. wilson

No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again:
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."