Lowell Observatory's Impact on the Flagstaff Community

Recorded May 28, 2019 Archived May 28, 2019 32:16 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: APP640877


This interview provides contextualization and a history lesson for those wondering the origins of Flagstaff's STEM interests and the impact of Lowell Observatory on Flagstaff from its beginning to present day.


  • Kevin Schindler
  • Lauren Amundson
  • Kai Tsosie

Interview By



StoryCorps uses Google Cloud Speech-to-Text and Natural Language API to provide machine-generated transcripts. Transcripts have not been checked for accuracy and may contain errors. Learn more about our FAQs through our Help Center or do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

00:00 Get it now is to what extent has Lowell Observatory with the inclusion of the Lowe family, affected the foundation, and gross, the Flagstaff? And for question. Number one, I'm going to ask who were the Lowe family. Fire to the building of Lowell Observatory was from the East Coast, there were centered in Massachusetts. The first of all came over and 16s. So by the 1800, there are very established family, very wealthy were called the brahmins which were wealthy families are kind of leaders of the community. So they didn't really have any ties to Flagstaff until Percival Lowell. I'm came out here. He was the oldest of

00:46 Five kids and he had studied mathematics in college. And after he spent years in the in the orient, curry in Japan learning about their culture writing books about that. He came back to the United States and decided he wanted to get into astronomy because there have been in the Italian astronomer your who had detected these features on Mars that he interpreted as he called and canals that they look like, they're really straight linear and personal loan. Others thought, nothing in nature is is that straight, but, you know, these things going across the entire planet solo. Thought they must be made by some sort of intelligent life, and decided to build his Observatory to study that. And he decided to come to Arizona, because I'm back east by the 1890s light pollution from be no street lights with starting to become prominent.

01:46 Until he realized it was important to go somewhere dark where the more artificial light shining out the less. You can see the stars. Do you need to go somewhere dark and Flagstaff in 1894? Had about eight hundred people in electricity so is dark and it's a great place for doing it. So that's how the Lost get out of here. And it really, it really wasn't the rest of the family does Percival Lowell. So, from 1894 until he died in 1916. He lived off and on here while the observatory ran.

02:17 All right. So moving on to question. Number two, what led to the formation of Lowell Observatory? Who supported the campus, and who did not support it. What were the arguments for both?

02:29 Well, when Love Came Here, we talked a little bit about the founding of it on when Love Came Here sent an assistant named ever Douglas to Arizona territory. Again. This is 1894 to 18 years before. Arizona was a state and enter Douglas, his job was to travel around the territory with the telescope and set it up at night to look at stars and planets and see which place has the best viewing. And so, you know, some places it might be if you were going to start swirly wavery, other places is really still and you can see really good detail on planets. And so he went to Tombstone Tucson, Tempe Prescott ended up here in Flagstaff and the townspeople here in general, or very supportive of bringing the observatory here, because a lot of them or Community Builders, and they sell the value of, you know, bringing something like an observatory hear that man, jobs and in the economy, and

03:29 Ford were thinking, I'm looking toward Arizona becoming a state and realized in order to become a state. We had to have you, no income and end of reason for, you know, people who live here and thinks for them to do so, so, they were really interested in having the observatory here. In fact, after after Andrew, Douglas denounced, okay, we're going to set it up, set this observatory in Flagstaff leaders of the Town. Several dozen of them doesn't have them sign off on a letter, welcoming The Observatory, and promising several acres of land, and building, a road up to the hill and up the hill to the observatory. So the majority of the community was very supportive and there is one guy there wasn't so supportive and

04:21 Because he he thought the community was giving away free land Observatory should pay for any make kind of a stink about if it didn't really last very long. So over all the relationship between the observatory in the green. He's been pretty strong but like anything, every once in a while. There's somebody that doesn't like something was founded in 1882.

04:48 And Coconino County was founded in 1892.

04:53 And Louis founded in 1894. So Flagstaff and cookie Lyon County in Lowell, really grew up together on their forms are within two decades of each other. So, you know, soon what was really part of the community because it grew up with it and, you know, since the 1890s there's been telescope down on the side of the Hill. That is electronic part of the Flagstaff Skyline.

05:20 Alright, so moving on to question number 3, upon completion of Lowell Observatory hippocampus impact the Flagstaff Community. If so, what were the impacts? It didn't pack the community. I would say, maybe sort of slowly at first. I mean, it did eventually bring in a lot of income for like stuff. But but when they first opened it, it was a small crew of people here, but one of the thing, one of the ways that impact the community immediately was, that's from almost the beginning. First of all, the founder of put a put some announcements in the newspaper. Inviting local people to come up and take a look through telescopes, do it from the beginning. He had kind of this openness to bring any visitors up to the observatory. So it really kind of helped establish Louis a place to go and visit in a kind of hat or some sort of thing.

06:20 I'm so it started off in that way than through the years.

06:25 I'm it really became, you know, lowland Flagstaff really became intertwined because now, you think about today, we have a hundred thousand plus visitors coming here every year. And especially, if they come at night, that means that they stay in hotels, the visitor, stay in hotels and eat the restaurants. That means that it didn't come for the community. I'm so and then, if you look at a job, there's a hundred ten employees here. So that's jobs that it provides. And, and it also generates a lot of other income through research and education dollar. So, potentially benefits the community and also I think you have from a bragging point of you, I guess.

07:13 You know, when our convention visitors bureau, tried to tell visitors why you should come to the Flagstaff. One of them is we've got this Observatory, you can go up and visit and so it's just, it's part of like stuff. You don't hit, you only have to drive up a mile from downtown to get up here. So it's really convenient. So, you know, so it started with the with the very collegial. Hey, we want you guys here on today is the low and the community are really closely tied together.

07:46 All right. So I'm moving on the question. Number four, from the building of Lowell Observatory to the start of World War 1. What was the economic standing of it? And what was the primary purpose for the observatory at the time? I'm from the beginning till World War 1 Percival Lowell, found the observatory initially to study Mars and the possibilities and tells a life there. And then he has some other astronomers who carried out basic research and basic research was the setting of telescopes studying planets, and stars and that sort of thing. And so, so it was from 1894 until first of all died on me was pretty active and doing nothing typical research and informally welcoming guests.

08:33 And and financially person below paid everything for everything out of his own pocket. And so it was well, it wasn't

08:43 You know, flowing with money. He tended to buy the best, he could get when possible when he died 1916.

08:50 Which is right before or guess I just write during World War. I death when the observatory started going through a difficult time, for them to leave, because Louie wasn't to live anymore. And his will he left a lot of money to the observatory, but it was held up in court for 10 years. And because his widow contested, the will

09:12 And where the money should be going. So, so really around World War and when when will died, it was years of pretty tight. Living around here is a small staff and there was limited funding on to do much.

09:29 All right. So moving on the question. Number 5 has low Observatory ever been affected by wars in the world, such as World War 1, or the Cold War. If so, how is it affected?

09:41 I'm a save. The return has been affected indirectly. I'm just like, just like all of us, even if we're not going off to fight in a war in the war's affect us in different ways. There are any other ration, the food, you know, there's less research money going toward research because it's being used for war efforts. And so so it's only effective secondarily, but not directly.

10:09 Let you know, some of our staff during the wars would volunteer to help with food drives and that sort of thing. So kind of been that way. All right, on the question number six, during the early Twentieth Century. What were the impacts of lower Observatory on the Flagstaff Community? Is there any evidence that these impacts have had an effect that lost its present day? And I wish you the impact certainly there's a certain level of Community Pride the king with mole just like we have a museum of Northern Arizona. They came years later and NAU and other places that are part of the fabric of the community.

10:52 There's also, I think, an important thing is Lowell was the first permanent scientific institution Flagstaff and it helped pave the way for all these other science organization. So, when you look at the Flagstaff, it's a science community. And that's something that was established with the following of loyal. And that certainly had long-term impact on Flagstaff. I'm at, on the how much money is generated in Flex diferir because the signs because it's some hundreds of millions of dollars. It's a lot of money because they're a lot of different science organizations here. So so that was certainly, a long-term impact and and I got it. A long-term impact of the tourism and we have a hundred thousand visitors coming here.

11:38 And that that helps make Flagstaff destination for visitors. Not just a place to stop off and get gas on the way to the Grand Canyon, but to stay here and do stuff in Flagstaff. So so they do emission of Lowell ways to do science and to show the results of that sign to the public via the public program. And so both of those things. Really I'm today directly affect Flagstaff.

12:06 All right. So moving on the question number 7 during the late Twentieth Century. What were the impacts of Lowell Observatory on the Flagstaff Community? Is there any evidence that these impacts have had an effect that last present day? And just, as a reminder, this is the late 20th century. So that would be 19 50s to early 2000.

12:25 Yeah, I know we think about that time. And kind of what we've talked about it. A little bit too through the air or slow with bringing in more visitors and I helped continue cement Flagstaff is the destination to, for visitors to go. It also loads of returnees. The science organization helped cement like stuff is a place to carry out science. And, and today we got a lot of science organizations here. Not, just doing basic research like places, like Lowell or scientist. That I knew you were the Naval Observatory or USGS. There's also applied science, applied research, like a Gordo's they applied sciences when you use the results of science to, you know, to better humankind, so they're making Medical Products there, they save lives and so, that's an applied science. So, that's all, that's all.

13:22 All directly because low was here, but molten. We paved the way for them to come here. I'm so so it's really I think to find what Flagstaff is and you know, which one the late Twentieth Century, the Flagstaff became a leader, also in Dark Skies legislation, and how to protect protect our skies, from artificial light, pollution, and that really only 19 later than the late Twentieth Century. That was really a big thing here. Also.

13:58 All right. So moving on to question. Number eight, as Flagstaff, continue to grow it throughout the twentieth century. Could a portion of the gross, be credited to Lowell Observatory? If so, why?

14:10 I think you could I think you could credit it to Lowell. I mean, I would hate it.

14:15 Weight of flag and say because Lowell all this has happened. I mean it's a community thing. But I think the law will certainly played a big role because of this place is a scientific doing world-class science. Think it's coming from around the world to work with our scientists and our visitors, you know, hundred thousand, visitors coming here, generating income, and worldwide, attention and Flagstaff. And we think of Josh some you know, big is celestial events through the years on when Pluto was discovered in 1930, and I don't know, when, Haley, came visiting 1980s and other things that comets the 1990s. When we brought a lot of people came up here and they weren't just visiting here, but we got worldwide attention.

15:07 And you know International media and that puts Flagstaff on the map because it was happening at Lowe's. So I think you can certainly low has certainly played an important part in and all that.

15:21 All right. So I'm moving on the question number 9. The last question from the essential question, with respect to the Flagstaff economy, and the growth of its Community have the astronomical achievements Globes over the fact that the outcomes of these two.

15:37 Can you say that again, please, with respect to the Flagstaff economy and the growth of its Community? Has the astronomical achievements of Lowell, Observatory affected the outcomes of these two definitely. Because because of the amount of $5 to come through here and the amount of visitation dollars come through here. A lot of that goes directly into the coffers of the city weather's in a city government or organizations that operate here loyal. Generates a lot of a lot of money, both directly and indirectly because of laying the path for the other things organizations, so it really is, I think of

16:21 You know, she played a pretty solid role in bringing in generating income for the community. Okay. So this is now the essential question, which is the final question. Now, to what extent has Lowell Observatory it with inclusion of the Lowe family affected the foundation and gross the Flagstaff.

16:41 I think Bo has affected the growth and development of Flagstaff and pretty fundamental ways because the observatory was founded back when the community was very young. And so they grew up together, Flagstaff is known as a railroad town and is a place where their livestock, you know, cows and cattle and sheep and such. I'm so there's Agriculture and then there was the railroad and to Lumbertown science with your from the beginning also. So while those other Industries are still here to some level science has continued to grow through the years. And and, and I don't start with low Observatory, being the first permanent, scientific establishment here. And your Northern Arizona, has a lot of great natural resources, you know, the rocks in the mountains and the unique vegetation and archaea.

17:41 LG the Dark Skies is one of those also and people come here to look through telescopes because the dark skies, and, you know, Flagstaff is the community's flexstep is the world's first International Dark Sky City, which means it was recognized for the work. It doesn't protecting this guy's. And, and I think that's

18:05 I got that start with Lowell Observatory. Who is little scientist? Who first pushed the world's first legislation about Dark Skies years before that. So, you know, the Flagstaff it has developed a little was always there and not always striving, you know, they're quite yours, but the fact they grew up together and and, you know, how to stablish play stuff in the science community. And as, as a tourism destination, I think it's been two critical roles observatories played.

18:40 Okay. Now with all that said, that is now the conclusion of our interview with Kevin Schindler.

18:52 I saw a question number one, who were the Lowe family prior to the building of Lowell Observatory?

19:04 Wealthy family in Boston, there in the textile industry. So, if you think of Lowell, Massachusetts, they're very heavily involved in textiles. That was the family that he was born. He decided he did not want to go into that field. He was much more interested in math and science and astronomy. He had a sister named Amy Lowell, who's a famous poet and his brother Abbott. Lawrence Lowell was the president of Harvard beyond that, and not quite sure much more about his family background.

19:39 So you can have the question. Number two, what led to the formation of Lowell? Observatory? Who support at the campus, and who did not support it. What were the arguments for both? So a personal level, obviously, as I just said, decided that he had this fascination with Mars, that came from his interest in astronomy. And that was kind of Guided by this Italian astronomer named Giovanni Shepard, really shekel, really studied Mars, and he thought he saw channels on the surface. So he called them in Italian Canali. Well, that did not imply that they were man-made, canals, but Lowell took that idea and he ran with it and he said, what can a lie. Must translate to canals. And so he formulated this idea that they were man-made and so he was thinking of Mars as this desert planet where water

20:39 Was, you know, in the form of ice at the at the polar ice caps, and so he assumed that this Martian civilization needed to get water from the polar caps to the rest of the planet of these canals. So in 1890 for Global sent his assistant 80, Douglas out to the Arizona territory to look for a site for an observatory. So Douglas started down in Tombstone, Arizona, and he did cite testing in Tombstone Tucson, Tempe, Prescott and Flagstaff looking for a site for his Observatory Lowell, decided that she needed somewhere in the southwest because it was far away from the lights and humidity of the east coast. And so he sent Douglas out here. Had them do some testing and they eventually decided on Flagstaff. And on May 28th 1894 will himself arrived here in Flagstaff on the train and Lowell Observatory was officially

21:40 So it's kind of cool story. So this is the 125th anniversary of our founding this year sleep. So a little additions that question when it was built. Like I said, I'm who toured the campus, I know who didn't, and if there are any arguments, like what were they? So the people who supported it, where the citizens?

22:03 That signed by, I believe about 80 people in Flagstaff, at the time. Some famous names that you guys might recognize the Riordan's. The babbitts sign this letter. Basically saying you have our support to build an observatory here. They actually gave him permission to build what they called a. I think it's quote, good, Wagon Road, I gave Louis lent and so they were all on board with it. I haven't personally heard of anybody who opposed the idea of what we're building an observatory here in 5 South. I think the people at the time realized sort of the advantage that it could bring to the community. And so they were they were on board with it all the way.

22:49 All right. So moving on to question number 3 upon completion of lower Observatory that the campus impact the Flagstaff Community. If so, what were the impacts?

23:02 Obviously, cuz we're still growing today. And, you know, if we're looking at sort of the early years, the car telescope came on board in 1896. The Pluto telescope was built in 1929. So as far as having an impact on the community, you know, we had a lot of visitors coming to the campus scientist famous scientist at the time. And we have a guest books and people just dropping through to check out lowlandcu know, what was going on here in the research that we were doing. So I think in that way, it kind of made Flagstaff, probably put it on the map more as a scientific Community because this is a place where they know that they're doing. They're doing science. They're doing astronomy. You've got this famous person, Percival Lowell who was a popular writer of science, you know, he went out and you do these lecture tours and talk about, you know, the, the canals in the Martians and a civilization and everything. So I think people

24:02 Went as the campus crew and sort of the word got out. It attracted you no visitors scientist. All those people to come to

24:13 That's sweet. So I'm moving on to question number four, from the building of Lowell Observatory to the start of World War. I, what was the economic standing of it? What was the primary purpose for the Absurd. The time? So the primary purpose was to study the planets solar system.

24:33 The World War 1 started in 1914, Lowell himself, died in 1916. So up until that time, he was, you know, running the observatory, directing the research program, the astronomers who were working under him at the time were VM Cipher, who discovered the red shift, which let us know that the universe is expanding easy slaver, who is Vince brother, who studied Mars and Carl lampland, who studied a lot of different things. I mostly took a lot of photos photos of the planets. Nebula,, It's things like that. So, I opened up until World War 1. The Observatory was pretty, fairly financially secure. And they were just kind of running their various research programs under the guidance of Lowell himself.

25:24 All right. So I'm moving on Sunday. Question number 5 has Lowell Observatory ever been affected by wars in the world, such as World War 1, or the Cold War. If so, how is it?

25:38 Yes, they have. I'm not entirely sure in what ways I know that recently. We put a new exhibit together. And I had to volunteer who was digitizing various letters talking about the impact of World War II on the observatory, in terms of research and, you know, just having to do rationing and things like that. So, I'm not entirely sure of the impact,, but I know it was going on here, not only a little bit in the larger Flagstaff Community as well. Alright, so, moving on to question number 6, during the early Twentieth Century. What were the impacts of Lowell Observatory on the Flagstaff Community? Is there any evidence that these impacts have had an effect that lasted two? Present-day? Absolutely. So I think the biggest one in that case would be making fun.

26:29 Stop say Center for Science in the not only the United States with the world. So you got Lowell Observatory. You've got the Naval Observatory in the US Geological Survey all ended up coming. Can I see the Naval Observatory? So all of those ended up in Flagstaff because I do want to say that Lowell solely was responsible for that. But it's like when you have one institution that kind of starts out and guess that momentum going, it really establish that. And then obviously, in a, you know, has a grade, you know, Science Program astronomy, we partner with them. So at the time yeah, it kind of put us on the map as I said before, as it Center for Science in the country, but right now, I mean, think about all the Science Center's that we have here in Flagstaff, and I think we'll really made an impact on that from a hundred, a hundred twenty-five years ago.

27:29 During the late 20th century. What was the impact that will absorb ettore on device after me? And he is your only evidence that these impacts have had an effect that allows its present day.

27:39 Late 20th century. So we're talking about, like, what 1980s? Then? Yeah.

27:55 That's sweet. So we partnered with Discovery Channel in, I think 2003. And in 2012. We dedicated our Discovery Channel telescope, which is located in Happy Jack, Arizona, which is about 40 miles from here. And that is a 4.3 telescope. That all of our astronomers use. We partner with several universities around the country that they get to use it as well. I'm so I would say that in that era, that's probably been our biggest impact is just having that available like a world-class research telescope for them to be able to use

28:33 All right. So I'm moving on the question. Number eight, as wysup continue to grow throughout the twentieth century. Could a portion of the gross, be credited to Lowell Observatory? If so, why?

28:48 Question, I don't I don't know exactly if it can be credited to low. I think we'll probably had a role in that again. Just as you know, attracting.

29:02 I don't, I don't know directly, if it, if it had that big of an impact on the community's growth, but I think you could say that probably in the way it did, you know, there have been a lot of people who have moved here. She know specifically to work at the observatory and they've stuck around. So, yeah, probably in the question number 9, with respect the Flagstaff economy, and the growth of its Community. Have the astronomical achievements of Lowell Observatory affected the outcomes of these two,

29:37 Yeah, I would say, I was saying, sure, you know, thinking of the economy, probably in Taurus capacity is probably the biggest thing for us, thinking about all the visitors that we get every year who comes through Lowell. I think we hit over a hundred thousand people last year. So in a way that's, you know, that's really a good driver of the local economy and getting visitors up here, you know, people are coming to go to the Grand Canyon, but they are about Lola, Millie. Hey, let's stop and go there and do that. So, so in that way, so from the start of the visitor, Taurus perspective, but then again also from the professional science perspective as well.

30:19 When you think about that, the effect it that will has had on just the scientific Community, bringing people in, you know, our dark skies are a big thing on and making sure that we, you know, kind of cater to that. So, I think you could definitely say that. It was all the previous information for the overall, essential question, to what extent has Lowell Observatory it with the inclusion of the Lowell, family affected, the foundation, and growth of like staff.

30:54 I would say that it is had a very large impact and I know that probably sounds about the history of our institution here and what we've accomplished. And how many people out there? Like if I go somewhere and if they do, I work a little looser.

31:19 I think it really has had just an influence on people, even if they've only ever like read about it. Heard about it. They know Lowell, they know. It's not something that's just like, you know, I'd never look. I've never heard of that place. So, I would say from the family, to Percival himself to the Legacy that things aren't, right? Has carried on for the last hundred and twenty-five years. I'm has really made a substantial impact on the Flagstaff. And even if you just go out into the community and talk to people and tell them you volunteer at all, or you work a little lower, whatever people still get very excited about that and they they talk about it. So,

32:06 That's what I have for you that concludes the interview.