life,” Brown says. “Humanity has got to the technological point where we can now start to explore space— maybe one day we will have the techniques to go far beyond where we can go now.”
Volunteers hope to turn the observatory into The AstroScience Center and Planetarium of the North County. In order to make the leap, the observatory is seeking more volunteers and financial help. Grants, although helpful, will not be enough to make the transformation. The group needs people to fall in love with space exploration and have a desire to discover the unexplored galaxy.