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Contact: Chuck Ebeling



Press Points – Saving Yerkes Observatory– May 2, 2018


  1. A new foundation, the Yerkes Future Foundation (YFF), today sent an “Expression of Interest” letter to David Chiaro, associate VP of the University of Chicago, indicating that concerned citizens of the Geneva Lake areas have come together as a cohesive organization with the desire to work with the university regarding the transfer of ownership of Yerkes Observatory, including its contents and associated land. The university had previously announced it plans to close Yerkes on Oct. 1, 2018 and is open to proposals regarding its future.


  1. The chair of YFF is Dianna Colman, a local Geneva Lake area resident, who heads a group of founding members.


  1. It was on this day 125 years ago that the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 opened, and one of the displays was the revolutionary new 40-inch telescope – then and now the world’s largest operating through-the-lens telescope – which would be installed at the new Yerkes Observatory near the shores of Geneva Lake, Wisconsin, in 1897.



  1. The goals of YFF are to preserve the historic features of both the observatory building and the site and at the same time make the facility open to the public, available for youth development and continuing education as a science center.


  1. A public meeting is planned by YFF to introduce and discuss its Expression of Interest, to be held Monday, May 14, at George Williams College of Aurora University, at Williams Bay, Wisconsin, at 7 pm in the Seabury Room in Beasley Campus Center.


  1. This proposal is being made by YFF “with a genuine concern for all aspects of the Yerkes entity but also with a deep respect for the Village of Williams Bay, its citizenry, the greater Geneva Lake community and the future, science, astronomy and architectural students who will benefit from the open and enhanced environment of Yerkes Observatory.”



  1. The YFF believes an endowment of at least 10 to 15 million dollars will be needed to preserve and operate the observatory, depending on deferred capital expenses necessary to have the building and grounds meet minimum standards.


  1. The YFF encourages the University of Chicago to give their proposal prompt and thoughtful consideration and looks forward to entering a dialog with the university leading to a good result.


Saturday night saw us climb the historic steps of Yerkes Observatory at Williams Bay, Wisconsin, for an evening of showering meteors, music wafting up from the lake shore, and fireworks over the Bay. Yerkes is the world’s first astrophysical laboratory, and home to the world’s largest conventional telescope. Visiting friends from Chicago prompted us to join Yerkes chief tour guide Richard Dreiser for a late night reverie under the annual Perseid meteor shower.

We began the evening in the darkness outside the observatory, straining our naked eyes and using binoculars to spot the first few meteors racing across the sky. We spotted several man-made satellites too, including the space station, making their slow un-twinkling progress, unlike the high airplanes with their strobing. Gradually we spotted various stars, and then the foamy Milky Way began to appear. Meanwhile soft strains of music drifted up to us from the waterside pavilion that is home to the Music By The Lake summer series at George Williams College.

Then, we walked the long corridor and up a three-story circular staircase to the dome of the 24-inch reflector. As the dome motor cranked away, and the giant curving blades parted, slight flashes reflected the fireworks show beginning a mile away at the Bay, where hundreds of pleasure boats gathered to watch. We then each had a chance to view Saturn and its rings, and M57, the spectacular summer centerpiece of the northern hemisphere night skies, pictured here. It was a magical evening under the stars.

Isn’t it curious that the spacecraft that successfully landed on Mars last night is essentially a car, not unlike those self-powered contraptions pioneered by the likes of Henry Ford? Curiosity, as it is aptly named, will explore Mars as if it were an off-road jaunt off Route 66. Next time you go for a drive in your own car, just imagine!


In 1995, Vicki and I boarded the famed Cunnarder, the QEII (1969-2008) at the Port of New York and set sail on my 10-year sabbatical from McDonald’s for a crossing to England. Aboard was famed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, then in his mid-70s, who died just yesterday. I’d  always been a science fiction fan, having grown up glued to Flash Gordon (the original) on TV, so was delighted to have the opportunity to spend 2 hours with him in the theatre, and hear him talk about writing the Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451. He told great stories, as we all know. That classic ocean liner crossing, with its black-tie dinners in the Queen‘s Grill and long sunny afternoons looking out to sea, was a memorable experience for someone like me, who had grown up cruising on small boats on inland lakes with my family.

RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 in Trondheim 2008.jpg

Just as the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, inspiration for Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” gets underway this week (, there is also a lot of “bull” coming out of NASA, as America’s last ever space Shuttle Mission is about to blast off.

The U.S. has no successor manned space program ready to go, or even in the works. What a bunch of bull that is! When the U.S. transitioned out of the Apollo space program in 1975, we were already working on the Shuttle program which launched in 1981. But this time, there is no plan to get back into space. If we want to sputter along in space, we buy a ticket on a Russian vehicle, as long as they choose to let us.

There is a lot of talk out of NASA about encouraging private enterprise to launch deep space initiatives, but guess what? Private enterprise has already been building most of the components of our previous space technology, so there’s nothing new there. What has now let us down is the U.S. government’s non-commitment to space, and all the innovation and discovery space exploration has to offer. Just as climate change is reminding us that our own home space platform, the Earth, has its limitations, we are closing the door on humankind’s options in space.

We can fight two pointless wars and launch billions of dollars worth of war drones (robot-controlled bombs), but we can’t seem to move forward on a peaceful program that can inspire and help insure America and the world’s future. How disgusted I am in everyone in government connected with non-funding of space exploration is something I can barely find the words to articulate. Just let it be known that any, and I mean any, of those involved who are up for re-election deserve to be scourged from what is left of our competent political leadership, along with those who fund our wars.

Yes, there is something as stupid as those who lunge ahead of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, and that is the gaggle of political cretins who pull science out of space and send it out to kill people with drones. Guess that is our new “space” program. What bull!

It was on this day in 1969 that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the moon.

They were part of the Apollo 11 crew. An estimated 600 million people watched live coverage of the moon landing. (I was among them, freshly back from Vietnam, sitting on the floor of our small unfurnished apartment overlooking a parking garage on Chicago’s North Side, gasping in amazement.)

The future of mankind lies out there, in space, and yet man is so myopic, so timid and self-absorbed, that despite that brave step forward, he has since taken two steps back. Once again, the keys to the future lie in understanding the lessons of the past.

January 2023

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