My wife and I were doing some shopping and antiquing in Evanston, IL, where the subject of my book, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, lived and worked for years. We spend a lot of time in this area, and I've gotten used to meeting random people who have some random connection to Hynek or finding myself at some business or building with some Hynek connection; it happens with surprising regularity and it makes me feel very fortunate to be so close to the world I'm writing about.
Recently I have done some research on a historical moment in astronomy that involved Hynek and that led to yesterday's odd happenings. In the summer of 1933, Hynek was working on his Ph.D. at the beautiful Yerkes Observatory on the shores of Lake Geneva, WI, and at that time the "Century of Progress" World's Fair was gearing up to open 100 miles away in Chicago. The retiring head of Yerkes, Dr. Edwin Frost, had convinced the Fair's organizers to light up the Fair on its opening night with a little help from the Observatory.
On May 27, the opening night of the Fair, the staff at Yerkes -- Hynek among them -- aimed their 40" refracting telescope at Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, and focused its brilliant light on a photoelectric cell. The cell converted the light of Arcturus to an electrical impulse that was sent to the Chicago lakeshore over telegraph lines, and at precisely 8:15 p.m. that impulse activated the switch that lit up the World's Fair, to the roaring approval of over 30,000 fairgoers. It was an especially magical moment to Chicagoans in that the "Star Beam" that reached the telescope that night was believed to have been created by Arcturus 40 years earlier, in 1893, when the last Chicago World's Fair had been held (it was discovered later that Arcturus is only 36 light years from earth, but whatever).
|The 1933 Chicago World's Fair, lit up by the star Arcturus|
So yesterday on a whim we decide to explore the shops on a little side street in Evanston, and we find two absolute gems, the Chicago Rare Book Center and Eureka! Antiques and Collectibles, side by side! We go into Eureka! first and the first thing I see is a framed jigsaw puzzle depicting the 1933 Century of Progress World's Fair, and I start to feel a strange tingling... My wife, meanwhile, is in heaven because the place is filled with vintage cookbooks, so after I look around a bit more I leave her to her explorations and follow my tingling next door to the book store. Naturally, there's a section on Chicago history, and naturally, some of the books are about Chicago's World's Fairs (even after all these years, the two Fairs are still huge cultural icons in the city), so I start up a conversation with one of the owners, Tom, and he helps me find some material about the 1933 Fair. As we're talking, he asks if I know a woman named Abigail Foerstner, which I don't, then he explains to me that she wrote a biography of famed astrophysicist James Van Allen, discoverer of the Van Allen radiation belt...
"I would imagine Van Allen and Hynek must have crossed paths at some time or another," says Tom. "Yes they did," I reply. In fact, their paths crossed at least twice: once, during WWII, while developing the proximity fuze for the U.S. Army, and then a few years after the war, on project that launched astronomical instruments into space inside captured Nazi V-2 rockets. They're little-known, but fascinating chapters in Hynek's career, and I am glad to be able to learn more about them. So, Tom gives me Ms. Foerstner's contact info and promises to get in touch if he comes across any Hynek-related material. Cool.
Then my wife and I regroup, and I can tell she's excited about something. She shows me a tiny little vintage cookbook she just found at Eureka! And I mean tiny: it's no bigger than 5"x5", no thicker than 1/8". It has a beautiful full-color illustration on the cover that I immediately recognize as being from the 1933 World's Fair, but the title of the book is "Durkee Famous Food Recipes." Huh?
Turns out, the cookbook was a free souvenir created for "the busy American housewife" and given out to anyone who visited the Durkee Foods exhibit at the World's Fair. To keep with the theme, the recipes all have goofy World's Fair-related names, so you'll find items such as "Planetarium Tapioca Royal," "World's Fair Ham Loaf," and "Canapes a la Midway." All pretty funny, but then my wife shows me the jaw-dropper:
There, on the page promoting Durkee's margarine products, is a recipe for "Arcturus Rolls."