Farewell Betty Strasenburgh (age 90) and thanks for the Planetarium

Farewell Betty Strasenburgh (age 90) and thanks for the Planetarium

[Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 7/30/68 Copper Top Copper sheeting is being placed on the dome at planetarium at the Rochester Museum and Science Strasenburgh Planetarium as finishing touch. See 47 years ago when the Eagle landed. What July 20th, 1969 has meant over the decades with Strasenburgh Planetarium’s Steve Fentress]

4/28/21 The completed dome. David Kramer wearing RMSC Summer Fun shirt courtesy of Steve Fentress, Director of the Strasenburgh Planetarium [Photo: RMSC groundskeeper Chester McGill] See 47 years ago when the Eagle landed. What July 20th, 1969 has meant over the decades with Strasenburgh Planetarium’s Steve Fentress]

Today, “‘A force of nature.’ Rochester philanthropist Betty Strasenburgh dies at age 90” (Democrat and Chronicle, 4/28/21) reported that Rochester philanthropist and activist Betty Strasenburgh, a champion of the arts who helped lead a campaign to renovate Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, among countless other cultural initiatives, has died at age 90.

Betty Strasenburgh taught harp for 15 years at Nazareth Academy on Lake Avenue (D & C 1972 File Photo)

Betty was the daughter-in-law of Edwin and Clara Strasenburgh, benefactors of the Strasenburgh Planetarium first dedicated on September 14th , 1968.

Now is a moment to thank the Strasenburgh family for the Rochester icon that has given so much enjoyment and edification over many decades by looking back to 1968 and the construction of the planetarium.

First, Talker has been to the planetarium several times, as well as the grounds of the adjoining Rochester Museum & Science Center. Looking for a cool date night? Stargazing at the Strasenburgh took us on George and Amy Bianchi Payne’s planetarium date night. (SEE FULL ARTICLE AT END)

In 47 years ago when the Eagle landed. What July 20th, 1969 has meant over the decades with Strasenburgh Planetarium’s Steve Fentress, Steve, Director of the Strasenburgh Planetarium, offered a history of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

7/19/16 (left) Strasenburgh Planetarium Director Steve Fentress (right) David Kramer with 3-D glasses used in the Star Chamber and RMSC Summer Fun shirt gifted by Steve. [Photo: Planetarium staff] From 47 years ago when the Eagle landed. What July 20th, 1969 has meant over the decades with Strasenburgh Planetarium’s Steve Fentress

In Too much fun After Dark at the RMSC, we enjoyed a night under the stars including activities at the planetarium.

7/22/16 (left) Space Jams: (l-r) Serena, Romeo, Hectorina, and Dandelion Daniel, Rochester Museum and Science Center; (right) RMSC staff member Esa Cesnari at Pegasus. From Too much fun After Dark at the RMSC

In How do the Whispering Dishes at the RMSC work?,  RMSC Director of Education Calvin Uzelmeier, Ph.D. explained the science behind the Whispering Dishes next to the planetarium.

July 2017. (left) David Kramer at the dish from How do the Whispering Dishes at the RMSC work? ;(right) At the 8/7/16  Lights Out evening event at the Museum. Fire and Spice Bellydancers performed alongside the Dishes. [Photo: David Kramer From Too much fun After Dark at the RMSC

In “Good therapy” at the RMSC’s Garden of Fragrance with the Rochester Herb Society, we saw the good works done by the Rochester Herb Society at the Harriet Hollister Spencer Garden of Fragrance across from the planetarium.

7/20/16. (left) David Kramer in the garden from “Good therapy” at the RMSC’s Garden of Fragrance with the Rochester Herb Society; (right) the marker at the entrance to the garden [Photo: David Kramer 4/28/21]

When reviewing the 1968 archives of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and the Rochester Times-Union, I discovered the degree to which anticipation of the coming planetarium captured the imagination of Rochesterians, only a year before the moon landing.

A September 16th, Democrat and Chronicle editorial, “Rochester Journeys into Space,” echoes the spirit of optimism and human triumph:

Rochester these past few days has given a ringing affirmation of the need for man, in this case American man, to keep on journeying into space. The dedication of the magnificent Strasenburgh Planetarium, the dedication of Virgil Grissom School No. 7 and the space exhibits at Midtown Plaza Mall and the other highlights of “Two Weeks in Space” are at once a testament to the faith and vision of brave men and a pointing of the way to the veils of the universe that have still to be lifted. The presence of James E. Webb, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and of astronaut Charles Conrad Jr. was a fitting tribute to this community’s own bright adventure into space.

Democrat and Chronicle, 9/16/68

Perhaps the most moving moment in the planetarium dedication came with the brief remarks of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin G. Strasenburgh Sr., whose generosity made the planetarium possible. They were humble about their own contributions and proud of the community’s typically wholehearted response. And these are probably the uppermost feelings of all of us. To journey into space is in one respect a humbling and chastening experience. But it’s also a matter for pride that man in his unquenchable spirit of inquiry has dared so much. It’s most of all the sharp, hard intellect of the young that will keep this nation flying high, and it’s the young who will gain the most from the revelations and the challenges of the new planetarium, for which the community is infinitely richer.

Throughout 1968, up to the official first day of operation on September 22nd, the Strasenburgh Planetarium was proudly showcased.

Democrat and Chronicle, 2/9/68 REACHING FOR STARS. Workmen clamber up delicately-curved steel support beams of dome at Strasenburgh Planetarium, going up on site near Museum of Arts and Sciences on  East Avenue. Made possible by gift from Mr. and Mrs. Edwin G. Strasenburgh, the planetarium will be one of 11 major star-watching facilities in the world when completed.

Democrat and Chronicle, 6/20/68 What weighs three tons, is shipped in 14 crates and costs about $250,000? Answer: A projector from the Carl Zeiss optical works, Ober-kochen, West Germany. It will arrive via chartered plane from New York City at noon tomorrow and will be transported by truck to the Strasenburgh Planetarium.

Democrat and Chronicle, 6/27/68 INSTALLING PROJECTOR Workmen uncrate and prepare to install 3-ton projector built in Germany for Strasenburgh Planetarium. It will recreate any known sky.

Democrat and Chronicle, 9/13/63 Planetarium aide explains Astro Screen at preview yesterday.

Democrat and Chronicle, 9/14/68 All the psychiatrists in Rochester can look for another place to work. The greatest cure of all has come. It’s known as the Strasenburgh Planetarium . . . Whether you have any problems or not, just go to Strasenburgh and you won’t remember a thing. Apparently, Joyce Wilson believed that star gazing can cure neuroses.

Democrat and Chronicle, Sep 14, 1968  Planetarium Make Bow Rochester’s new planetarium was the star of the show last night at its official coming-out party. The city’s society turned out “under the stars” for the “Galaxy Gala” ball which marked the grand opening of the Strasenburgh Planetarium. Guests of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin S. Strasenburgh, donors of the $2.5 million structure, were entertained with champagne punch, music by Syl Novelli’s orchestra and a midnight buffet. The highlight of the evening was two showings in the Star Theater of the Planetarium, where guests witnessed the creation of the universe, the rising and setting of the sun and the moon, a moon-shot with a craft landing on the moon, and various stars in the universe.  See Too much fun After Dark at the RMSC

Democrat and Chronicle, 9/19/68

Rochester Times-Union, Planetarium Guide, 9/20/68 Two views of the Planetarium’s Zeiss projector frame stars and gaseous cloud, called Lagoon Nebula. [Courtesy of the RPL’s Local History Room, newspaper clippings, 4/28/21 see Boxes upon boxes of Rochester newspaper history]

Rochester Times-Union, Planetarium Guide, 9/20/68 [Courtesy of the RPL’s Local History Room, newspaper clippings, 4/28/21 see Boxes upon boxes of Rochester newspaper history]

Rochester Times-Union, Planetarium Guide, 9/20/68  Ian C. McLennan, director (left) and John J. Paris, technical director, time tape recording of sound effects for Star Theater show. [Courtesy of the RPL’s Local History Room, newspaper clippings, 4/28/21 see Boxes upon boxes of Rochester newspaper history]

Democrat and Chronicle, 9/22/68 Star-Gazing William Kral of National Aeronautics and Space Administration with model of Lunar Orbiter, left, and Surveyor, data-gathering craft which blazed trail to moon. Krai lectured yesterday at Museum and Science Center as part of activities in connection with opening of Strasenburgh Planetarium.

Democrat and Chronicle, 2/12/ 69 Strasenburgh Planetarium won special award for new construction.

Looking for a cool date night? Stargazing at the Strasenburgh(September 15th, 2016 by George Cassidy Payne)

Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.


The Strasenburgh Planetarium is a gateway to the deeper realities of our multiverse. It is a beautiful example of a museum completely alive with the fresh zeal of creative experimentation. A place where children and adults are charmed with the same delightful amazement. A place we go to realize that we are not all that matters.img_20160319_195355636_hdr

Rochester is lucky. Without a planetarium, a community is blinded to the greater whole of who we are as a species. If we are not looking upward and outward, we are not looking at all. Sure, the size of the universe is paralyzingly large. But a planetarium helps us get over our fear of the largeness. If we can view the universe with respect and awe, it need not terrify us. For we are part of a cloud of universes unseen by any telescope. If we do not have planetariums to help us come to terms with this reality, we will succumb to delusion.


On the upper deck. Photo by George Payne

A Little Background

In 1935, soon after the opening of major planetariums in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles, Arthur C. Parker, Director of the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences, recommended construction of a planetarium in Rochester.

In the fall of 1964 RMSC announced that it had received a gift of “more than one million dollars” from Mr. and Mrs. Edwin G. Strasenburgh of Rochester for the purpose of building a planetarium. The building design, by Carl F. W. Kaelber Jr. of the Rochester architectural firm of Waasdorp, Northup & Kaelber, was announced on June 28, 1966.

Dedicated on September 14, 1968, the Strasenburgh Planetarium was named after its benefactors, Edwin and Clara Strasenburgh.

Of special note, the planetarium’s Star Theater houses the first Zeiss Mark VI planetarium projector; it is still in daily operation. In fact, the planetarium received world-wide attention by being the first to be computer automated.


The Planetarium building was said to resemble a snail shell or a spiral nebula.

So far as hypotheses are concerned, let no one expect anything certain from astronomy, which cannot furnish it, lest he accept as the truth ideas conceived for another purpose, and depart from this study a greater fool than when he entered it.

Nicolaus Copernicus


Photo by George Payne

The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons.

Edwin Powell Hubble


Staircase up to the telescopes. Photo by George Payne

Looking for a cool date night? There is a free telescope viewing on Saturday nights from dark till about 10 p.m. when weather in downtown Rochester is favorable and volunteer telescope operators are available. This is all thanks to volunteers from the leading local astronomy club: the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science (ASRAS).

Just climb 60 steps at the back of the planetarium and you can stargaze right in the heart of downtown Rochester. My wife Amy and I did it. The weather was chilly but so what. We got to see the moons of Jupiter as clear as our own moon! And to see children and people of all backgrounds getting excited about the bewildering, astonishing, mind boggling, jaw dropping, holy smokes that’s incredible panorama of space felt great. I can’t wait to go back with my newborn son.


Photo by George Payne

We were told that a new 11-inch computer-guided Celestron CPC1100 telescope on a Pier-Tech adjustable pier was added in 2014 with gifts from the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation and the Louis S. and Molly B. Wolk Foundation.


Photo by George Payne


Amy Bianchi Payne spying on the Milky Way

The volunteer astronomers say that even though city lights surround the planetarium, the moon, planets, and bright star clusters are still visible.

A real telescope is important so you can see these sites for yourself. If you had the chance, which would you rather do — see the Grand Canyon in person or look at pictures on a computer monitor?

Jim Seidewand, ASRAS director of telescope activities at the Planetarium


Photo by George Payne

If you are interested, ASRAS welcomes new members of all ages and experience levels. According to the RMSC website, monthly meetings take place at RIT or at the club’s dark-sky observing site, the Farash Center for Observational Astronomy in Ionia, New York. Check them out!


“Good therapy” at the RMSC’s Garden of Fragrance with the Rochester Herb Society

Living the Native American way of being at Haudenosaunee Days at the RMSC

How do the Whispering Dishes at the RMSC work?

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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