Astronomy magazine’s legacy — and a mini “museum”

Posted by David Eicher
on Friday, May 27, 2011

Although this year is the 38th in the history of Astronomy magazine, it is a big year for remembering the magazine’s heritage. Some amateur astronomers are not aware of the fact that for 31 of those years, Astronomy has been the largest circulation title on the subject, well ahead of its competitors. The modest publication that Steve Walther started as an outgrowth of his college work quickly caught fire as the most widely read publication of its type. In this big year of remembering the magazine’s legacy, several interesting things are going on behind the scenes at Astronomy’s offices.

Steve Walther’s portrait hangs above the Astronomy magazine case. // All photos by David J. Eicher

The magazine’s legacy is fresh in mind because I’ve just finished writing a 24,000-word history of the publication, the first ever done. This is in conjunction with a big project that you will see later this year. Rich Talcott and I, who have been with the magazine for many years (me, 29 years; Rich, 25 years), are going to bring you some special remembrances of things from the past over the coming months.

We’ve also established a display case “museum” for the first time at our office, and if any of you are in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area, I encourage you to give us a call, drop by, and say hello. Although the exhibits in our showcase will change from time to time, I have started with some of the awards given to the magazine over the years from Folio magazine, the American Institute of Physics, and other organizations. The bottom shelf of the display also includes some artifacts like spacecraft hardware, such as gold insulating foil from the Apollo program and a piece of insulating wrap from the WUPPE telescope that flew on the space shuttle.

The Astronomy magazine offices now contain a display case “museum” of magazine and astronomy-related artifacts.
 The top shelf exhibits samples of meteorites from my collection, including lunar and martian rocks. It also showcases artifacts from the Pettididier refractor telescope, which belonged to Walther, currently standing in Kalmbach Publishing Co.’s lobby.

Finally, the middle shelf includes signed books from Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh and Milky Way expert Bart Bok, and the annotated manuscript of the last article Carl Sagan wrote for Astronomy magazine. That shelf also contains miscellaneous historical letters from such notables as John Herschel and George Airy.

And now nicely mounted above the display, we have a portrait of the magazine’s founder, who died tragically at age 33 — but not before he gave the world the most treasured astronomy magazine of all time.

The display includes some of the awards won by the magazine over the years.

Meteorites from Dave Eicher’s collection give viewers of the “museum” a taste of outer space.

The original lens and eyepieces from Steve Walther’s antique refractor are included in the display.

An inscribed copy of Bart Bok’s famous book "The Milky Way" recalls the great Dutch-American astronomer.

The past comes to life through an inscribed copy of "Out of the Darkness" by Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh and from letters such as one written by John Herschel.

Carl Sagan’s annotated final manuscript written for Astronomy magazine has a special place in the exhibit.

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