From the Collection: Groundbreaking Soil

Groundbreaking Dirt from Planetarium

Groundbreaking Dirt from Planetarium

As a museum worker, it’s always nice to have things in your collection that are a little unconventional.  Books and artworks are great, but there’s something fun about having a few taxidermied animals and Victorian hair catchers.  Still, even I’m stymied when I see a glass box full of dirt.

This mix of greyish soil and dried grass is the result of a shovel-full lifted by Beatrix Wilhelmina Armgard, Princess of the Netherlands, during the ground breaking ceremony for the Hudson-Champlain Planetarium on September 19th, 1959.  At the time, Princess Beatrice was the heir presumptive on a formal visit to the former colony of the New Netherlands, Albany, New York.

Princess Beatrix breaking ground for the Hudson Planetarium, Sept. 19, 1959

Princess Beatrix breaking ground for the Hudson Planetarium, Sept. 19, 1959

The planetarium was to be located near the Dudley Observatory’s South Lake observatory, which means this dirt came from what is now the grounds of Albany Med.  The event was the primary photo opportunity for the Princess’ visit, and it was attended by Mayor Corning, Governor Rockefeller, various state commissioners, various local religious dignitaries,  Dr. Benjamin Boss and Dr. Curtis Hemenway of Dudley, and young Miss Laura Terlaak-Poot, a Dutch immigrant who presented the Princess with flowers.

From here on, it gets a little embarrassing.  The capital campaign to build the planetarium stalled, and the planetarium was never built.  By the next year, the observatory and the grounds had been sold to Albany Med.  Plans to merge the observatory and the planetarium with SUNY Albany fell through.  The observatory building burned in 1970.

According to legend, the visit by Princess Beatrix, and the shabby look of Albany at the time, embarrassed Governor Rockefeller enough that he made plans  to rebuild the capitol area.  This led to the construction of the Empire State Plaza.

Eventually the planetarium was installed in the Albany Heritage Area Visitor’s Center as the Henry Hudson Planetarium, no longer tied to Dudley.  Ironically, after sixty years, the Observatory now shares a building and a close relationship with the Suits-Bueche Planetarium here at miSci.