On the Shoulders of Giants

An allure for events like Christmas In The Country is clearly nostalgia. Surrounded by saddle-notched buildings and people in period clothing often affords a sense of “time-travel”, as visitors witness a village filled with the trappings of a time long passed.  And while the arrow of time may irrevocably fly in one direction, for a few moments a small group of people experienced a period of time dilation this past Saturday when we met Roy May.

Mr. May, a retired TVA chemist, is one of the six founding members of the original Florence Astronomy Club, which was formed in August of 1957.  At the age of 102, he sat firmly in a wheelchair as one of his sons pushed him around the LaGrange College facility.  Every year, the historical society decorates a Christmas tree bedecked with ornaments created by Roy’s wife Jean, prior to her passing. But on this particular visit to the park, Roy would have two different trips down memory lane.

Through L.C. and Louise Lenz, Mr. May had been made aware of this summer’s restoration project at the observatory. Mr. May had heard about the time capsule project, and wanted to include a token of his own. And when he arrived on November 18th, he wanted to talk astronomy.

He described mirror-grinding sessions at his home, and subsequent disagreements over whose basement appeared in photos (“When I saw pictures later on, I didn’t think it was my basement, because it was too clean!”).  He described how construction was halted at the observatory, because thieves had stolen cinder blocks from a finished wall.  He talked about the school groups that came to the mountain to see the skies.  And he fondly recalled some of his fellow stargazers by name: Sam Wade.  Homer Russell Jr.  Warren Kicker.  Michael Beck.  Paul Shannon (there were more names provided, and unfortunately your writer wasn’t swift enough to note them all. I am pleased to note that several digital recordings were made of his visit, and I hope that you may enjoy listening to one soon! –eg). Some names were familiar, while others were not… but Roy knows them all. He made it very clear that the local legacy of our hobby belongs to many, many people.  It was a collective endeavor back then, he repeatedly said, and everyone had a contribution.

And his contributions continue to this day.  Mr. May presented our club with his personal copy of Atlas Coeli, a series of color maps that were hand-drawn and published by Slovakian astronomer Antonín Bečvář in 1956.  Based on the 1950 Julian epoch, they are a stunningly beautiful set of sky charts.  I will bring them to our Christmas dinner for everyone to see.

For reasons that we have felt at one time or another, there’s something scintillating about talking skies with someone who “gets it”. And Roy May gets it.  Even on an overcast and chilly Saturday afternoon, for just a little while, his nostalgia was affixed to the stars.

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