First Telescope |
Founding of the AAAP |
Valley View Observatory |
Buhl Planetarium |
Albert Einstein |
The "Eyes of God" |
AAAP Ceremonies |
Historic Marker and Asteroid Scanlon |
Leo's Favorite Things |
Leo's Unpublished Letter to Posterity
Planetariums Come to Pittsburgh
n 1930, Leo became a member of the Academy of Science and Art of Pittsburgh, an
organization founded (by Henry Thaw and John Brashear, among others) to foster public
interest in science and the arts. During his first years as an Academy member, he attended
many lectures and travelogues covering a wide range of subjects and locales, but discovered
that there was only an occasional lecture on astronomy. It was through the travelogues that
Leo acquired in interest in world geography, cultures and archeology. "No matter where
someone had taken a tour and talked about it, I always asked if they had seen or done so-
and-so," he recalled. Leo was soon appointed a Counselor for the Academy, a position he
held for 42 years.
During that period, five AAAP members drove out to Chicago to learn more about the new
concept of planetariums by visiting the recently constructed Adler Planetarium. Upon
returning to Pittsburgh, Leo and several others prepared a glowing report about the
planetarium's enormous potential as a teaching aid. They presented their ideas to the
Academy of Science & Art governing council, in hopes that somebody might support the
construction of a new planetarium in Pittsburgh. The council was impressed with the report
and suggested that the AAAP become an official "section" of the Academy to give the club
greater credibility in advocating for planetarium funding. Leo helped organized the new
Academy section. However, the Depression temporarily thwarted any immediate hopes of
funding the project.
Leo (2nd from left) on the steps of the newly opened Buhl Planetarium & Institute of Popular Science with several colleagues
Interest in construction of a planetarium remained strong through the early ‘30's, and was
amply demonstrated when Leo and his small band of AAAP members set up an astronomy
and telescope making display in the Boggs & Buhl department store on the North Side.
The exhibit was a spectacular success with the general public and attracted thousands of
curious visitors, so much so that it was held over well past its planned 2-week schedule.
(Within a few years, a similar AAAP exhibit would attract attention on a much more
In 1935, the Buhl Foundation announced its intention to fund the construction of a
planetarium in Pittsburgh. Leo and several other AAAP members were invited to sit in on
the planning meetings for the new facility, to be officially known as the Buhl Planetarium &
Institute of Popular Science. As a result of these sessions, the AAAP was invited to set up
its optical workshop in the basement of the planetarium, in exchange for holding a series of
regularly scheduled public star parties using the rooftop 10" siderostat telescope.
At the grand opening of the Planetarium, Leo (wearing a tux) served as a greeter and met
much of the high society of the Pittsburgh area. "I felt at home in my tuxedo with the
guests," he said.
Lectures and Debates
Leo served as a telescope making instructor at the Planetarium for three
years, and also gave general lectures in astronomy between 1939 and 1940, typically to
school groups on Saturday mornings. He took a leave of absence in 1940 to marry
Margaret Schwarz, whom he had met when she accompanied a high school group to visit
his observatory. He resumed his teaching duties in 1946, once again as an instructor in
telescope making. With respect to the 10" siderostat (or "horizontal refractor" as he called
it), Leo was responsible for scheduling AAAP members to operate the telescope on
available clear evenings.
A recurrent theme of Leo's talks was the difference between astronomy and astrology. Leo
noted, "I had a sneaking suspicion that the public thought that they were one and the same
and this we intended to correct". Toward that end, he and other AAAP members
arranged a symposium, called "The Fallacy of Astrology," and invited the following to
attend: A medical doctor, a Protestant minister, a Catholic priest, a practicing astrologer and
a professional astronomer (who turned out to be the famous J. Allen Hynek from Ohio
Wesleyan University). As for astrology: "They sent a lady, whom I pitied, and her son to
defend themselves." The lady was Mrs. Martha E. Knotts, secretary of the Pittsburgh
chapter of the Astrological Society. Leo and Mrs. Knotts were interviewed by the local
papers, and as for the actual debate, Leo noted: "I don't think either side made any converts,
but we certainly did make noise about the differences between science and credulity."
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