Lamont-Hussey 27 inch Jena telescope:

The tube and mounting

The 27 inch telescope was housed at Lamont-Hussey Observatory,  Bloemfontein. The international community applied sanctions to South Africa’s as a result of its policy of apartheid and withdrew their financial support. In 1972 the owner of the observatory, Michigan University, decided to distance themselves from the observatory. They tried to give the observatory away to any interested party. As there was no responce at the time it was decided to close the observatory down.  The municipality of Bloemfontein decided to turn the building into a theater for performing arts, which still continues today.

The works department was tasked with converting the observatory into a theater. Whilst dismantling the telescope they first took the counterweight down (out of ignorance) and the tube nearly killed a few people as it fell down. In 1973 the telescope was “dumped” outside a hanger at the Ehrilichpark Fire Station  where it was lost to the astronomical world.

Fairy tales do happen. Braam van Zyl is one of the fire chiefs of Mangaung (Bloemfontein) as well as an avid astronomer. He saw the tubes and inquired about their origin. Due to his hard work the astronomy fraternity now know the where-abouts of the telescope. The hanger next to the telescope was turned into the Mangaung Fire Station Museum (2002), with a special section allocated to astronomy. The Friends of Boyden, an astronomy club, raised funds to have the 27 inch telescope moved into the hanger. A crane was hired, but due to the weight of the telescope the crane broke down twice. The third attempt was successful. [Personal communication with Braam van Zyl; Gerrit Penning and Willie Koorts; cdc]



The optics for the 27 inchThe Friends of Boyden did not know where abouts of the optics . Their search for them was in vain as unbeknown to them the optics were returned to Michigan University. Patrick Seitzer of Michigan University wanted to find the tube and contacted Willie Koorts of the S.A.A.O., who contacted the Friends of Boyden. Thus a very successful mutual interaction was established. [Personal communication with Braam van Zyl; Gerrit Penning and Willie Koorts; cdc]

The Mars camerasIn 1954 Mars was in a favourable opposition to the Earth. Earl Slipher from Lowell Observatory in U.S.A. came to Lamont -Hussey observatory with two cameras. Slipher was a great proponent that intelligent life made the canals on Mars. He used the above mentioned 27 inch telescope and with the two cameras took some of the best photographs ever taken of Mars before the space age. Somehow the cameras were never taken back with Slipher but ended up in one of the Council store rooms. Braam van Zyl, Matie Hofman and myself were invited by Sarel Theron from the Funeral Services to come and look at the strange tubes. We realised that they were not telescopes but did not know what they were. Years later, after the Friends of Boyden and Michigan University started sharing information, Braam realised that the tubes were the Mars cameras. They were subsequently moved and were lost again. After a public talk by Braam, a member of the local Zoo realized  they were in a storeroom behind the elephant enclosure. The cameras are now in the Mangaung Fire Station Museum. [Personal communication with Braam van Zyl; cdc]