Museum Mondays: Letters to Mt. Wilson Observatory at the Museum of Jurassic Technology
The Museum of Jurassic Technology (MJT), located in Culver City, California, is a mysterious museum of fantastically-real curiosities housed in small, darkened rooms. MJT is openly admired by MoMA curator Paola Antonelli and documentarian Werner Herzog, and has been written about in The Economist, New York Times, and Technology and Culture journal. Stepping inside the museum walls is a mind-bending adventure into experiments equal parts art and science, imagined and tested. But be prepared for an unorthodox museum experience where stories are told about objects rather than explained or rationalized — its mission statement reads: the learner must be led always from familiar objects toward the unfamiliar… guided along, as it were, a chain of flowers into the mysteries of life.
Take for instance, No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again, a permanent exhibit sharing time-capsuled letters and telegrams written to Mount Wilson Observatory from 1915 to 1935. One such letter including an illustration (above) comes from W. Charles Lamb who believed the constellation of Orion a dwelling place of God or god-life spirits, and wrote, “The Nebula its-self is not God, any more than the 7 stars, other than representing the 7 Spirits of God. Undoubtidly they point us to the region in the heavens, where dwell the Gods, and these Symbols had awed and instructed races which existed on this planet centuries B.C.”
An excerpt from the website explains:
As early as 1911, the astronomers at Mount Wilson began receiving letters from people all around the world, people from all walks of life, educated as well as uneducated. Many of the letters were simple expressions of appreciation and awe for the work that the astronomers were accomplishing. There was, however, another class of letter. These letters were communications to the astronomers by individuals who felt, often with a great degree of earnestness, that they were in possession of understandings or information that should be shared with the astronomers.
The information contained in this class of letter was typically of astronomical or cosmological concern. These individuals had gleaned the information they wished to communicate either by experimentation, observation or intuition and invariably felt a strong sense of urgency in their need to communicate their observations to the observers at Mount Wilson.
A book of the same name, edited by Sarah Simmons corresponds with the exhibit and contains photos of the most notable written correspondence. The idea that a century-old observatory received wide response from its astronomical discoveries is truly fascinating. It shows that knowledge can be viewed factually or spiritually… and even frenziedly. David Wilson, the museums founder said in an interview with frieze magazine:
The wonderful thing about those letters is that they are from people looking at the big issues in life. They’re not afraid of the big questions: who we are, where we come from, the nature of existence and the universe. A lot of these views are pretty non-standard, but it’s their own view, created out of their experience of being alive.
Contemporary astronomers receive similar letters today. Geoffrey Marcy received his first piece of mail in 1981 during post-doctoral research at Mount Wilson. His account of the phenomenon: “…once your work is known, you start getting mail. There are a lot of people out there who think they have a window into the true nature of the universe.”
Credit: Letters courtesy of the Museum of Jurassic Technology.