“We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
You might think this quote is from Carl Sagan, but you’d be wrong.
The words are an epigraph at the beginning of Chapter 8 of Cosmos, Travels in Space and Time and not originally Sagan’s. The attribution is “Tombstone epitaph of two amateur astronomers.” When I read it a few months ago, I filed that anonymous tombstone away on my mind’s list of places to find and visit.
Tonight I finally remembered to google where that tombstone is, and it turns out … I’ve already been there. The tomb belongs to John and Phoebe Brashear and is located under the Keeler Memorial Reflecting Telescope at the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
That’s right, there is a tomb under that telescope, and it’s not the only observatory with a tomb! But why are the Brashears buried there? According to the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh:
Perhaps no single individual ever did more to bring the science and wonder of astronomy to his fellow travelers on “this old, round world” than did John Brashear. His legacy and his charge to make the stars accessible to every man, woman, and child lives on today in the charter of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh.
Weirdly enough, I fell in love with astronomy as an undergrad at the University of Pittsburgh. I worked at the Allegheny Observatory for a summer and took an observing class there one fall semester, teaching myself BASIC programming and doing CLEA labs on cloudy nights and driving the winding curves through the north side of Pittsburgh with a stoned classmate. Fond memories…
The epitaph is adapted from the poem The Old Astronomer by Sarah Williams (1837–1868). jtotheizzoe posted the whole poem here.
I didn’t always know I wanted be an astronomer, and I still don’t know if I will always work as one, but I am now more than ever comforted by these words of Sarah Williams that have passed through so many minds and lips before mine.
"I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night."