Letters to Mount Wilson Observatory
October 4 - December 20, 2003
An exhibition in collaboration with the Museum of Jurassic Technology, Los Angeles
The Christine Burgin Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of "No One
May Ever Have This Knowledge Again," an exhibition of letters written to
Mount Wilson Observatory between the years 1915 and 1935. The letters form
the basis of an installation which also includes recently rediscovered
footage of the day to day workings of the observatory shot for newreels in
the 1920s, as well as various observation devices in use during these years.
This exhibition was conceived of and originally installed at the Museum of
Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles. The material exhibited are generously
on loan from Mount Wilson Observatory and the Carnegie Institute.
Mount Wilson observatory, located a short distance northeast of Pasadena,
California, was established by the uniquely brilliant and visionary
astronomer, Dr. George Ellery Hale in the early part of the 20th century.
Realizing the enormous potential of the Mount Wison site as both a stellar
as well as a solar observatory, Hale enlisted the support of the Carnegie
Institution to make possible the installation of a 60-inch reflector, the
largest actively used telescope in existence at that time.
Beginning in 1905, the observatory regularly published the results of its
research in a number of scientific journals. Almost immediately, this
information began to trickle down to the lay public through the popular
press. Throughout the teens and especially after the completion of the
massive 100-inch telescope in 1918, the information and images made
available to the public by the Observatory increased greatly. From the
1920s until the beginning of World War II, fuelled by the astonishing
discoveries made by Hale, Hubble, Michelson and their contemporaries, the
observatory received perhaps its greatest public attention. By the
beginning of the 1930s, some 20,000 people visited the observatory annually
and tens of thousands of other followed the astronomers' progress from afar.
As early as 1911, the astronomers began receiving letters from people all
around the world -- people from all walks of life -- educated as well as
uneducated. Many of the letters were simple expressions of appreciation and
awe for the work that the astronomers were accomplishing. There was,
however, another class of letter -- communications to the astronomers by
individuals who felt that they had information or understandings that should
be given to or shared with the astronomers. The information contained in
this class of letter was typically of astronomical concern. These
individuals had gleaned information that they wished to communicate either
by experimentation, observation or intuition and invariably felt a strong
sense of urgency in their need to communicate their observations to the
observers at Mount Wilson. The title for the exhibition is taken from a
letter written by Mrs. Alice May Williams of Aukland, New Zealand to Drs.
Edison Pettit, and Seth B. Nicholson of the Mount Wilson Observatory. Mrs.
Williams, whose include "The climate of the moon… Can life exist on other
Planets" and "The other live World. Heaven" writes:
"I want to tell you I am not after money & I am not a fraud. I believe I
have some knowledge which you gentleman should have. If I die my knowledge
may die with me & no one may ever have the same knowledge again."