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July 6, 2019

Griffith J. Griffith was an interesting character. A native of Wales, he emigrated to the United States as a teenager and made his way to California. He became a newspaper reporter, then a mining consultant, which made him rich. He donated 3,000 acres of land to the City of Los Angeles for a park that today bears his name. And he tried to give money for a public observatory and more. But that wasn’t accepted until after his death — thanks to the fact that he’d shot his wife.

Griffith wasn’t the only astronomy benefactor with a scandalous background. In 1892, Charles Yerkes agreed to fund a new observatory for the University of Chicago.

Years earlier, Yerkes had been convicted of larceny. He’d later taken over most of Chicago’s street railway system, which he supported with bribes and other nefarious means. When he found himself unable to get credit, he agreed to pay for what’s now known as Yerkes Observatory to gain public support and respect.

Griffith already commanded respect when he shot his wife, in 1903. Testimony showed that he had paranoid delusions about her and others. He was convicted, but sentenced to only two years in prison.

After prison, Griffith tried to donate an observatory and a Greek theater. Los Angeles declined. When Griffith died — 100 years ago today — he left money in his will for both. Eventually, they were accepted. Griffith Observatory opened to the public in 1935 — and is still going strong today.


Script by Damond Benningfield

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