Abandoned Observatories

Abandoned Observatories

Like other buildings, observatory domes sometimes outlive their usefulness. They may not be big enough for the latest telescopes, for example. Encroaching cities can make it hard for them to see the heavens. Or time may just catch up to them.

Many domes and related buildings have been torn down. Others have been converted to offices or libraries. And still others have been abandoned — left to the elements and the inevitable passage of time.

Several of these buildings are scattered around the country — in Michigan and Nebraska, for example, and in the woods of Indiana. Their domes are rotting away. Their walls are covered with graffiti, their floors with water and trash.

Perhaps the most famous abandoned observatory sits atop a grassy knoll in Cleveland. It was built by the men who founded Warner and Swasey, a machine-making company. They were amateur astronomers who devoted part of their business to building telescopes — including the first big telescope at McDonald Observatory.

They donated an observatory to Case University in 1919, and equipped it with a telescope of their own making. Bigger telescopes were added later. The beautiful building was abandoned in 1982. Its telescopes had been sent elsewhere, and its staff moved into other quarters.

Today, the building is decaying and dangerous — a ghostly presence beneath the stars on Halloween night.

Script by Damond Benningfield


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