Harvard Observatory History in Images

In a web article about the Observatory Pinafore, someone left a comment that he had several photos of the play that belonged to his grandfather, Edward Skinner King. I tracked him down and got in touch, and he was kind enough to scan the images (six photos plus a copy of the program) for me. They're excellent quality images, much better than I've found anywhere else, and three of the images I've never seen anywhere else. (The images are all copyright Charles Reynes, great grandson of Edward Skinner King, and reproduced here with his permission.)

It seemed like a great opportunity to update the copy of the play put on the web by Jonathan McDowell with these photos, along with annotations on the history. Jonathan McDowell's transcribed script is on the left, and my annotations are on the right (except for the pictures and captions, which cross both columns). (His original transcription without my annotations).

One notable feature of the photographs is they're the only ones I know of that were taken inside the Director's Residence--so far. Hopefully details in these photos will help me place other photos I'm preparing to add to my archive, where I hadn't been able to identify the location.

The Observatory Pinafore (1879)

The oldest social event at the Observatory of which we have records, and one of the oldest of a long tradition of spoofs in astronomy, the Observatory Pinafore was a rewrite of Gilbert and Sullivan's `HMS Pinafore' which made fun of the inhabitants of the Harvard Observatory. Written in 1879, it was first performed in 1929, with a cast of famous astronomers. The full text is reproduced below. You can also read

If you are interested in helping stage a revival of this classic work, please contact the CFA Social and Recreational Committee.


Attributed to Winslow S. Upton, 1879

Original manuscript in the hand of Williamina Fleming, 1879.

First Performed Dec 31, 1929 by the Harvard Observatory Staff This performance came fifty years after the play was written. As far as I can tell all the original characters of the play had passed away by this point except for Frank Evans Seagrave, who died in 1934. I haven't been able to account for Rhoda G. Saunders. Rhoda Saunders was also alive and possibly even in the area during this performance. In 1888 (or so) she married Walter H. Hayes, who passed away in 1892 and was interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery. According to mountauburn.org, Rhoda S. Hayes was also interred there, on 7/12/1932. As of 1920 she was living in Arlington Massachusetts.

Even the unamed characters that I can identify had passed. The "Scotch Maid" (Williamina Fleming 1857-1911), and at least two of the nameless computers had passed away, including Selina Bond (-1920), and Anna Winlock (1857-1904). I also haven't tracked down Mrs. R. T. Rogers and Nettie Farrar (later Harris), the other known computers at that time.

The last to pass away before the performance was Leonard Waldo who died January 26th 1929, and it's possible that this play was pulled out as a remembrance at that time, leading to the New Year's Eve performance (although this is my own notion, and isn't reflected in any descriptions of the event).

The performance took place in the middle of the 43rd AAS (American Astronomical Society) meeting in Cambridge, Mass. According to a description of the play from the Cambridge Chronicle, the play took place in the Director's residence.

Typescript in files of O. Gingerich transcribed to electronic form June 17, 1994 by Jonathan McDowell while at the 1.2m CCD Photometer, on a decidedly non-photometric night. [Note: The text is from Copy O (Owen Gingerich's archive, Bok's copy). The HCO Library copy (Copy P, QB52 U68 (Ransom?)) has manuscript emendations indicated as follows: {} deleted from Copy P; ** added to copy P. It appears that in the original Upton manuscript, Josephine was actually Joseph; however in the 1929 typescript not all the relevant pronouns were altered from 'he' to 'she'. My emendations of these pronouns are also noted by {}.]

Direction: Harlow Shapley, Helen Sawyer Cast: --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
AS Professor Arthur Searle, in charge of Photometry - Leon Campbell Leon Campbell was the only member of the "old guard" at the Observatory who was in the cast or crew. He started at the Observatory in 1899, and stayed on until 1849. He was hardly the most senior member at the Observatory however, being preceded by Edward Skinner King (who probably took the recently found photos), Annie Jump Cannon, and Solon Bailey, all of whom probably attended the performance. He had also been at the observatory long enough to see the passing of Anna Winlock, Williamina Fleming, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, and Edward Pickering. He was also the long-time president of the American Association of Variable Star Observers.
WU Mr. Winslow Upton, Assistant Observer on Photometer P - G. W. Wheelwright George W. Wheelwright the third was a student with a bachelor's degree in fine arts, who was pursuing a masters degree in physics and astronomy at Harvard when he performed in this play. Shortly after, he left to go into business with another student named Edwin H. Land, forming Land Wheelwright Laboratories in 1932, to design and market polarizing filters for photography and sunglasses. (Many sources say that Wheelwright was Land's professor or instructor, but I can't seem to verify this in primary sources.) Five years later, they formed the Polaroid Corporation together.

Considering he founded a camera company, it's surprisingly difficult to find photographs of Mr. Wheelwright, and this has led to difficulty identifying him in the photographs I have.

WAR Professor William A. Rogers, in charge of Meridian Circle - P.M. Millman Peter Millman was an assistant at the Observatory at the time, where he began a career-long focus on meteor spectra, primarily at the Dunlap Observatory in Toronto.
RGS Miss Rhoda G. Saunders, Computer - Adelaide Ames Adelaide Ames was Cecelia Payne's close friend, and fellow student at Radcliffe. She published the Shapley-Ames catalog of Bright Galaxies in 1932, and died shortly after in a boating accident in New Hampshire.
JFM Josephine F. McCormack, Circle Reader
- Cecilia H. Payne Cecilia Payne was the First PhD. in Astronomy from Harvard Observatory (male or female), writing a hugely important thesis, calculating for the first time the relative abundance of different elements in the sun based on spectral data and the latest theories in quantum mechanics, and uncovering the hydrodgen/helium makeup of the stars. Her thesis, Stellar Atmospheres, was published in 1925, four years before this production. By the time of this production, scientists were beginning to accept that her calculations of the amount of Hydrogen and Helium in the sun might just be correct.
ECP Professor Edward C. Pickering, The Director - W.R. Ransom LW Dr. Leonard Waldo, L.L.D., Director of Observatory at Providence - Bart J. Bok
FES Mr. Frank E. Seagrave, Gentleman from Providence - A. R. Sayer I believe that Arthur Robert Sayer is the very young looking man in the pictures. He would have been about 20 at the time of this production. He earned a doctorrate under Donald Menzel in 1935, was briefly at Amherst, and then went to Dearborn Observatory at Northwestern. There isn't a lot of information after that, most likely because his later career in nuclear physics at Los Alamos was classified secret work. A Los Alamos Newsletter ("The Atom") from June 1965 says he had just passed 20 years of service, which means that he could have been on hand at Los Alamos for the first detonation of a nuclear weapon in July 1945.
Computers - Irma Caldwell Sylvia Mussels
Helen Sawyer Helen Sawyer (later Hogg) earned a PhD in astronomy in 1932, the fourth given out at Harvard Observatory. Her long career included decades of research, instruction, leadership roles in various organizations, popular books, and a television show.
Mildred Shapley Henrietta Swope Influential Men From Providence: Mr. Bowie Mr. Andrews Costumes: Henrietta Swope
Properties: Arville Walker Arville Walker began as a computer in 1906, and stayed on until 1957, serving as Harlow Shapley's secretary according to some sources. I believe this set a new record at that time for service to the Observatory.
Conductor and Violinist: Jenka Mohr Pianist: Frances Wright. ACT I: Computing Room of the Observatory, Early Morning ACT II: Library of Observatory, Late Afternoon. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ACT I

Actors: Peter Millman, Leon Campbell, [Ransom or Wheelwright], Henrietta Swope, Cecilia Payne, Mildred Shapley, Helen Sawyer, Sylvia Mussels, Adelaide Ames.
Characters: William A. Rogers, Arthur Searle, [Pickering or Upton], computer, Josephina, computer, computer, computer, Rhoda Saunders
Scene: Computing Room of the Harvard Observatory. JFM, WU, RGS, and others at work. Overture. Chorus of Computers We work from morn 'till night, For computing is our duty; We're faithful and polite, And our record book's a beauty;
With Crelle and Gauss, Chauvenet and Peirce, These are well-known mathemticians. The line simply means that the computers were using their equations or methods. Peirce is probably Benjamin Peirce or his son Charles Sanders Peirce, both at Harvard and both associated to varying degrees with the Observatory. They were both "out" by then, as they were disliked by Harvard president Charles Eliot.

Charles S. Peirce was the earliest proponent at the Observatory of photometry, observing almost 500 stars using a Zollner photometer. He also attempted to standardize previous datasets of observations to the same magnitude scale.

We labor hard all day; We add, subtract, multiply and divide, And we never have time to play. No, no; No, no, We never, never play. No, no; No, no, We never, never play. We sit at our desks all day, all day, We work from morn 'till night And computing is our duty, We are faithful and polite, And our record book's a beauty, Computing is our duty, Our record book's a beauty, We work from morn 'till night, We are faithful and polite. [Enter A.S. (A. Stronomer) with the morning mail] Rec. A.S. Good day, workers hard, cease your toil a moment. I've brought the mail which is {far} more important. Here are letters for you all, but do not read them long, For I want to sing you my little song: Aria. A.S. I'm called an astronomer, skillful astronomer, Though I could never tell why; But yet an astronomer, happy astronomer, Modest astronomer, I. I read the thermometers, break the photometers, Mend them with paper and wax; I often lament that so seldom is spent A fair evening on star parallax. I write many letters, give aid to my betters, And often sit up late o'nights To catch a few glimpses of the many eclipses of Jupiter's bright satellites. I'm called an astronomer, skillful astronomer, Though I could never tell why; But yet an astronomer, happy astronomer, Modest astronomer, I. WU Did you get the eclipse this morning?
AS No! We tried, but Photometer didn't work and the clock gave out just as we began. Arthur Searle was an Englishman, and a fixture at the Observatory for decades. He was hired in 1868 to fill a position previously held by his brother George. He rose through the ranks from a computer to an assistant to professor, and became acting director after Joseph Winlock died in 1975. The first five women (at least) hired at the Observatory were hired under his temporary leadership. In 1912 he was named Phillips Professor of Astronomy. He remained at the Observatory until is death in 1920.

It's inscrutable to me that he has no Wikipedia page. He's been described as a very modest, quiet man who could have been a director at another observatory had he been ambition. It strikes me that one's disposition can affect their reputations for decades and even centuries afterward.

WU You made noise enough for a dozen eclipses. I couldn't sleep.

Upton was a boarder in the director's residence, or more accurately in a room in the Sears Tower, off the steps leading up to the Great Refractor. This was quite common, as Arthur Searle had been a boarder under Winlock, as was Joseph McCormack who was there with a live-in servant named Ann McCormack, possibly his mother (21 years older than him).

AS You ought to change your room if we disturb you. WU I shall when my salary is large enough.
AS I guess you'll die of old age in that room if you wait for a large salary before giving it up. While it's often repeated that women at Harvard were paid half as much as men, I haven't found clear evidence to support it. Based on my research it seems that all of the low-level employees, male or female, were paid about half as much as the going rate at the Naval Observatory (which is probably where the "half-as-much" claim originates).

Most computers started at $500 a year, 0.25 cents an hour. Some with more experience or better connections started at $600 a year. The lower-level observing assistants were at one point making $700 a year, and later closer to $900, while the full-time astronomers were making $1000 to $2000 a year. Pickering was paid in the range of $3000 to $5000 between 1875 and 1900, but as a man of means he donated much (or perhaps all) of his salary back to the observatory. He paid for an expansion of the Director's Residence out of his own pocket.

The entry-level wages were stable for at least 25 years, with records from 1904 and 1905 indicating that computers and observing assistants were still paid 25 or 30 cents an hour.

Recit. But tell me who's the man whose lingering feet With difficulty bear him on his course? WU That is the smartest man upon our force - Prof. Rogers. AS. Oh, he! I go, I go. [Exit].
[Enter WAR] Madrigal WAR The morning star loved the pale Moon's bright ray, And sang afar in his own melodious way. He sang, "Ah! Well-a-day!" William A. Rogers seems to be deeply involved in the hiring of women as computers at Harvard. The first women hired, Anna Winlock, was assigned to him (and completed his work after he died in 1898). He also coordinated with Harvard president Charles Eliot in the hiring of Rhoda Saunders. And a third women hired early on, a "Mrs. R. T. Rogers" seems to be a close relative of his (although she does not seem to be his wife actually it now seems more likely to me that she was his wife).
All He sang, "Ah! Well-a-day!" WAR Bright Sirius for Capella vainly sighed, To his humble wail Aldebaran replied, They sang, "Ah! Well-a-day!" All They sang, "Ah! Well-a-day!"
WU Recit. I know the value of a kindly chorus, But choruses yield but little consolation, When we have pain and trouble too before us, I fear that Josephine will lose her station! RGS Alas! That Josephine should lose her station! All Alas! That Josephine should lose her station! Joseph F. McCormack was an assistant at the Observatory. He was hired in 1872, but prior to that he was a boarder with Joseph Winlock (at the Observatory) in the 1865 state and 1870 federal census, along with an Ann McCormack, who is listed as a domestic servant. He began assisting Professor Rogers by reading the microscopes of the new Meridian Circle on April 1, 1872 "after several weeks of training". It was apparently a bumpy learning curve:

"April 6. Trouble with the illumination, both of the wires and of the microscopes. Found that J. F. M. has for 8 or 10 days been in the habit of throwing up the telescope by pushing on the dew cap, after putting on the cap. This may have disturbed the collimation."

The 1878 cambridge directory lists McCormack's occupation as "computer", and he may have had his start in this position, but by this time would be more accurately be described as an observer's assistant (a position out-of-reach of the women computers).

As I understand it, Rogers would observe and have McCormack record times and positions. This sort of arrangement was rather luxurious for an observatory, as most observers had to record their own data. In the long run, it was an unsustainable practice, financially, although I don't believe this is why Mr. McCormack would lose his station—a subscription (donation fund) obtained in 1878 secured funding for assistants for a few years after that. Or perhaps, this danger of losing "Josephine" refers to an earlier event that lead up to the need for the 1878 subscription.

At any rate, it would have been a big loss for Rogers to have to do his own data recording. This convenience seems to be central to the plot of this entire parody.

Joseph F. McCormack died of typhoid fever in 1880, at the age of 25 years and six months.

Ballad. WAR A maid more fair to see ne'er graced Astronomy For Science fair did choose her.
For her the circle sighs, and Chronograph replies "Alas! That we must lose her." All "Alas! That we must lose her." WAR A foeman nobly born, by scheming passion torn, And coy beyond concealing, He dared for her to pine, at whose exalted shrine, The microscopes lie kneeling. All The microscopes lie kneeling. A Meridian Circle is a telescope that's locked into viewing the sky along the local meridian (the north-south circle around the earth perpendicular to your location). The telescope has only one axis of rotation, precisely oriented with the meridian. A line in the eyepiece can be used to detect the exact moment a star crosses the meridian. It's also equipped with one or (usually) two large circular graded rings which can precisely measure the angle at which the telescope is pointed. The marks on the ring are so fine that a low power microscope (engraved with a vernier scale) is needed to precisely determine the direction of the telescope.

Because of this, Rogers became a well-known expert on microscopes, as well as... spiders. "Spiderline" micrometers used actual spider web to put very fine lines onto the eyepiece. They tended to be too fine, and hard to see, so Rogers searched in vain for a spider with a thicker web, until eventually he invented a process for etching very fine lines on glass with acid.

WAR Unlearned she in aught, save that which I have taught, For I have taught her deftly Oh, pity, pity me! How lonely shall I be when she at last has left me! WAR and all. Oh, pity, pity me! How lonely shall I be when she at last has left me! RGS You look tired. WAR. I didn't sleep well last night. The Director talks of taking Josephine off the Meridian Circle and sending her to Providence to help Mr. Waldo. I opposed it all I could, but he evidently has made up his mind to do it. JFM. I don't want to go. WAR Well, we'll see. I have a plan that I think will fix it all right. Let's go to work now. [All resume work. Silence for a few moments.] WAR Bah! WU There's something wrong a-brewin'! WAR Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! It's all wrong! A fearful mistake! All Whose figures? WAR to RGS They look like yours.
RGS I don't believe it's wrong. WAR Wait a minute! It *is* right after all! I thought I'd found a whopping mistake. {I'm relieved! What time is it? Hooraw, Jo, time for next star.} [Marginal note in copy P transfers last 3 sentences to just before entry of AS, preceded by unknown dialogue from JFM.] Rhoda G. Saunders was one of the first computers hired, probably second or third. Her hiring was arranged by the president of Harvard University, Charles Eliot, through letters to both Rogers and Searle. While Eliot explicitly opposed bringing women to Harvard, his reasoning wasn't that he didn't believe they could handle it; rather he felt that it wasn't his place to use Harvard for experimenting. But he did seem to think he could use the Observatory for this purpose. She was hired at a salary of $600 a year (other women were hired at $500). Her relationship to Eliot and/or Rogers is unclear, but like almost all hires at the Observatory, it seems that personal connections were the rule.

Her named role in this play vaguely implies that she had some sort of leadership position. However by the time Williamina Fleming was officially hired in 1881, Nettie Farrar seemed to be the "boss" of the women, or at least one of the projects, which Williamina took charge of after Miss Farrar married a Mr. Harris from California and left.

Miss Saunders may have married a salesman named Walter H. Hayes by 1900., and after that the trail grows cold. (see above for more details)

[Exeunt WAR and JFM. Enter ECP] ECP My gallant crew, good morning! All. Sir, good morning. ECP I hope you're all quite well. All. Quite well, and you, sir? ECP I'm in reasonable health, and happy to meet you all once more. All. You do us proud, sir! Song.
ECP I am the captain of this little crew. All. And a right good captain too. ECP You are very, very good, and be it understood I command a right good crew. All We're very, very good, and be it understood He commands a right good crew. ECP Though moving by my right in society polite, And among many men of note, I am never known to wear, though the ladies vainly stare, A tall hat or swallow-tail coat. All What, never? ECP No, never! All What, NEVER? ECP Well, hardly ever! All Hardly ever wears a swallow-tail coat. Then give three cheers and three times three for the gallant captain of the Observatree, Then give three cheers and three times three for the captain of the Observatree, In my opinion, Edward C. Pickering was exceedingly interested in how he would be remembered by history. He had a lifetime of photographs of himself, even as a child of privilege when portrait photography was brand new. He had a painting of himself made, as well as a bust.

But his dedication to the Observatory was genuine. He tirelessly promoted the Observatory and its staff (including the women). He even more tirelessly worked to raise funds, and secured some massive donations over the years. At the same time, he often donated his own money for smaller, urgently needed jobs, or as seed money in some of his compaigns. He also carried on the tradition of hiring women begun by his predecessors, and expanded the practice greatly. There are arguments about his motives, but I for one believe that ultimately, he hoped to be remembered as being very progressive.

ECP I do my best to satisfy you all. All And with you we're quite content. ECP You're exceedingly polite, and I think it only right, To return the compliment. All We're exceedingly polite, and he thinks it only right, To return the compliment. ECP Academic titles all, I have never failed to call In addressing you by name. Though Mister I may occasionally say I never speak the bare surname. All What, never? ECP No, never! All What, NEVER? ECP Well, hardly ever! All Hardly ever speaks the bare surname. Then give three cheers and three times three for the gallant captain of the Observatree, Then give three cheers and three times three for the gallant captain of the Observatree, [During the song, AS has entered.] Recit. AS Sir, you are sad - the silent eloquence of yonder tear that trembled on your eyelash Proclaims a sorrow far more deep than common. Confide in me - I will try to comfort you. ECP Yes, sympathising friend, I'm sad and sorry. My assistant Josephine the fairest flower That ever blossomed on scientific timber Is sought for a helper by Dr. Leonard Waldo. But {her} former employer, Professor Rogers, For some reason is violently opposed to it. AS (aside) Ah! poor Rogers! I know too well The anguish of a heart that cannot have its way.
But here he comes, I must read the thermometers. Farewell. [Exit] The duties of the Observatory included meteorological observations. Later, the Blue Hills Observatory was created for the weather, and then at some point Blue Hills became separately run.
ECP [looking after him] A plump and pleasing person! [Enter WAR and JFM] ECP Good morning! How's the work getting on? WAR First rate! ECP I'm pleased to hear it. [to JFM] I would like to see you a few moments in my study. [Exeunt ECP and JFM] Ballad, RGS Sorry her lot who adds not well, Dull is the mind that checks but vainly, Sad are the sighs that own the spell Symbolized by frowns that speak too plainly. Heavy the sorrow that bows the head When fingers are tender and the ink is red.
Happy the hour when sets the sun, Sweet is the night to earth's poor daughters, Who sweetly may sleep when labor is done Unlike their brother astronomers. The women were not allowed to observe at night or assist observers, as women up late at night alone with men was unseemly. I'm not so sure that the women were happy about this, as it was basically a career ceiling. I'm also not convinced it was completely true. In a journal in 1900, Williamina Fleming mentioned that the women would sometimes look through telescopes in their leisure time after work. Given that many of them would know how to operate the instruments, and the men could use the help, I wonder if there was ever any unofficial work.

Early in the 20th century, Annie Jump Cannon is on record as doing some real observing, so that ceiling grew weaker (but at the same time the salary situation seems to have gotten worse).

Heavy the sorrow that bows the head When fingers are tender and the ink is red. WAR What's the matter with your fingers? RGS The red ink stains come off so hard that my fingers are sore all the time. I hate red ink. WU What makes you use it then? I don't. RGS Don't you? Look at your book! There are lots of red figures - your figures, too. WU They are corrections of others' mistakes, not my own. RGS That's it! You correct your own mistakes in blue, so that they don't show so much. I think it's mean. WAR It's a good rule that *all* mistakes should be corrected in red. WU I don't think so. WAR I do - What do you think of my trying to keep Josephine? She's the best circle reader in the country. I don't want to lose her. WU I don't believe she'll stay. I'd go if I were she. [Song is heard in the distance. Enter hastily ECP, AS, and JFM.] Barcarole (invisible) Over the grassy lea, comes Leonard Waldo, LLD, Wherever he may go, bang-bang the loud nine-pounders go. Shout o'er the grassy lea for Leonard Waldo, LLD. Chorus of Computers: They work from morn 'till night, For computing is their duty, They're faithful and polite, Their record book's a beauty. [Enter delegation of citizens from Providence]. Citizens: Gaily tripping, lightly skipping, Flock the visitors to this building. Gaily tripping, lightly skipping, Flock the visitors to this building. Computers: Gloves and canes and glasses gleaming, How the strangers throng the building. Citizens: Youths so sprightly, always sightly, Welcome visitors so politely.
Computers: Visitors who can smile so brightly We all welcome most politely. Welcome most politely. The tireless promotion and fundraising by Pickering probably meant an endless parade of visitors.
[Enter LW and RGS] ECP {Twice nine} Harvard cheers, now - one, two, three! [** A regular Harvard cheer (Copy P)] All: Rah! rah! rah! rah! rah! rah! rah! rah! rah! Rah! rah! rah! rah! rah! rah! rah! rah! rah!
Song. LW. I reside in places three - Cambridge, Brookline, and Little Rhodee. But the last of these I say is "perfectly immense". FES And so say the influential men of Providence. Citizens: And so say the influential men of Providence. The influential men of Providence. LW I'm very full of knowledge rare, And could fill a professor's chair. But I think my learning fails of proper recompense. Leonard Waldo was one of the assistants at The Observatory, and at the same time (it seems) the director of a private observatory in Providence, Rhode Island, owned by Frank Seagrave. He was originally hired at Harvard to take care of the time service, a job which was later taken over by his brother Frank (see also, Arthur Searle's hiring — nepotism ruled supreme for jobs at the Observatory).
FES And so say the influential men of Providence. Citizens: And so say the influential men of Providence. The influential men of Providence.
LW I am at last an L.L.D., I'm very proud of my degree, For it shows that I'm a man of extraordinary sense. Leonard Waldo was awarded a Doctor of Science in Astronomy in 1879 by Harvard. It seems it was an honorary degree, and the "L.L.D" designation which usually meant doctor of law sometimes also was used for honorary degrees. I haven't found the nature of his degree yet, but most of his work around this time period was horology. He was later also considered an expert in metallurgy.
FES And so say the influential men of Providence. Citizens: And so say the influential men of Providence. Professors, lawyers, ministers, The wise and wealthy men of Providence. WU I wouldn't give two cents for a degree. LW Sour grapes.
WU Not at all. I've a better position already than an LLD, FRAS, or XYZ could give me. I am assistant observer on Photometer P. The photometers built at the observatory were assigned letters (used in the logbooks). By 1878, they had used A through O, so in 1879 when this play was written, photometer P would be one of the newest photometers. The 1879 report metions Photometer Q, and later Photometers built in the following years include R, T, and W, but I find no mention anywhere in the records of a real "Photometer P".

Clearly (to me) "Photometer P" was some sort of an in-joke. Was it a failed instrument design? A joke about "P" being Pickering, as it seemed to be his pet project? Or was it simply a "pee" joke? The slang term was certainly in use by that time, and would have been well-recognized.

Song WU Two years ago I came to be An assistant at th'Observatree. I spent my time from day to day In making computations for the Const [sic] survey. My "patent" computations did so well for me That now I am observing with Photometer P. Const=Coast. The United States Coast Survey had a very close association with the Observatory. Many observatory staff members had worked previously for the Coast survey, including Director Joseph Winlock, who worked there early in his career as a computer, and later took a couple of short turns in charge of the Coast Survey before becoming director at the Observatory. In addition, there were occasional collaborations between the Observatory and the Coast Survey.

One other person who worked for the Coast Survey was Maria Mitchell. The most famous female astronomer of her era (a period in time where astronomy was very popular; she was probably a household name to many), she had worked as a computer all the way back to the 1850s, both for the Coast Survey and for the Nautical Almanac, a Navy publication. Mitchell had other ties to the Observatory, including previous director George P. Bond, and she was an early proponent of hiring women for computer work as a way of getting them into the sciences.

All this leads up to a pet theory of mine: Harvard may already have been paying women for computer work "off the books" and without any credit (Maria Mitchell complained that this was happening, although didn't specifically name Harvard as the culprit). Did her association with the Observatory lead to a plan with Director Winlock to officially hire women? After Winlock died, several women were hired in very short order, all with good connections, including connections to Harvard President C. Eliot. I have absolutely no firm evidence for this, but plenty of things seem to line up. It's what she was promoting. Harvard was the nearest "real" observatory to her private observatory on Nantucket. And it was big enough and had a bit of cash, as well as a pressing need for computation. And the people in charge at the Observatory would have been fully aware of work done by women as computers for the Coast Survey.

Chorus My "patent" computations did so well for me That now I am observing with Photometer P.
WU In the cool night air with "S" and "P" I wearied my eyes on photometree. Bright stars with H, faint stars with I Blue doubles reserved for a cloudy sky. So many close doubles were observed by me That now I am observing with Photometer P. I assume "S" is Arthur Searle and "P" is Ed Pickering. It was typical to record only a single initial in early logbooks. Likewise, I also assume that "H" and "I" were two of the photometers used. The annals indicate that Photometer I was in fact used for faint stars, and that H and I were the most frequently used photometers in 1878.
Chorus So many close doubles were observed by me That now I am observing with Photometer P. WU I pulled the string or turned the screw Or drove the match as I was told to do; I "cranked" the circle near and far while "S" strained his eyes to catch the prism star. I became so cranky they promoted me To be an observer with Photometer P. Chorus I became so cranky they promoted me To be an observer with Photometer P.
WU I turned the dome with so grand a shock that I broke two windows and the Elliott clock; I burst the gas pipe rolling the chair, And created a blaze for the winter's scare. For my worthy zeal they requested me to try my strength on Photometer P. I haven't found any evidence to support these claims of destruction attributed to Upton, but don't doubt them either. I'm not sure what the "Elliott" clock was. Perhaps a clock paid for by Harvard president Charles Eliot? But certainly Harvard had several very important, delicate, and expensive clocks sitting about, ready to be damaged.

The first director, William Cranch Bond, had been a clockmaker, and of course astronomy was deeply involved in timekeeping. The observatory was used as a source of accurate time for a very large region, which was sold for profit, distributing the information by telegram. Proceeds from these sales went to the Winlock family for a period of five years after director Winlock's death in 1875.

Chorus For my worthy zeal they requested me to try my strength on Photometer P.
WU Now Waldo, Wendell, Metcalf, Mann, Copy my example as far as you can; Compute, observe, and - mark my word - Your labor will gain its due reward. And if you're asked "What reward shall it be?" Say, "Let me observe with Photometer P". Other assistants. Oliver Clinton Wendell, hired in 1879, remained at the observatory until his death in 1912.

C. H. Metcalf is identified as a student who helped with reductions in the 1877 annual report. The 1882 annual report also mentions a Mr. Metcalf as assisting with reductions. (Not to be confused with Reverend Joel H. Metcalf, who was associated with the Observatory a couple of decades later.)

No clue who Mann is.

Chorus: And if you're asked "What reward shall it be?" Say, "Let me observe with Photometer P". LW Indeed. I congratulate you. ECP How are you getting along in Providence? LW Very nicely, sir. We are just preparing to make observations of Mars this fall. ECP For parallax?
LW Yes, sir. I have recently devised a new photomicrometric theodelite, from which we expect a great deal. It is made from the best material and by the best mechanician in this country, Grunow of New York. I should like, sir, to show it to you when it is completed. A theodelite is a telescope, generally lower power, designed to measure it's pointing direction on two different axes, the compass bearing and the angle of elevation.

William Grunow was an instrument maker in New York, well-known in the astronomical community, and also as a microscope maker along with his brother Julius.

But I haven't found any record of a theodelite built by Grunow, nor one built for Seagrave.

ECP Thank you! I should be pleased to examine it.
LW I have the testimony, sir, of able astronomers in this country and in Europe, whom I consulted in the matter, that its principle is excellent, and I am sure we shall succeed with it. You have a large force of computers, sir. The large force included at least: Anna Winlock (former director's daughter), Rhoda G. Saunders (recommended by the president of Harvard), Selina Bond (another former director's daughter), Mrs. R. T. Rogers, and probably Nettie Farrar. There may have been more hired by this time, and it's possible that Willimina Fleming, allegedly Pickering's maid, had done a bit of computing by now. Some other early hires that may have already been on include Eve Leland and Edith and Mabel Gill.
ECP Yes, quite large - most enough for a good dance in spare hours.
LW Do you allow, sir, your assistants to dance? Physicians tell me it is promotive of inaccuracy in computation. Don't let your kids dance folks because as we all know it leads to... mathematical errors.
ECP Indeed! I was not aware of that. I had though[t] of inducing our Scotch maid to give them instruction in the Highland polka, but she has unfortunately returned to her native land. This must be Williamina Fleming, about whom the popular (but false) story persists that she was the first female computer at Harvard, hired when Pickering grew frustrated with the men and decided his maid could do a better job. It's not entirely clear what exactly happened though. This play is actually the most direct evidence I've found that she actually was his maid at any point in time.

The popular story says that she was hired as a maid after her husband deserted her and left her to raise her unborn child on her own. She married James Orr Fleming in Dundee, Scotland, in May of 1877. Most sources agree that the couple came to the U.S. in December 1878, although the passenger manifest was probably lost in a fire in Boston in the 1880s. Most sources then say something vague that puts James Orr Fleming out of the picture and Williamina as Pickering's maid. Whatever happened, it happened fast, because by October 6th 1879 Williamina was back in Scotland where her son was born, Edward Charles Pickering Fleming (this is the name on the birth certificate). That name does make it seem pretty likely that she was not with James Orr anymore. At any rate, she had barely more than nine months in the U.S to conceive a child, become a maid of such merit that she's written into this play, and then return to Scotland.

This also makes the claim that the Observatory Pinafore was copied in her handwriting a bit problematic. How could she copy down that she had already left if she had not already left? Or, if it is in her hand, does this mean that she is actually the author?

Also let me briefly say that some have speculated on the parentage of her son, Edward Charles Pickering Fleming, based largely on his name. It's possible, but the timing makes it unlikely. He was conceived sometime in December or January, with later dates in January very unlikely for survival in that time period, so if the December journey is accurate it's just hard to imagine Fleming getting hired as a maid and getting busy so quickly.

It's fair to say though, that the what exactly happened to her marriage remains a mystery. She reported herself as a widow by 1900 in the Census, but it's unknown exactly when he died. (There is a James Orr Fleming who shows up in New York in 1900 with a new wife and children, but it isn't clear to me that this is really the same person).

LW That is not unfortunate, but fortunate, I should say, sir. I hope, however, your assistants sing. I have recently composed an astronomical song, which is designed to give instruction to young astronomers in a pleasing way. [He hands some copies to ECP who lays them on the table]. ECP Thank you. Undoubtedly it is valuable music. LW I should like, sir, to show my friends through the building, and shall we rejoin you in the library? ECP Certainly, certainly. I shall be at leisure. LW [to computers] Good morning. All Good morning, Mr. Waldo. FES *Mr* Waldo! *Dr* Waldo, you mean. All [smiling] Good morning, Dr. Waldo. LW [spoken] My friend is quite right. [sung] For I hold that a degree When bestowed for deep studee Should recieve o'er titles general the precedence. FES and Chorus And so say the influential men of Providence. The Influential men, the influential men of Providence. [Exeunt ECP, LW, FES and Citizens of Prov.] WU The idea of our dancing a Scottish jig! RGS I should like to try it. JFM So should I. WU Let's sing the new song they have left for us. All. Agreed! SONG: WAR, JFM, WU and Chorus of Computers: An astronomer is a sorry soul, As free as a caged bird; His sympathetic ear should be always quick to hear The directorial word. He must open the dome and turn the wheel And watch the stars with untiring zeal. He must toil at night though cold it be And he never should expect a decent salaree. Chorus: He must open the dome and turn the wheel And watch the stars with untiring zeal. He must toil at night though cold it be And he never should expect a decent salaree. His eyes should shine with learned fire, His brow with thought be furrowed; His energetic speech should be ever prompt to teach The truths which he has borrowed.
His knees should bend and his neck should curl His back should twist and his face should scowl, One eye should squint and the other protrude, And this should be his customary attitude. According to the AAS meeting notes, "appreciative applause was given to the astronomer[s]" for this description of their profession.
Chorus: His knees should bend and his neck should curl His back should twist and his face should scowl, One eye should squint and the other protrude, And this should be his customary attitude. [Exeunt all but WAR and JFM] WAR What did the director say? JFM He offers me better wages and I think I shall go. WAR Oh, no. You don't want to go. You wouldn't be contented. Now listen to my plan. The director is anxious to have more of us work on his new photometer. If you should study up and offer to work in the intervals between our stars on the Meridian Circle, I know it would please him. JFM But I want that time to warm my feet and read the New York Weekly. WAR Well, how will this do? For me must devise some plan. You and I will get Mr. Searle to explain how the instrument works and then -
JFM But they say the prisms are poor and that Clark will have to regrind them, sooner or later. WAR I have it, then. We'll get Mr. Searle to explain to us what is wanted, and this afternoon or tonight we'll carry the prisms down to Clark's and get them fixed and put them back; and when the director finds out how improved they are, I'll tell him you did it and he will let you stay with me. "Clark" refers to Alvan Clark and Sons, telescope makers in Cambridge, who had a close association with the Observatory. As a part time telescope maker, Alvan Clark Sr. was inspired to go into telescope making full time after looking through Harvard's revered Great Refractor and seeing problems, such that he felt he could do better.

They built about half of all the record-breaking refractors after that, including the two largest working refractors ever built, at 36 and 40 inches.

JFM I don't believe it. I should lose my place by meddling with the instrument. I won't have anything to do with your plan. I'm going to Providence to live with professors. DUET (WAR and JFM) JFM Refrain, audacious sir, your suit from pressing; Remember who you are and whom addressing - Professors seek my aid and here assemble The noblest in the land behold and tremble (Aside) If I were not afraid to risk my station I would adopt at once his recommendation.
WAR You wretch, what do you say? You heartless beauty. Speak *you* and *I* obey? Is it my duty? Am I a lowly fool, you bold agressor? That you should darkly hint I'm no professor? (Aside) My heart, with anguish torn, is loth to lose her She laughs my suit to scorn, yet I would choose her. While Waldo had his recently awarded doctorate, Rogers had been appointed Assistant Professor of Astronomy on April 9th 1877 (having been at the Observatory since 1870ish). The 1877-1878 annual report makes this distinction clear in its list of assistants: "Professor Rogers, Mr. Searle, Mr. Waldo, and Mr. Upton." [emphasis mine]

However, Rogers had no advanced degree. He had a Master of Arts from a four-year program at Brown, and the following year Brown began granting only Bachelor's degrees from that same program, in keeping with prevailing practices. Yale would give Rogers an honorary master's degree in 1880, and Brown an honorary doctorate in 1892, but at this point, while Rogers was a professor and Waldo was merely an assistant, Waldo had the more impressive degree.

[Exit JFM] WAR [Recit] Can I survive this overbearing? Or live a life of mad despairing? My preferred plan despised, rejected? No! No! It's not to be expected. Comrades all, come back, come here! come here! [Enter computers] { [deleted from Copy P] All: Aye, aye, dear sir, what cheer, what cheer? Now tell us pray, without delay, What does he say? What cheer? What cheer? WAR This ingrate treats my suit with scorn, Rejects my humble plan, Miss Rhoda {She} says that I must stand aside And cuts my hopes adrift, Miss Rhoda. All: Oh, cruel one! Oh, cruel one! WU {She} spurns your suit? Oho, oho! I told you so, I told you so. All: Shall we submit? Shall we submit? That Josephine should treat you so? Astronomers shall bold resist And shall we stoop to insult? No! No! WU You must submit, you must submit - {She} spurns your suit, oho! oho! You'll be discharged if you resist, I told you so, I told you so. } WAR [drawing pistol] My friends, my leave of life I'm taking, For oh! for oh! my heart is breaking. When I am gone O prithee tell the maid that as I died I loved her well. All [weeping] Of life, alas! his leave he's taking For oh! his faithful heart is breaking When he is gone we'll surely tell that as he died, he loved her well. WAR Farewell, my comrades all It grieves my heart to leave you. For Josephine I fall [puts pistol to head] [enter JFM]

According to the copy of this image at the Emilio Segre Visual Archive, these are the actors, left to right: Peter Millman, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Henrietta Swope, Mildred Shapley (daughter of Harlow and Martha Shapley), Helen Sawyer-Hogg, Sylvia Mussells-Lindsay, Adelaide Ames, Leon Campbell.
JFM Ah! Stay your hand! I'll aid you! All Ah! Stay your hand! She'll aid you! WAR Aid me? JFM Aid you. All Yes, yes, ah yes! She'll aid you!
WU He thinks he's won his Jospehine, But though the sky is now serene A frowning thunderbolt above May end their ill-assorted love, which now is all ablaze. Our captain, ere the day is done Will be extremely down upon The wicked man, who art employ To make his Josephine so coy In many various ways. This paragraph and the next are some of the more obvious examples of a central theme throughout this play - the love between Rogers and Josephina. But of course Josephine was originally a (very real) man, not a woman. The next paragraph in particular, which is marked as deleted from one copy but not another is interesting in that regard. Unfortunately I don't know enough about the chronology of the copies to know which material might have been written in 1879, and which parts rewritten or even added in 1929.

I'm no expert on the social issues of the late 1800s, but it seems more likely to me that this is all a joke with respect to a close and perhaps needy professional relationship, rather than the outing of a more intimate relationship. But the author and circumstances of the writing remains uncertain. This is based on nothing more than naive notions about how history works - that it is a slow steady progress from darkness into light. Even though I know this is not true, as in other contexts, such as women's rights, it tends to be five steps forward and four steps back.

At any rate, the answer to this question is unknowable. However the change from Joseph to Josephine certainly seems to mean that 50 years later, in 1929, the idea of such love between men was at least as unspeakable as it had been in 1879, and perhaps even more so.

{ Chorus O joy, o rapture unforeseen For now the sky is all serene The god of day, the orb of love Has hung his ensign high above The sky is all ablaze With wooing words and loving song We'll chase the lagging hours along And if our Josephine is coy We'll murmur scientific joy In dreamy roundelays. } JFM This very night RGS with bated breath WAR In spite of fright JFM We'll go by stealth RGS To Alvan Clark, WAR New prisms twain JFM His skilful son WAR Will give to us RGS And then we can JFM Return for none WAR Will hinder us RGS Will hinder us. Chorus This very night, with bated breath in spite of fright We'll go by stealth to Alvan Clark. New prisms twain His skilful son will give to us, and then we can Return, for none will hinder us, will hinder us. WU Forbear, nor carry out the scheme you've planned. The wishes of your chief you dare withstand? Remember you assist our good director And of his plans should be a strong protector. Chorus? Back, vermin, back, nor mock us, Back, vermin, back, you shock us. Let's give three cheers for JFM, Who joins whole-souled our stratagem. Who risks her fame and honor too For the honest love of her teacher true. La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, Let's give three cheers for JFM, Who joins whole-souled our stratagem, Who risks her fame and honor too, For the honest love of her teacher true. Women's chorus. For an astronomer is a sorry soul, As free as a caged bird, His sympathetic ear should be always quick to hear The directorial word. His eye should flash with a learned fire, His brow with thought be furrowed, His energetic speech should be quick to teach The truth that he has borrowed. Men's chorus. His knees should bend and his neck should curl, His back should twist and his face should scowl, One eye should squint and the other protrude, And this should be his customary attitude. All. His knees should bend and his neck should curl, His back should twist and his face should scowl, One eye should squint and the other protrude, And this should be his customary attitude. ACT II
[Scene: Late in afteroon. Library. Photometers arranged on the table for inspection of visitors. E. C. Pickering examining record sheets of meridian photometer.] Most of Harvard's photometers were eyepiece photometers - an eyepiece designed to fit into an existing telescope. The meridian photometers (not to be confused with the Meridian Circle which was related but a different instrument) were standalone, all-in-one devices. At the time of the original writing of the play, Harvard (or more accurately the Clarks) had built only the first of several meridian photometers.

This instrument is the most likely candidate as the real identity of "Photometer P". It relied on the pole star (as described below), it used Nicol prisms, it was Pickering's pet project and he did much of the observing himself, and Upton was an assistant on the instrument (along with Searle) until he left around 1880 and was replaced by Oliver Wendell.

Song, ECP Pole Star, to thee I sing Bright pivot of the heavens, Why are all our magnitudes Either at sixes or at sevens? I have lived hitherto Free from the breath of slander. Beloved all my crew A really popular commander. But now my prisms all rebel And ruin the photometer, And damage also, sad to tell, My fame as an astronomer. Pole Star, to thee I sing Bright pivot of the heavens, Why are all our magnitudes Either at sixes or at sevens? ** Pole Star, to thee I sing ** Bright pivot of the heavens, The photometers used prisms to bring together two star images to compare their brightness. One of the stars could be dimmed by adjusting an optical element that could be objectively measured to determine how much the star was dimmed in order to match the other star.

For the meridian photometers, all stars near the North Celestial Pole were compared to the pole star, aka Polaris, aka the North Star. (It wasn't discovered until later that the pole star itself was a variable star.)

The large number of photometers on the record shows that there was constant redesign to improve the results, and to use for different sorts of targets. A number of problems were noted, and in particular the 1877 annual report notes that "So much difficulty was experienced in the attempt to obtain Nicol prisms with flat surfaces, that this method of reducing the light was discarded, and the aperture of the small telescope was reduced by covering the objective with two V-shaped plates, which could be brought together by means of a screw." (Although I believe this is a reference to the design of Photomoter I.)

AS [Enters] Mr. Waldo wishes to speak with you. ECP. Thank you. I will see him at once. [Exit] [AS remains and looks over the papers. Enter WAR and JFM] WAR Will you explain to us how these instruments work? AS The photometers? Certainly, as well as I can. [Duet, AS and WAR. JFM listens attentively.] AS Things are seldom what they seem Locomotives hide their steam - Our machines are no exception Strings and thumb-screws nice deception. WAR Yes, I know - that is so.
AS This is H with the double string One comes out while the other goes in. This is I with arm and screw Turn it slowly as I do. WAR Very truly, as you do. AS This is K with the rusty wire. Use it much and your arms will tire. This is M with the needle point Now it works and now it don't. WAR So I see, -- frequentlee. AS This is Q made for nebulae, These are the records of Photometer P, P is now a great vexation, For the prisms show polarization. The details of these photometers match the real ones as far as I can find. Photometer H used a cord to move a prism back and forth, labelled G in the diagram below.

The "arm" of Photometer I as far as I understand it is separate refractor, and the screw controlled the aperture by adjusting the space between two v-shaped plates (controlled by a screw).

I haven't found any details about photometer K, however D, E, and G were noted to be heavy and hard to use. Photometer M used a Rochon micrometer, but I haven't yet found a good description of this. Photometer Q was a specialized photometer designed to compare the brightness and size of nebualae with defocused stars.

The line about polarization is a vexation to me, as its my understanding that Nicol prisms are supposed to polarize light. Although perhaps this is a more modern understanding. It's also a super interesting line considering that Wheelwright went into business with Edwin Land based on new technology in polarizing filters, for which Land gets the lion's share of the credit while Wheelwright, if he's mentioned at all, is usually described as just providing capital or salesmanship.

WAR Yes, I know. That is so, Though to catch your drift I'm striving, It is puzzling, it is puzzling! I don't see at what you're driving. You are juggling, you are juggling. Duet. Stern conviction is o'er me (him) stealing That I'm practising concealing When I seem to be revealing. [Repeat] Yes, I know, that is so -- Though a mystic tone I borrow I shall learn the truth with sorrow. Laugh today and cry tomorrow. [Repeat] Yes, I know - that is so. [Exit AS] WAR Oh, Mr. Searle! [Follows him out]. [JFM remains and examines the instrument]. JFM Well, I didn't get much idea about the instruments, but I guess I know enough to get the prisms off, and take them down to Clarks'. The hours creep on apace, My guilty heart is quaking; Oh, that I might retrace, The step that I am taking! It's folly, it were easy to be showing, What I am giving up and whither going. On the one hand, a new, luxuorious home, With Brussels carpet and no dust or damp, With wonderful machines to move the dome, And all the apartments lit by student lamp - No inconvenience and no failure, you know, For every instrument is made by Grunow.
And on the other, a dark and dingy place, all clattered up and smelling strong of oil :???? Where record pen most always fail to trace And thus rewards the most exacting toil; Observing sun and moon and many a low star, or getting up at midnight for the pole star. In 1879 they were all still housed in the original buildings built from 1844-1850. These were cheap construction, described as leaky, to the point of allowing the snow in (although this was in part the doors used to give the transit instruments access to the sky). Some improvements had been made over the years. The original walls were uninsulated, and coated in "green baize" (felt, today used to cover pool tables), which were plastered over in 1866, at the same time a number of other improvements were made, including the addition of heat, library space, and space for computers.
Meridian circle, nobly born, so brilliant and well-known, which bravely swings from early morn Till half the night is flown! [** Till half the night is flown!] No golden rank can it impart, No wealth, nor fondest hopes. No fortune, save its brazen heart, and trusty microscopes. [** and trusty microscopes.] And yet it is so wondrous fair, That love for one so passing rare Were little else than solemn duty. Oh god of love and god of reason, say! Which of you twain shall my poor heart obey? [ECP and LW enter] ECP Ah, here is Josephine! LW [to JFM] I am glad Miss, [Madam in copy P, Miss in copy O, Sir in original typescript] that you are willing to go to Providence. I am sure you will become so attached to me, my instrument, and my work, that you will not desire at all to leave us. JFM Do you think that a person should stay where he is most attached? LW Indeed, Miss, I do. Were you at all attached to your work here (the director tells me you are anxious to give it up) -- JFM [aside] The director is mistaken, there. LW - I should not think of asking you to leave it. "Love levels all ranks", you know, and when we get in love with each other and our mutual work we shall be like brother and sister. JFM [aside] He little knows how he confirms me in the plan to stay here. [To LW] I will go with you to Providence. { Trio ECP, LW and JFM ECP Never mind the why and the wherefore, Love can level ranks, and therefore Though the doctor's station mighty Though stupendous be his brain, Though your tastes are mean and flighty And your fortune poor and plain ECP and LW Fill the air with merry laughter Rend with songs the air serene For the union of the doctor With the humble Josephine. ECP For a worthy Harvard doctor. JFM For my old and true instructor. LW And a man to scan the heavens. JFM And a youth to scan the heavens. All Fill the air, etc. LW. Never mind the why and wherefore, Love can level ranks and therefore Since the captain's wise decision Makes you in my set to pass Though you occupy a station In the lower middle class Fill the air, etc. JFM Never mind the why and wherefore Love can level ranks and therefore I admit its jurisdiction. Ably you have played the part You have carried firm conviction To my hesitating heart. Fill the air, etc. } ECP to LW I congratulate you most sincerely on the happy result of our negotiation. [Exit JFM] LW Thank you, sir. I am sure that we part with mutual congratulations. [Exit] [Enter WU and AS] WU Captain, Captain! ECP Well, can I do anything for you? WU No, but I want to tell you something. [Duet ECP and WU. AS listens with amusement]
WU Kind captain, I've important information Sing hey, the kind commander that you are! About a plot of recent derivation Sing hey the merry Nicol and the star! For Nicol prisms I presume, which polarized light. Named after a Scottish scientists named William Nicol, 1770-1851. I have no idea if he was merry, and it seems unlikely (though possible) that the original authors of the play had any idea either.
Both The merry, merry Nicol and the star! ECP Good fellow, in conundrums you are speaking, Sing hey, the kind assistant that you are, The answer to them vainly I am seeking, Sing hey, the merry Nicol and the star! Both The merry, merry Nicol and the star! WU Kind captain, Josephine a plot's concealing Sing hey, the kind commander that you are! The prisms of your instrument {s}he's stealing Sing hey the merry Nicol and the star. Both The merry, merry Nicol and the star! ECP I thank you for your kindness. Hark! I hear footsteps in the entry. Let us listen. WU Tra-la-lud-di-da-dee! foiled! foiled! foiled! [WAR, JFM (with prisms in hand) and computers enter stealthily. ECP hides behind door.] Computers Carefully, on tiptoe stealing, Breathing gently as we may, Every step with caution feeling, We will softly steal away.
JFM [drops a prism] Goodness me! My catechism! Sam Magee! I've dropped a prism! I have no idea on this one. I haven't found this name under any sort of slang or colloqial expressions of the day. (There was a poem by Robert W. Service written in 1907 called "The Cremation of Sam McGee", but that doesn't seem helpful.)
All. {S}he's dropped, {S}he's dropped a prism! ECP Oh, dear! My precious prism! Computers Haste along, with footsteps steady We shall soon be out the dark And a horse car waits all ready To carry us to Alvan Clark. JFM [drops the other prism] Goodness me! My catechism! Sam Magee! The other prism! All. {S}he's dropped the other prism! ECP Oh, dear. My precious prism. ECP [emerging] Hold! False assistant of mine. I insist upon knowing where you may be going, With those prisms so fine For indeed I suspect The parts of my new instrument your scarcely are competent to tear and dissect. {All. Indeed we suspect The parts of his intstrument {s}he scarcely is competent to tear and dissect. } WAR Dear sir, pray judge {her} not too hastily! For I can make the matter clear quite speedily! I saw the prism faces were not true, And so I thought I'd have them fixed for you. ECP Oh, Polaris! WAR and JFM I ({She}) too, our humble Josephine Tho' far from noble in position Have aided him with counsel keen And worked throughout with firm decision. We two have studied long and well And worked and labored each spare minute And by your leave, when we are done A new photometer we'll name it. Chorus A new photometer! ECP [solemnly] A New photometer! AS and chorus For he himself has said it And it's greatly to his credit That it is a photometer (Repeat) For it might have been a telescope Or a double barrelled microscope Or perhaps a barometer (Repeat). But in spite of all inducements To belong to other instruments It remains a photometer. [** It remains a photo - o - tom -e -e -t -er.] ECP In uttering reprobation to any employee I try to speak with moderation, but you have been too free. I'm very sorry to reprove - indeed! It makes me sad - But your captain's precious prisms to improve, Yes, Rogers, it's too bad! All What! ECP Yes, Rogers, it's too bad! [During this, LW, FES and Providence citizens have entered] FES Did you hear him, did you hear him? Politeness is not worth a candle - Let us leave him, let us leave him! He said "Rogers" with no handle. ECP My pain and my distress I find it not easy to express My amazement, my surprise You may learn from the expression of my eyes. WAR Kind sir, one word! The facts are not before you. Call me without title if you will, But hear my explanation, I implore you And you will be surprised at our skill. ECP I will hear of no defence, Attempt none if you're sensible Your notions were so bold, they're wholly indefensible. [to JFM] Go, bear the glasses hence, To their places with celerity! This is the consequence of idle curiosity. All. Behold the consequence of idle curiosity. [Exit JFM with prisms.] LW For he'll teach you all ere long, To beware of doing wrong. For such wickedness received its fitting recompense. FES and chorus And so say the influential men of Providence. For it's a photometer, etc. LW to ECP I don't understand this, sir. ECP Nor I either. I shall at once investigate the matter thoroughly. [Reenter JFM] ECP I have no doubt that others are at the bottom of the trouble, but I must keep Josephine in durance for the present. LW Have you a dungeon, sir, in this edifice?
WU Yes, we have - where the clocks are, down cellar. There really was a basement under the clock room, as there was under the entire building structure.

The observatory section more or less as it existed in 1879. Red labels are added to show features of the play:

  • C = Computer room, Act I
  • L = Library, Act II
  • K = Clock room
  • D = "Dungeon", the part of the cellar below the clock room
  • R = Residence, where the play was actually performed. Note that the residence was expanded significantly in 1892, and most likely the performance took place in the new section, not shown here. Also, there were four or five different computer rooms. The floor I selected had two computer rooms, and these rooms were used in most of the photos I know of that show the computers from that era.
  • ECP Let {her} be taken there at once. Octette and chorus. JFM Farewell my own! Light of my life, farewell! For crime unknown I go to a dungeon cell. WAR I will atone. In the meantime, farewell! And all alone, rejoice in your dungeon cell. LW A stone, a stone, I'll throw at {her} wretched head. Let {her} be shown at once to the dungeon dread.
    Quartette. {She}'ll hear no tone from the master {she} loves so well But a telephone we'll soon put up to {her} cell. The (electrical) telephone was patented in 1876. By 1879 there was still not much commercial distribution of telephones, but they were something that people would have been aware of, particularly in a location where telegraphs were in constant use. But in 1882 the Observatory was selling its time service to the "New England Telephone and Telegraph Company" and by 1885 the Observatory was using telephones to a limited degree to coordinate some experiments.

    There are also hints that "telephone" was a word in use before 1876, meaning essentially the same thing. String telephones were certainly known, and at least sometimes referred to by that name. It seems entirely plausible that this word would have been used in 1879.

    AS But when is known the secret I have to tell, Wide will be thrown the door of {her} dungeon cell.

    Actors: [Wheelwright or Ransom], Bok, [Ransom or Wheelwright], Sayer, Payne, Swope, Shapley, Sawyer, Millman, Mussels, Ames, Campbell
    (Repeat in chorus) [JFM is led away by FES and others] ECP My pain, my distress Again, it is not easy to express. My amazement, my surprise Again you may discover from my eyes. All How terrible the aspect of his eyes! AS Hold! Ere upon your grief you lay much stress A deep concealed secret I will confess. Song -AS Not many days ago, I taught a class astronomy And as perhaps you know, I lectured on Photometry. All Now this is an anomaly He taught a class astronomy And lectured on photometry, not many days ago. AS Two pupils I had quit. One was of low position. The other upper crust - a regular patrician. All. Now this was their condition - One was of low position. The other upper crust - a regular patrician. AS I did it all for good, but now, alas! I rue it I taught them all I could and not a creature knew it. All. However could he do it? Some day, no doubt, he'll rue it. Although no creature knew it, not many days ago. AS They toiled without digression until was time to go They'll honor their profession and who they are you know. All They toiled without digression and closed their weary session They'll honor their profession and who they are we know. ECP Then am I to understand that Prof. Rogers and Josephine have been studying photometry under your competent instruction. AS Exactly. ECP I have done Josephine great injustice. Let her be summoned. [Exit RES for JFM] LW After this occurrence, sir, I need not say that Josephine will not do for my assistant. I cannot have anyone with me who is at all interested in photometry. ECP Indeed! Josephine is evidently too valuable to the institution to be allowed to leave it. [To JFM who has entered with RES during above conversation] I am greatly obliged to you for your kind interest in my new instrument and I do sincerely regret that I misconstrued your motives in removing the prisms. You will continue your work on the Meridian Circle as heretofore. [to WAR] Here, take {her}, sir, and mind you treat {her} kindly. WAR and JFM. O Bliss! O Rapture! LW Sad my lot and sorry. What shall I do? I cannot work alone. All. What will he do? He cannot work alone. FES Fear nothing - while I live I'll not desert you. I'll soothe and comfort your declining days. LW No, don't do that. FES Yes, but indeed I'd rather. LW Tomorrow morn our vows shall all be plighted. Two loving pairs on the same day united. Chorus. O joy, o rapture unforseen The clouded sky is now serene The god of day, the orb of love Has hung his ensign high above The sky is all ablaze With wooing words and loving song We'll chase the lagging hours along And if our Josephine is coy We'll murmur scientific joy In dreamy roundelays. [ marginal note "Pass hat" in copy P.] ECP For I am the captain of this gallant crew. All And a right good captain, too. ECP You are very very good, and be it understood I command a right good crew. All We are very very good, and be it understood He commands a right good crew. ECP Since moving by my right in society polite And among many men of note I'll never cease to wear with punctilious care A tall hat and swallow tailed coat. All What, never? ECP No, never! All What, never? ECP Well, hardly ever! All Hardly ever wear a swallow tail coat. Then give three cheers and three times three for the gallant captain of the Observatree. AS For I'm an astronomer, skillful astronomer Though I could never tell why, but yet an astronomer, happy astronomer Modest astronomer, aye. LW I am a Harvard LL.D. But when I work with thee I'll be faithful to the ardor which your zeal presents. All Then goodbye to the influential men of Providence Professors, lawyers, ministers The wise and wealthy men of Providence For it is a photometer For he himself has said it And its greatly to his credit That it is a photometer! [Finis]

    Actors: Ames, Bok, Shapley, [Wheelwright or Ransom], Payne, Millman, Swope, [Ransom or Wheelwright], Sawyer, Sayer, Mussels, Campbell

    Back row: Bart J. Bok, unknown women, unknown man, [Wheelwright or Ransom], unknown woman, Harlow Shapley, [Ransom or Wheelwright], Arville Walker, Peter M. Millman, Arthur R. Sayer, Leon Campbell
    Front row: unknown boy, Mildred Shapley, Adelaide Ames, Cecilia Payne (Gaposchkin), Henrietta Swope, Sylvia Mussels (Lindsay), Helen Sawyer (Hogg), unknown boy

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    Harvard Observatory History in Images