Telescope provided vision of future

To the editor:

I read your article describing efforts to create a museum of science art with interest. This led me to wonder how many other objects from the old days are still around.

In the early ’60s, as freshmen, my friend the late John List and I discovered the optics and mounting tube for a reflecting telescope in the general science prep room behind Larry Fenton’s class room in the old Junior High School building.

One day when Mr. Fenton was occupied with other matters, we pried the case from behind the cabinet. Inside, we found a circular mirror that appeared to us as beautiful to us as the most precious stone, and it just called out to us to be set in a tube and let loose on the universe.

We found the tube, hiding on top of one of the cases, already containing all the fittings. The glass had been ground and the tube built by a Mr. Owen, who had passed away by then. It was a nice sized-mirror — 6 to 8 inches as I recall — and John and I became obsessed with it and the notion that we could begin our scientific careers by exploring the heavens with it, and, who knows, even discover a new planet or two?

Finally, in the second semester, on a very cold night, we were ready to go stargazing. Mr. Fenton, ever the teacher, made it a class assignment to inaugurate this new instrument. We set it up on the roof of the old junior high on Washington Street and somehow managed to find Saturn.

I have been fortunate in my career as a biochemist to discover previously unknown “secrets of nature,” but none of those discoveries stunned me as much as seeing this exotic, beautiful object with my own eyes, without the filter of someone else’s lens separating me from it. I sorely did not want to give up my place after my time was up, and John and I stayed on top of the building looking at Saturn and stars too distant to see with the naked eye, until Larry finally dragged us off and sent us home.

We never had another opportunity to use the telescope. It did its job – confirming in both of us that science was too fascinating to ever leave.

I am hopeful the mirror and focusing lens, at least, remain of this wonderful instrument, and that someday some enterprising, star-struck students will use it again.

W. Kirby Gottschalk,

Durham, North Carolina