Hidden PVD

Seeing Stars at the Ladd Observatory

The 125-year-old institution allows visitors a weekly peek at the final frontier through its vintage telescope

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The Ladd Observatory stands between Doyle and Observatory avenues on the second highest point in the city, and on Tuesday nights, the 125-year-old observatory opens its doors to let visitors peer through the same telescope Lovecraft frequently used to peek into the infinite wonder of space. Mike Umbricht, the observatory’s curator, assists visitors in spotting celestial bodies while also sharing the history of some of the instruments on display (equipment once used to gauge the time or to analyze the composition of distant stars still calls the East Side building home).

The Ladd Observatory is a rare, functional example of how we used to interact with space. For starters, the observatory was built before the neighborhood had electricity, so every action, from the positioning of the telescope to the opening of the great domed roof, is performed manually just as it would have been in 1891. It also wasn’t long before observatories migrated to higher altitudes, perched safely away from the polluting light of modern cities on top of mountains. It might not have all of the modern bells and whistles, but who needs the highest of high tech when you can still get a peek at the storms of Jupiter on a clear night?