Original Research Regarding Mystery of Disappearance of Adler Planetarium's Zeiss II / III Projector

Adler Planetarium History

The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum was the first major planetarium constructed in the Western Hemisphere, by Max Adler in 1930. With more than 2,000 astronomical and other scientific artifacts, it is also the Western Hemisphere's largest museum of astronomical history.

The Western Hemisphere's first Zeiss planetarium projector, a Zeiss Model II, started providing star dramas to the public at Adler Planetarium in 1930. In 1959-1961, Adler Planetarium had this projector converted and upgraded from a Zeiss II to a Zeiss Model III. In 1969, Adler Planetarium's historic Zeiss II / III was sold, and Adler Planetarium acquired a Zeiss Model VI.

The Mystery of Adler Planetarium's Zeiss II / III Projector

Photo of Zeiss II
 Planetarium Projector at the Adler Planetarium
 in 1933

1933 photograph of the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector used from 1930 to 1969 at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. This projector was replaced by a Zeiss VI in January of 1970.
In 1969, Adler Planetarium sold the historic Zeiss II / III to the City of Jackson, Mississippi. So, it appeared that this historic projector would get a new life educating the citizens of Mississippi, as the citizens of nearby Baton Rouge, Louisiana were being educated with a historic Zeiss II / III projector originally from the Griffith Observatory and Planetarium in Los Angeles. But, this was not to be.

In a 2002 May 16 telephone conversation, a retired Adler Planetarium technician (Hans Behrens, who had been involved in the disassembling of the Zeiss II Projector, for upgrading to a Zeiss III in 1961) related a story to the author, regarding events followng the transfer of the Zeiss II / III out of Chicago. According to this technician, the recipient in Mississippi refused to pay the truck driver for the Zeiss projector. Consequently, the truck driver refused to release the Zeiss projector to the recipient.

The truck driver, later, sold the Zeiss projector to a man in Ohio. There is a report that this man's father owned a machine-shop; apparently, the new owner believed work in the machine-shop could restore the projector.

The Adler Planetarium technician also mentioned that, once, he talked to the new owner of the Zeiss II / III on the telephone. The new owner was seeking further information about the projector. However, this new owner did not mention his name or contact information.

Also, there is a report that Adler Planetarium management once did contact the new owner of the Zeiss II / III (new owner's telephone number supplied by a professor at Arizona State University), in an attempt to bring the projector back to Chicago. However, nothing came of this attempt.

Another version of events surfaced recently, thanks to the investigations of planetarium collector and restorer (and Director of Acquisitions and Restorations of the private Planetarium Projector & Space Museum in Big Bear Lake, California) Brent Sullivan. In a 2008 January 28 electronic mail correspondence Mr. Sullivan had with Gary Lazich, Manager of the Russell C. Davis Planetarium in Jackson, Mississippi, the following facts were stated:

"In 1965, a dinner meeting was held and [a group of] ladies [in the community] and business leaders agreed to work together toward a Mississippi Art Museum to be located somewhere in Downtown Jackson...As time was passing, a new element appeared when the Jackson Public Schools acquired a planetarium optical instrument. The inclusion of a planetarium with all its educational potential and appeal to students and adults was promptly approved. In 1972, the citizens of Jackson in a referendum approved $1.5 million for the project."
("Arts Center, Planetarium Was 15 Years in the Making," Bill Coppenbarger, *Jackson Daily News*, date unknown but probably 1978)

"It is interesting to note that the Jackson Separate School District just happened to have in storage a planetarium projector which was purchased some years ago from the famed Adler Planetarium in Chicago."
("Arts Center Complex and How It Happened," *Enterprise-Journal*, McComb, Mississippi, 4/25/1978)

"William T. Clark [owner of Observa-Dome Laboratories]...originally got Jackson interested in a planetarium back in the early 1960s...Clark had gotten the Jackson city schools interested in buying the old Zeiss planetarium project[or] from Chicago in the 1960s, when Chicago was replacing it with a later, more sophisticated Zeiss model. Jackson had bought the old Zeiss unit for $36,000, a fraction of its price, and was able to use federal funds to pay for half the amount. But when the City got ready to build its planetarium three or four years ago, the Zeiss would have had to be rebuilt and modernized, which would have cost $230,000 to do so. Instead, the city asked for bids on new projectors, and the [Viewlex-]Minolta [Series IV] came in some $100,000 or more below the price bid by Zeiss. [Planetarium Manager Dick] Knapp said he felt the city did the right thing in using the old Zeiss for a trade-in on the new projector, since it got $30,000 for the old unit. 'I feel if we had used the original projector, even with modifications we would still have an outdated projector,' he declared."
("Planetarium Projector: Will It Work?", Bill Minor, *The Capital Reporter*, Jackson, Mississippi, Vol. XXIII, No. 14, April 13, 1978)

As compensation for their efforts in the project, Jackson Public Schools received free admission to the Planetarium from its opening in 1978 until 1990.

Mr. Lazich also mentioned that some of this information came from former Russell C. Davis Planetarium Manager Dick Knapp, who retired in 2001 to become a Lutheran pastor, at St. James Lutheran Church in Gonzales, Louisiana.

Further research by Mr. Sullivan has resulted in additional information:

1) In a U.S. mail response on 2008 February 25, former Russell C. Davis Planetarium Manager Dick Knapp recommended contacting Mr. O. Richard Norton (who may now live in Tucson), who at that time was consulting on the Jackson, Mississippi museum project.

2) In an electronic mail response on 2008 February 25, Arizona State University Planetarium Coordinator Daniel Matlaga (who had worked at Adler Planetarium) stated that Arizona State University was considering purchasing the Zeiss II / III (he saw it in shipping crates). However, it was purchased by a gentelman from Baton Rouge, who purchased the projector from the trucker as money to ship the projector to Minolta ran out. The Zeiss II / III was being sent to Minolta, once the new Viewlex-Minolta Series IV Planetarium Projector was chosen for use in Jackson, Mississippi. Mr. Matlaga also said that he saw the Zeiss II / III in Baton Rouge, and from there it went to someone in either Tennessee or Oklahoma. The purchaser of the projector owned an electronics manufacturing plant, grew up in Chicago, and he thought he could renovate the projector in his workshop (he was familiar with mechanical drawings and machining parts, as he grew-up assisting in his father's machine shop).

In a 2008 April 3 electronic mail message to the author, Wayne Coskrey, a Planetarium Curator (one of two Curators) at the Louisiana Arts and Science Center Planetarium in Baton Rouge from 1981 to 1986 (now back in his hometown of Starkville, Mississippi), gave more details. He said during that time he, and Planetarium Curator Sam S. Mims, III, heard that that the Adler Planetarium's original Zeiss II / III projector was for sale. The Davis Planetarium in Jackson, Mississippi gave-up the Zeiss in trade for their brand new Viewlex-Minolta projector. It required a special (expensive) tractor-trailer rig with a hydraulic hoist to safely transport the Zeiss projector disassembled in all its wooden boxes, and the trucking company that was contracted to do the hauling was left hanging when Viewlex-Minolta went bankrupt while the projector was en route from Jackson to Viewlex-Minolta.

Mr. Coskrey states, "For quite a long time, the trucking company looked for a buyer to take the projector off their hands. In the end, all they wanted (I believe) was little more than the money they were owed for the transportation. Sam Mims, several other people, and I bought the projector and had it delivered to Sam's dad's small chemical company warehouse in Baton Rouge.

"Sam did the vast majority of the legwork in trying to find a buyer for the projector, and it was a number of years before he found someone with a real interest in making us an offer. If I remember correctly, this was a gentlemen in Pennsylvania who owned a company which did, among other things, sonar equipment construction and testing for the U.S. Navy. Because of this, he had a large domed room in his manufacturing plant, which was ideal to start up a private planetarium. After a lot of wrangling, we finally sold the projector to him and had another one of the special tractor-trailer rigs transport it to him."

Mr. Coskrey also said, "one of the reasons it was so hard to sell was that several of the star plates were missing, so that the projector could no longer project the entire sky. The projector was this way when we got it, and I'm not sure when the plates actually had gone missing. We tried to get replacement plates from Zeiss, but they had no interest in supporting such an old projector."

Mr. Coskrey also related the following fascinating anecdote: "In one of those funny circular coincidences that can happen in life, I am actually the instigator of the idea for a major planetarium being constructed in Jackson. When I was a teenager, I wrote in to the "Ask Jack Sunn" column in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, asking if there were any planetariums in Mississippi. "Jack Sunn" replied that he had found out that the Jackson Municipal School District actually owned a used Zeiss star projector that was stacked up in a warehouse somewhere. Some influential people read this and started workng out the details of what would ultimately become the Russell C. Davis Planetarium. I would never have dreamed that I would end up being one of the co-owners of that very same Zeiss projector fifteen years or so later! (If I remember correctly, the huge stack of boxes of disassembled projector was something like 16'x16'x8'.)."

The author would be interested in receiving additional information, regarding the current status and location of Adler Planetarium's Zeiss II / III projector, which was the first major planetarium projector in the Western Hemisphere.

History of Adler Planetarium, Chicago *** Webinar Remarks of Mike Smail: "There and Back Again: 90 Years of Adler's Zeiss Mark II"

Recovery: Adler Planetarium Zeiss II / III Planetarium Projector - Photos

International Planetarium Society (IPS) *** IPS History of the Planetarium Working Group

Original Research Regarding Mystery of Disappearance of Adler Planetarium's Zeiss II / III Projector

Authored by Glenn A. Walsh
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