I feel all goosebumpy, standing inside the historic Lowell Observatory
on Mars Hill in Flagstaff, AZ.
Percival Lowell used this massive metal telescope in front of me to
document the changing landscape of Mars and passionately search the
night sky for other planets. The wooden dome creeks painfully as our
personal tour guide, MJ, demonstrates how it swivels to let the famous
Clarke Telescope (shown above with Allen and MJ) peer into any
portion of the sky.
I look to my left and my goosebumps intensify. Within inches of my
elbow is the very chair he sat on for years to study the heavens. It's
interesting that a man worth millions (he was one of The Lowells of
Boston) would settle for what looks like a cheap painted table chair,
and now an old, worn, cheap, painted table chair.
It makes sense, though. He was a passionate man. After investing a
sizable fortune in the observatory, he spent day and night in that
chair, looking upward, seeking out documentation of what's out there.
If the chair suited him, why replace it?
He was so devoted to the observatory that when he died, his wife had
a monument built in the shape of a mini observatory right outside his
I theorize, though, that she did it out of spite, not love.
When he died, Lowell left his wife, Constance, their mansion in Boston
and about $150,000 a year to live on. Not bad for 1916. But, the
remainder of his fortune, $2.4 million was to go to the observatory.
My theory: Boy, was Constance offended. I imagine she thought of the
observatory as her husband's mistress, a lover who stole him away day
after day, night after night. So she had him buried near the mistress
to keep him away from her. And then, she learned, the mistress would
continue to steal what Constance thought was hers, only this time it's
the money, not the man.
Back to reality: So, Constance sued. After a long battle, she lost,
but not all together. When the money was eventually released, almost
half was gone, lining the pockets of lawyers fighting for the
mistress' rights. But at least, the mistress didn't get it all.
No one employed at this historic place confirms my story of a vengeful
wife. They, of course, ARE "the mistress" and need to take her side in
There is one Observatory employee, though, who responds to my tale
with a subtle, crooked, understanding smile.