September 28, 2022

Return to Starlight Nights

Proclaimed the “world’s greatest non-professional astronomer” by Harvard Observatory’s Dr. Harlow Shapley in 1934, Leslie Peltier is Delphos’ greatest and most famous native son.  The Canal Museum has had a modest exhibit on Peltier since its inception but in 2019 we decided he deserved more.

In spring 2019 work was begun to update and improve the Leslie Peltier exhibit to make it worthy of his numerous accomplishments.  Ideas were gathered and discussed on what the new exhibit should look like and grants were applied for to help pay for the many improvements.  Remodeling of the second floor of the Museum opened up a larger space and the framework for the new exhibit began to take shape.

The first new addition was a large banner exhibiting Peltier’s work as an astronomer and also his work as a designer at the Delphos Bending Works.  His title as “world’s greatest non-professional astronomer” is prominent on the banner.  The story of Peltier’s life and accomplishments are displayed through photos and informational posters displayed on the walls.  Copies of his books, including the Ohioana Award winning Starlight Nights, are also displayed in a custom built case mounted to the wall.  A large, flat screen tv is also part of the exhibit, showing a continuous slide show of Peltier’s life from his days on the farm a few miles east of Delphos through his discovery of twelve comets to the historical marker installed at the Delphos Public Library in 2003.

While the aforementioned items make for a quite attractive and informational display, the gem of the exhibit is the replica of Peltier’s Merry Go Round observatory (MGR) being constructed in the center of the exhibit.  The MGR was built by Peltier with no blue prints out of bits and pieces found around the house and farm and in junkyards.  This fact made the building of the replica quite the challenge.  Canal Commission trustees Steve Dorsten, Mike Vanderhorst and Lou Hohman are building the MGR replica using a few photos, a description from Starlight Nights and a 1940 article on the observatory in the magazine Popular Science.  They are also following Peltier’s use of odds and ends and bits and pieces.

Peltier built the original MGR on the base of a children’s Merry Go Round produced at the Bending Works.  Since a Merry Go Round base isn’t available the replica rolls on casters with a steadying pivot point in the middle.  The wooden shell is being built much the same as the original.  The mechanical guts of the MGR are next and may prove to be quite a challenge.  The brilliant mind of Peltier designed and built the mechanics as he went.  The going might be slow during this final part of the construction but our intrepid team of builders will surely get the job done.

The replica MGR is being built so that it can be easily taken apart and transported for display in parades and at fairs and festivals.  Informational panels are being developed to tell the story of Leslie Peltier and his MGR.   A telescope for the MGR has been purchased with funds from local grants.

As the exhibit progresses and the MGR approaches completion, please feel free to visit the Museum and take a look at the new gem.  And if you have them, share your stories on Leslie Peltier and his many Starlight Nights. Incidentally, the original Merry Go Round Observatory was donated by Mrs. Peltier to the Miami Valley Astronomical Society (mvas.org) in the early 1990’s.  They rebuilt the rotted, wooden shell around the original mechanics.  It is currently housed at John Bryan State Park near Yellow Springs, Ohio and is still used to observe the stars.  The Miami Valley Astronomical Society hosts monthly star viewings at their dark sky site at John Bryan State Park from April through October which includes the MGR.  You can see the rebuilt MGR and view the stars from the same seat Leslie Peltier used years ago. 

Leslie Peltier with his Strawberry Spyglass in the rear

Leslie Peltier with his strawberry spyglass, Miami University observatory and in the far rear the Merry Go Round Observatory
Leslie Pelteir holding his Strawberry Spyglass wit the Miami Observatory behind him and the Merry Go Round Observatory in the far rear.

The Miami Observatory

Replica Merry Go Round Observatory at Canal Museum.

Peltier’s Merry Go Round Observatory at the Canal Museum

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