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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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The Planetarium

Erwin Schrom, '36

The Magpie January 1936, v. 37, n. 1, p. 16.

Visit the Hayden Planetarium. Take CC Eighth Avenue Subway to Eighty First Street . . . New York's planetarium to open October Third . . . Don't fail to miss it" . . . As I emerged from the subway in the afternoon and, again in the morning when I left for school, I was confronted with this friendly greeting. In newspapers and magazines this grim, ghostly monster machine kept haunting and pursuing me. I could not shake it off because I didn't want to. I was determined to visit the Hayden Planetarium . . .

A rather unobtrusive looking stone building with a curved roof which stared uncannily over the facade, met my eyes. Undaunted, I proceeded farther and, having paid for my ticket, made a bold entry. With the automatism of a robot, I handed my ticket to an usher and was already encompassed in the shadowy darkness of the dome shaped planetarium before I woke up to the fact that I had really arrived. Stepping gingerly along the aisle, I was welcomed by a vacant seat squarely behind the monster, who, although he did not meet my expectations as to size, nevertheless seemed mystifying enough, his shape strangely resembling a dumbell narrowed at one end. So, lilting music lulled my senses into dreamy forgetfulness in which I was alive only to a great semi sphere overhead, a grim, gaunt, impassive myrmidon in front, and a dull rosy glow on all sides, in whose inviting warmth I readily wallowed.

I had hardly eased myself comfortably into my seat and begun to accustom myself to the weird light and to discern silhouetted shapes of New York City's famous skyline on the surrounding wall, when I was gripped by a cold frenzy. It seemed to me that I was losing my sight, for, try as hard as I might, I could not penetrate the gloom of the subtle lighting effects. The vacant stillness was suddenly broken by the loud, clear voice of the lecturer, which sounded as though it issued from the bottom of a sepulchre . . . "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This is the Hayden Planetarium . . . In a city like New York, with its many skyscrapers and tall buildings, we rarely get a real chance to fool: at the sloes unless we go to the park at night.

However, this afternoon, in this planetarium, we are going to make it possible for you to see the starry skies even as you would never see them on a cold, clear night in the country." . . . Her voice trails off. She throws a switch. Simultaneously that labyrinth of twisted steel above begins to hum with vibrant activity. Faces are uplifted and necks painfully twisted as affection is focused upon that section of the planetarium whose only visible mark of identification is an illuminated red E, the east.Silently and mysteriously a white spot makes its appearance from nowhere and proceeds across the heavens above you, which are, except for this newcomer, completely dark. This you recognize to be the sun . . . The monster before you has stopped his purring. The sun is now midway across the sky. The ecliptic, a semicircular band divided into twenty four parts of equal length, each of which bears the name of a month of the year, is flashed overhead. You are informed that it is the fourth day of October, nineteen thirty five, as you can very readily see.

Another interval passes . . . The lecturer throws another switch. Gasps of astonishment arise from the people, which is heard only as one "Ah!", as myriads of stars are projected on the firmament. The planets Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, and Uranus are identified and their paths across the sky traced with a flashlight by the lecturer. You recognize the handsome array above you as the milky way, and the renowned "Big Dipper" with its cluster of seven brilliant stars, and you are told how to locate the North Star from this. The moon in its revolutions around the earth is revealed . . . The night has passed. The reflection of the morning sun's rays is rapidly paling the once brilliant light of the stars, which are growing steadily dimmer . . . and dimmer . . . and dimmer.

The pleasant voice of the lecturer again greets you . . . "May I now wish you good morning, ladies and gentlemen." You rise from your seat with your thoughts still exploring the great expanse of heavenly bodies that were above you a short minute ago. You hear enthusiastic remarks from the audience. One man presses forward eagerly and gives voice to his enthusiasm. "I've never seen anything like it before". Another gasps, "It was thrilling! . . . You too are happy. You have seen the Hayden Planetarium . . .

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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