Page Eleven

The first decade of the 20th century witnessed profound changes in the astronomy program at Carleton. In 1905, the Old Observatory was razed to make way for Laird Hall of Science. Since the occupation of Goodsell the leaky wooden building had done duty as both a men's gymnasium and the College library.

It was also the scene of Carleton's most celebrated practical joke, played in 1903 with unintentional irony on the same Professor Pearsons who had launched local astronomical photography in the building some 20 years before. At the time of the prank Pearsons was the school's Professor of Biblical Literature. According to the Algol the jest was a "drive" on his oft- (oh, how oft!) repeated illustration of the wonderful changes wrought by time even in the sacred haunts of Palestine, which to his mind were exemplified by the railway operating between Joppa [Jaffa] and Jerusalem. [On Halloween night,] an observer might have seen the Professor's buggy issue from the barn and go forth for its adventures. Next morning it was seen standing on the top of the old observatory...with a strip of canvas stretched from end to end bearing the eloquent legend 'Joppa to Jerusalem'," It was said by others that poor Pearsons never recovered his good humor and good temper after the incident.

Three years after the original building was gone, the man who built it left as well. William Payne was one of the casualties in a volatile and divisive controversy surrounding Carleton's second president, William H. Sallmon (1903 - 08). He was one of the leaders of the faculty faction who believed Sallmon was too theologically, pedagogically, and socially liberal; Sallmon was forced to resign, but several of his opponents left as well. After nearly 40 years of service, therefore, Payne retired on a Carnegie Endowment pension. It was an active retirement, in that he was immediately called by the Elgin Watch Company in Illinois to build and supervise a small observatory and time-service for them. Fortunately, no grudges were held at the College, and in 1916 Carleton awarded Payne an honorary D. Sc. degree. He died in 1928 at the age of 91, active to the end.

To replace Payne, Carleton hired Curvin Henry Gingrich, a mathematician and astronomer who would soon earn his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Gingrich, like Payne and Wilson, was a popular teacher. Of him, a poetaster on the Algol staff once wrote that "graphs of many angles/ He's plotted by the yard,/ But the beauties of math'matics- /Why-that's his drawing card./ He can tell the most interesting stories /Of paths of tangent and sine/ How they travel their beat to infinity,/ And march up and down the line..../ But don't lay it up against him/ That math's beauty he's preserving',/ You see he really can't help it,/ for he bears the name of Curvin." Gingrich carried on a long-term study of the positions of comets and asteroids begun by Wilson, and was assistant editor and editor of Popular Astronomy-which the College had purchased from Payne when he retired-for the next 30 years, managing to bring it through the Depression and World War II.

Yet another new man was brought on board in 1920: Edward Fath '02. Fath, like his History of Goodsell Images predecessors, was a very interested and engaging instructor, both in the classroom and while supervising student research assistants. He consciously fashioned courses for non- scientists and argued persuasively that astronomy-being the only science which was "not earthbound"-was a necessary means of broadening the undergraduates mind. Before he retired, he presented to the College a small planetarium he had just finished building. He had, he said, "felt the lack of such an instrument most acutely in beginning astronomy courses.... In the Monday night laboratory sessions, I'd have to ask [students] to stand still for an hour before they could perceive a change [in the position of the earth relative to the stars]. That's impractical during Minnesota winters." The planetarium projector is still in use in astronomy classes at Carleton.

Fath had earned his doctorate in astronomy at the University of California's Lick Observatory and had gone on to do notable work at the famous Mt. Wilson Observatory and as director of the observatory at Beloit College. Lick was at the forefront of astronomical research when Fath attended, and he brought renewed vigor and substance to the professional work at Goodsell. In 1922 he won a grant to build a photoelectric photometer (for measuring the intensity of a source of light). For years this was one of only three such advanced instruments in the nation. (The early photo-cells were quite unreliable, which initially discouraged most other scientists from similar projects.) Fath did ground breaking work with the gadget and was invited to spend several summers over the next 15 years using it in conjunction with one of the telescopes back at the Lick Observatory. On these trips he often brought a Carleton student along as an assistant.

 

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