Observatories in the Media: Halloween Edition

On tours I’ve given, I’ve often met guests who recommend books, shows, or podcasts to listen to. Recently, one guest suggested I listen to the Unwell Podcast because it sounded vaguely familiar to our story here at Yerkes. The podcast, Unwell: A Midwestern Gothic, is a storytelling podcast that takes place in the fictional town of Mount Absalom, Ohio, home to an abandoned observatory. Although the town is engulfed in mystery and supernatural occurrences, it reminded me of loving small midwest towns and the traditions held within them. 

Naturally, I drew the connection between the Mount Absalom Observatory and our very own Yerkes Observatory. In Unwell, Mount Absalom Observatory is an observatory built in the early 1900s. Norah Tendulkar, was the woman who built the telescope within the building. Her ghost mysteriously returns with a mission to rebuild her telescope (a Cassegrain reflector) that lies within the dormant observatory. After a devastating fire struck, the observatory was left abandoned and in disarray. In the podcast, Rudy, who is an astronomer from Wisconsin, comes to Mount Absalom with the goal of restoring the observatory. Rudy’s big project revolves around “Forgotten Astronomy” and takes it upon himself to fulfill Norah’s wish and wants to make Norah’s story known to Mount Absalom and the world. 

To touch on a bit of history on the Cassegrain reflector telescopes, these types of telescopes use two mirrors within the tube and bounce light off each other to create an image we can see. This drawing of the mirrors created by Encyclopedia Britannica is a great visual to understand the telescope mentioned in the podcast.

The design for this type of telescope dates back to the 1600s and was created by Laurent Cassegrain. Although his designs weren’t taken seriously until much later, but reflector telescopes are the more common type of telescopes we see today. One advantage to using this type of telescope is that the mirrors within them allow more light to come through. Thus, you are able to see fainter objects.

Despite these telescopes being more common, they do take a lot of time, money, and work to fix. Our telescopes at Yerkes aren’t any different. Although I can’t say we have ghosts wandering around Yerkes, Norah has a similar goal to ours. Something I have noticed within the past few months since I began my journey at Yerkes is the fact that we want to pay homage to those who came before us. Honestly, their stories and work is what fuels us to keep this place alive. If you’ve been on a tour with me, you definitely know that it drives me.

During this spooky season, I encourage you all to take a moment and enjoy fall as it comes to a close. A special thank you to the guest who recommended the podcast to me. I highly recommend listening to the Unwell Podcast for some spooky listening and Happy Halloween!

Link to Podcast:

Works Cited

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Cassegrain reflector”. Encyclopedia 

Britannica, 14 Feb. 2016, Accessed 13 October 2022.

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