Postcards from the Edge

By Stacey Christen


One of the joys of processing an archival collection is the discovery of hidden treasures. These vintage black and white astronomy postcards were found among the research papers of Elizabeth Roemer. Dr.Roemer has an extensive collection of postcards in her papers. However, I’m unsure whether or not she was planning to use them or she just collected for the sake of collecting. There are unanswered questions in every collection processed.



Sonnet from the Archives

By Stacey Christen (with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)


How do I empty thee? Let me count the ways.

I empty thee to the depth and breadth and height

My arms can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of Original Order and Preservation.

I empty thee to the level of researchers’

Most quiet need, by day and night.

I empty thee freely, as we strive for knowledge;

I empty thee purely, as we turn from chaos.

I empty with a passion put to use

In my old studies, and with my organizer’s faith.

I empty thee with a purpose I seemed to find

With my fellow archivists, I empty thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life! And, if the Universe choose,

I shall but empty thee better after death.

Get Reel!

By Lauren Amundson

One of the biggest challenges archivists face is preserving and providing access to legacy materials. This includes items such as reel to reel tapes; 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm film; cassette tapes; and Laserdiscs. Many repositories don’t have the equipment or expertise to play and/or digitize these formats without  damaging them.

AV collection

With a grant from the Arizona Historical Records Advisory Board, we digitized our audiovisual collection earlier this year. We sent the original tapes, film, and discs to Scene Savers in Kentucky. They spent several months digitizing the materials and returned the originals plus digital master and access files. We just uploaded some of the files to the Arizona Memory Project, where they’re now available for anyone to listen to. We’re excited to share this part of our history and ensure access for future generations.



Books of Scraps

By Stacey Christen

Bibles had been used for centuries as a place to keep records and photos of family members. As the desire to maintain records grew, books were created specifically for the purpose of storing photos and scraps of papers.


Many archives are digitizing the scrapbooks they have in their collections. I am currently processing the scrapbooks of Wrexie Louise Leonard (1867-1937), Percival Lowell’s personal secretary. As was popular in her time, Wrexie kept books filled with the ephemera she collected during her life.

11111This page, dated February 8, 1889, documents a night of dancing at the opera house with the rose she was given by an admirer.

WLL129-1WLL130-1A Valentine’s Day card from 1889 is still encased in its original envelope.

Digitizing scrapbooks can be time consuming and challenging. The results are worth the effort. For tips on digitizing scrapbooks, check out this tutorial from The Sustainable Heritage Network.

Through the Looking Glass

By Lauren Amundson

When Percival Lowell decided to build his observatory in Flagstaff, he needed one important thing: a telescope! Roughly two years before the arrival of the 24-inch Clark refractor, Lowell borrowed a 12-inch refractor from Harvard College Observatory and an 18-inch refractor from lensmaker John Brashear of Pittsburgh. Alvan Clark designed an attachment that allowed the two telescopes to be mounted together.

Unfortunately, poor observing conditions led Lowell to temporarily shut down the Flagstaff operation in the spring of 1895, and Lowell’s assistant Andrew Douglass returned the telescopes to their owners.

Here’s the 1894 loan agreement between Lowell and Brashear for the 18-inch object glass, as well as a photo of the 12-inch and 18-inch telescopes on their specially designed mount.



With a Little Help from My Friends


By Stacey Christen

data sheet

One of the challenges faced by archivists is coming across documents for which we do not have an adequate frame of reference. In the course of processing Dr. Elizabeth Roemer’s papers, I have found several boxes full of astronomical data. I recognize that I am viewing astronomical readings, but I’m not sure of exactly what and if they are important. Luckily, there is no shortage of astronomers at Lowell Observatory. There is always someone around who has a deeper understanding of astronomy than I do. Experts are often consulted when dealing with unusual records. As archivists we want to make sure we have what is needed for the researchers who come to us for assistance.

American Archives Month

By Stacey Christen


October is American Archives Month. Archivists around the country will be participating in special events raising awareness of the value of archives. Here at Lowell Observatory we will have archivists answering questions live and on twitter. We will also be conducting behind the scenes tours. If you’re in Flagstaff, come and join us. If not, go check out your local archives. I guarantee they’ll have something surprising to show you. Get those questions ready and we’ll do our best to bring you inside the wonderful world of archives.

Comet of the Century

By Stacey Christen

cropped-colormars19051         Far-ultraviolet camera photograph Of Comet Kohoutek
         taken from Skylab on Christmas Day, 1973.

Czech astronomer Lubos Kohoutek discovered a new comet in March 1973.
Comet Kohoutek had not appeared in nearly 150,000 years. Due to reach
perihilion (the point at which the comet is closest to the sun) on 
December 28, 1973, Comet Kohoutek captured the attention of the public
and was dubbed "comet of the century" by the media. 

Comet Kohoutek had a major presence in popular culture. It was
featured in the Peanuts comic strip, episode 2F11 of The Simpsons,
and was the inspiration for several albums and songs, including
the instrumental track, "Kohoutek" by the band Journey. 

A View to a Comet

By Kevin Schindler

As revealed in earlier blogs, the Putnam Collection Center brims with correspondence, photographs, manuscripts, and other paper documents.  Each of them has a story to tell and, taken collectively, record the exceptional history of Lowell research and the people who did it.  Yet our collections contain so much more, in the form of artifacts. These range from meteorites and other objects crafted by nature, to manmade instruments and other equipment critical to carrying out astronomical research.

Take, for example, this fabulous “comet finder” eyepiece, manufactured by the Alvan Clark & Sons firm of Massachusetts. Early 20th-century astronomers at Lowell attached this 3-inch-focal-length, bronze apparatus to the 24-inch Clark Telescope, allowing for wide-field views of comets such as Halley.  It served as witness to a century of profound human activity, from solar system research to the education of school children.

For years this comet finder was lost, but our crack collections team just found it last week. Now properly curated, it acts as a tour guide to the past, ready to share its story.



Home Sweet Home

By Lauren Amundson

In addition to the telescope domes, administrative offices, and shop facilities here on Mars Hill, there are also several residences. The first house built here, called the Baronial Mansion and occupied by Percival Lowell, began in 1894 as a four-room cottage. Staff added an additional six rooms in 1902, and by the time of Lowell’s death in 1916, the house had eighteen rooms. The original structure sat one hundred feet north of the Clark Telescope dome. It contained bedrooms, servants’ quarters, a garage, bathrooms, kitchen, dining room, library, porch, and a “secret passageway” that ran below the main floor. By 1959, it had fallen into disrepair and become a fire hazard, and the observatory demolished it.