Missed Perseids, a Satellite Flare and Saturn on a Saturday Night

Over the years, we’ve sporadically attended celestial viewings at the Spring Valley Nature Reserve, which isn’t exactly dark, but it’s darker than the surrounding suburbs. We went again on Saturday.

This time, the event was more popular than I remember it ever being, since besides viewing through a telescope set up on one of the reserve’s paths, a marshmallow roast was held near one of its buildings. Volunteers gave away marshmallows on prongs for a fire that had already been built. Such family-friendliness is going to attract people will kids. We had a few marshmallows ourselves.

There was a short line to see through the telescope — an expensive-looking piece of equipment, though I didn’t get the brand or model — and while we waited, we naturally did some naked-eye observations. While I was looking one way I heard, “Look, a shooting star!”

I was looking the wrong way. Of course. A few minutes later, the same thing happened. So I spent some time looking to where I thought the Perseids would be. Last weekend was the peak for this year, I’d read. I saw none. That has happened before. A few times.

So it goes. I did see a satellite flare, which was a first. I’ve seen a number of objects before that I’ve been sure were satellites, but this was different. This object was moving across the sky at the pace of a satellite, not a high airplane, and it was flashing for a few seconds at a regular interval. I’d read, years ago, that this can happen when the satellite reflects sunlight as it rolls — or pitches or yaws or whatever — in its orbit.

It might have been a Iridium satellite. Wiki, at least, has this to say: “Occasionally, an [Iridium] antenna reflects sunlight directly down at Earth, creating a predictable and quickly moving illuminated spot on the surface below of about 10 km (6.2 mi) diameter. To an observer this looks like a bright flash, or flare in the sky, with a duration of a few seconds.”

That’s exactly what I saw. Maybe they account for some number of UFO sightings, too. (If Venus can, why not an Iridium satellite? Unless Venus is where the UFOs are coming from.)

A few people in line had iPads with stargazing apps. I guess they’re called that (there are many, it turns out). I’d never seen one in use. You hold the iPad up toward any direction of the sky and the app will draw a not-overly-bright rendering of the constellations in the area. I didn’t get a close look, but it looked like a fair amount of information, including standard constellation patterns, star names and even fanciful illustrations.

I ought to think that’s cheating. Learn your constellations the old-fashioned way, dammit, from Chaldean herdsmen. But how different is an iPad app that from taking your paper star charts out and reading them by red light, and then looking up to see what you can see? Maybe the app should display red to help keep your night vision intact, but other than that it’s really no different, except easier to use.

After about 15 minutes in line, we arrived at the telescope, whose owner was enthusiastic about sharing with the public. Good for him. He had enormous spotting binoculars, too.

Jupiter was already beginning to set, so he turned it to Saturn, about midway up in the southern sky, and away from the clouds covering some of the sky that night. Yuriko, Ann, Ann’s friend and I all took a turn. Always nice to see Saturn.

Back Yard Flora ’17

Today was a mostly sunny, warm August day. The beginning of declining summer, though the grass and bushes are so green — there’s been a fair amount of rain this summer — that it looks more like June. The dry browns of August are missing this year. So far.

Around noon, I wandered around my back yard taking pictures of flora. Why? Why not?

I also spotted some back yard fauna, lurking in the greenery.
The dog chews on the plants this time of year.

Why? Why not?

My Spanking New 90-Gallon Trash Cans

Got new trash and recycling cans recently, delivered by the local trash hauler at no extra charge. The recycle bin has a baby blue lid, the trash bin a black one.
trash cansThe reason the company provided them is so that their trucks can pick them up using mechanical claws, rather than have the driver get out of the truck and hoist them himself. Here’s the pick up device in action just today. The mechanical claws are painted bright yellow.

When there’s enough trash in the compartment ahead of the garbage truck’s cab, mechanical arms hoist it toward the back of the truck, and the garbage falls into the main bin in back. An interesting thing to see, but he didn’t do it in front of my house today.

For me, the new cans are better because they’re easy to roll out to the the street, even though their capacity is large, 90 gallons each. This is progress. Don’t let the Luddites tell you differently.

Eden Palais

In an outbuilding of the mansion we toured last month — a large outbuilding — is the Eden Palais.

Eden PalaisI quote at some length as I go along, from the mansion’s web site: “The carousel building, completed in 1997, is the home of the most complete example of a European salon carousel in existence — the Eden Palais, built in 1890.

“The salon carousel was more than just an amusement ride, it was a self-contained entertainment palace that included stages for live performers, several bars, booths for perimeter seating, and music. The whole affair was lighted by hundreds of light bulbs, and was undoubtedly one of the first places that patrons experienced electric lighting when it was new.

“The Eden Palais includes an 89′ wide by 42′ tall carved facade with life-size carved horses, giant art glass butterflies, a painting recreating an original that hangs in the Louvre, and a beautiful etched-glass entryway.”

It’s impressive for sure. This is the front entrance.

Apparently three more walls of similar heft originally surrounded the carousel, defining the entertainment palace. They’re in storage now. All of them were moved with the carousel from place to place around France, just like a circus might.

One of the figures next to the entrance.
This is the carousel, behind the main entrance wall. It’s one of the larger ones I’ve seen, and unlike the one at the House on the Rock, a true carousel that you can ride. Which we did. It was clearly built during less safety-paranoid times. But no one was injured. The ride was a gas.
“The carousel itself is 46 feet in diameter, with 36 hand-carved Hubner horses, four ornate rocking gondolas and a spinning lovers’ tub. The center is adorned with seven large Coppier paintings. The platform runs on tracks; three steam engines originally drove the platform, the center hub of paintings and the band organ. The steam engines are restored, but power is now supplied by electric motors.”

A detail of one of the center paintings. As was pointed out by our guide, something likely to appear in 1890s Europe, but not the United States.

Details of the carousel.

A nearby figure.
“Several different owners toured France with the Eden Palais from 1890 through 1959. An amusement park in Golden, Colorado, imported it from the Caron family in 1959 and then went bankrupt, leaving it outside in the snow for one winter. Charles and Sue Bovey then purchased it and stored it in Great Falls, Montana, until the [current owner] acquired it in 1987.”

Restoration took years and boatloads of money, the guide said, though not quite in those words.

“Large steam engines surround the carousel, including an 1826 table engine, an 1836 walking beam engine, and an 1880 double compound 80 horsepower marine engine. The 1881 Grant railroad locomotive and tender were used by Henry Ford for forty years in his Dearborn, Michigan, auto plant and later displayed in the Ford Museum at Greenfield Village.”
But that’s not all. Near the carousel wall was a tower.
“The spectacular Joseph Mayer cast iron street clock stands over 20 feet tall, weighs over 8,000 pounds and originally was owned by the American Jewelry Co. of Bakersfield, California. It includes a Dennison gravity escapement, a self-winder, and a mercury-compensated pendulum, features rarely found in street clocks.”

Also: “American and European fairground and dance hall organs displayed in the carousel building include examples by Bruder, DeCap, Gavioli, Hooghuys, Limonaire, North Tonawanda and Ruth. Wurlitzers include a 157, 165 and 180, among others.”

This Gavioli was not likely to originally be found in North America either.
Here’s a Belgian street organ.
Not an old one. Apparently the Belgians have decided that older such machines are part of their national patrimony, so they cannot leave the country legally. No worries, though, since if you’ve got the dosh, you can have a new one built.

An Exaltation of Victrolas

Supposedly the collective for larks is an exaltation, though I don’t know that anyone familiar with larks actually uses it. Seems like one of those made up, like so many others, for the Book of Saint Albans in 1486, and surviving on lists to this day.
That comes to mind because I was wondering what the collective for Victrolas might be. Exaltation fits. An Exaltation of Victrolas.

The suburban mansion we toured in July not only had massive orchestrions that played orchestral music without any human musicians, and many arcade machines of yore, but also Victrolas and other phonographic systems with pronounced horns. A lot of them. An exaltation of them.

I went all snap-happy and spent time taking pictures of them. The horns, not so much the mechanisms. I’d never seen such an array. The only thing close was the selection of 78 players for sale at Harp Gallery in Wisconsin.

Note the collection of Edison Records cylinders that the machines above use.

In this room there was one machine — not pictured — that was powered by the heat of a candle. Light the candle, put it inside the cabinet, let it play. “I wanted to show you this machine,” the guide said as he held up the candle. “But we almost never play it. It can catch fire.”

All of the mansion’s Victrolas are in working order, I understand. All you need is a vinyl record (or cylinder) of some early kind, which are still around. In a century’s time, will there be a collection of iPods and other gizmos like this? They will probably be hopelessly unplayable.

Not Your Father’s Arcade Machines. Your Grandfather’s.

The lower level of the mansion we toured recently is chockablock with antique arcade machines, and I don’t mean Pac-Man. Some are actual penny arcade machines.
Quartoscope. Another brand name lost to time.

According to arcade-museum.com, “Mills Novelty Co. released 583 different machines in our database under this trade name [Quartoscope], starting in 1896. Other machines made by Mills… during the time period Quartoscope was produced [1896-1930] include Kalamazoo, Klondyke, Owl, Jumbo, Little Duke, Pau-Pau, and Little Pau-Pau.”
Other machines charged a quarter once upon a time, probably later than the penny machines. One in the row below promises you’ll see the Brown Bomber KO Max Schmelling (sic), which was in ’38. Both kinds of machines were trying to demonstrate that you can buy a thrill.
Here’s Al St. John in The Hiebe-Jiebes. Good old Al St. John, Fatty Arbuckle’s nephew and the cowboy sidekick to end all sidekicks.
Looks like a different sort of part here, but then again he did a lot of movies. Or maybe most of them should be called flickers. That hasn’t kept him from being utterly forgotten.

Other machines promise other kinds of entertainment, such as your true horoscope (and it is annoying when you get stuck with a false one).
A kind of machine I’d never heard of before: one that dispenses a penny’s worth of perfume, presumably for refined ladies who want to freshen up their handkerchiefs.
Never seen one of these, either: vertical roulette, looks like. A easy way to lose a lot of quarters and half dollars, which were certainly worth something when this machine was new.
There were also more conventional one-armed bandits. A whole row of ’em.

The orchestrions and similarly complex machines on display in the rest of the mansion are certainly impressive. Awe-inspiring, even. But there’s something intriguing about these arcade machines, too.

While the orchestrions were for wealthy families and posh hotels and prosperous saloons, the arcade machines were entertainment for ordinary people, at a time when entertainment was in shorter supply. Unlike now, when we’re drowning in it. Maybe those pennies and quarters could have been better spent, but sometimes Al St. John in The Hiebe-Jiebes must have been just the thing.

Zoo View 2011

I can’t remember the last time we went to the Brookfield Zoo. It might have been as long ago as July 2011. I have a file labeled 2011-07-18 and many of the pics are of that zoo, the larger of the Chicago area’s two main zoos.

I don’t care what PETA thinks, it’s a fine zoo. I posted some of the Brookfield pics at the time. But not the bright birds.
Brookfield Zoo 2011Or any of the non-animal aspects of the place, such as the topiary elephant.
Brookfield Zoo 2011Or the bronze walrus.
Brookfield Zoo 2011Or the Living Coast mural.
Brookfield Zoo 2011Or even the Theodore Roosevelt Fountain, there since 1954, though I did post the cornflowers nearby.

Brookfield Zoo 2011

July is cornflower time, and we’re all better for it.

Bucktown Sunday Morning

At about 5 pm on Friday afternoon, wind and rain and lightning struck Chicago’s northwest suburbs with special fury, knocking down trees and large branches. Itasca was particularly hard hit.

Lilly, whose train from the city was due later that evening, found herself delayed by a hour because of debris on the tracks near Itasca. On Sunday morning, we drove through that town on Irving Park Blvd. and saw several large trees laid low, including one on top of a building.

Our neighborhood didn’t get hit quite so bad. But we did get hail for a few minutes. Smallish ice pebbles that made some noise, but did no damage to the roof or the car that I could see.

Bucktown Chicago 2017By Sunday, the weather was very warm and steamy and not especially violent. Just the kind of day for a walk in the city, which is where we were going as we drove through Itasca. For a stroll I picked Bucktown, which is directly north of Wicker Park.

I didn’t live, dine, shop or play at all during my late morning amble, except that I was a living being as I passed through, and maybe I “played,” in the sense that walking around and looking at things isn’t work, unless that’s what you’re paid to do.

I don’t remember hearing much about the neighborhood during the late ’80s, but by the late ’90s, Bucktown was known as a gentrifying area. The gentrifying process is now mature, in that the area’s not a cheap place to live, though I suppose Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast and their ilk still outprice it.

With the cost, you get amenities. Such as a statue of a bovine looking through a telescope, or maybe a fanciful theodolite.
Bucktown Chicago cowAnd shady residential streets to walk down. That turned out to be an important feature on Sunday, as temps climbed toward 90 F.
Bucktown, ChicagoBucktown features a fair number of interesting older buildings put to new use.

Bucktown Chicago 2017Bucktown, ChicagoAs well as new construction.
Bucktown, ChicagoAlong with some interesting detail sometimes. This figure looked out from just above the entrance to an older brick building on Damen Ave.
Bucktown Statue of LibertyYou never know where you’ll find Statue of Liberty-like images. The statue deserves to be called the i-word, but that word has been beaten to death in our time. My own favorite use of Liberty Enlightening the World — or La Liberté éclairant le monde to be more than pedantic — was a sizable one I saw years ago over the entrance of a pachinko parlor in Osaka.

The Rains of July 12, 2017

Around 7 this morning I wasn’t entirely awake, but a loud clap of thunder decided I should be. It was the first of several. Rain seems to have fallen earlier, in the wee hours, but around then it started pouring with gusto.

That didn’t last too long. But a few hours later, it happened again. And a while after that, one more time. A lot of rain had fallen by midday, though not as much as some unfortunate places north of here, such as Mundelein, Ill., in Lake County. Many of the flood pictures in this Daily Herald item are out that way.

Our streets were passable, the lower level of our houses dry. For us, it wasn’t quite the Inundation of 2008. Still, at about 2, returning from an errand, I noticed a neighborhood park, about a mile from my house, that was largely underwater. I happened to have my camera.

July 12, 2017 rain

July 12, 2017 rainJuly 12, 2017 rainAll of the water in the pictures is not normally there. A small creek runs through the park, and while I’ve seen it expand with rain, I’ve never seen it go Incredible Hulk on the rest of the park.

Millennium Carillon, Naperville

Near Riverwalk Park in Naperville is the Millennium Carillon, which is in a 160-foot structure called Moser Tower. Though the tower wasn’t completed until 2007, work began in 1999 and it must have been partially finished soon after, because I’m pretty sure we listened to its bells as part of the city’s Independence Day celebration in 2001, or maybe 2002.
Millennium Carillon, NapervilleIt’s possible to pay $3 and take a tour of the tower, but I didn’t have time for it on Friday. It’s 253 steps up to its observation deck, so we better visit before we get much older. Also, before the tower gets much older. It’s possible the tower will be gone in a few years.

“Cracks and deterioration of its concrete walls could cause pieces to fall ‘without notice,’ and corrosion of structural steel connections could decrease the building’s stability, a consultant found in a two-year, $50,000 study of the tower’s condition,” Marie Wilson writes in the Daily Herald.

“Options include fixing the structure and maintaining it as-is, fixing it and improving the base to help prevent future corrosion, or maintaining it for a while and then tearing it down.”

Such problems after only 10 years. Luckily, nothing fell without notice when I visited (though shouldn’t that be “without warning”?). I’m not a structural engineer, but it sounds like corners were cut during the original building. Of course, it was a money problem.

“The most expensive options would involve upgrading the bottom of the tower to match original designs by Charles Vincent George Architects, which called for the lower 72 feet and 9 inches to be enclosed in glass and temperature-controlled, Novack said.

“Enclosure plans were scrapped when the Millennium Carillon Foundation, which conducted the first phase of work in 1999 to 2001, ran of out of money.”

According to the Naperville Park District, the Millennium Carillon is the fourth largest in North America and one of the “grand” carillons of the world, featuring 72 bells spanning six octaves. Didn’t hear the bells during this visit. Concerts are inconveniently on weekday evenings. Inconvenient for non-residents, that is.

Near the tower is a bronze of Harold and Margaret Moser, who ponied up $1 million for the tower’s construction.
Harold & Margaret Moser statueBeginning after WWII — and that was the time to subdivide in earnest out in the suburbs — Harold Moser was a major residential developer in Naperville, credited with building at least 10,000 houses in the area. His nickname was Mr. Naperville, and a plaque on the back of the statue calls them Mr. and Mrs. Naperville.

They both died in 2001. The statue, by Barton Gunderson, dates from 2009.

Mr. & Mrs. Naperville

It’s fitting to honor the Mosers in bronze, but their smiles are a little unnerving.