18 Months of Research and I *just* Found out Something Mind-Blowing

After 18 months of research, here are my new mind-blowing revelations:

  1. The astronaut training program almost didn’t happen!
  2. Morehead Planetarium had another director that we never hear about whom we now need to honor.

I’ve been working at Morehead Planetarium for 18 years across a 27-year span and have been interviewing Morehead Planetarium family for the past 18 months and I only found this out in the last 24 hours.

What does this Mean?

Tony Jenzano, the man who made all the astronaut training happen from 1960 – 1975, the man who I thought was the second director of Morehead Planetarium was really the third director. More importantly, he almost didn’t get the chance to become director at all.

As a young man, Tony graduated from high school in Philadelphia, went into the Navy to fight in WWII, and at the end of the war stumbled into the planetarium profession as an electronics technician. When Tony’s director left Philadelphia to become the first director of Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, NC, Tony joined him. He was on loan to Morehead for one month starting in 1949.

Hand Of Fate, Part I: Outside of East and West Germany, only one man in the world understood Zeiss star projector equipment at its deepest levels, and that man was Tony Jenzano. He was indispensable. The one-month loan turned into a lifetime.

Tony Jenzano settled into his new home and happily worked for the “Mister Wizard of his day” Dr. Roy K. Marshall, a man who had his own TV science show. Tony expected to have a long and happy career as a planetarium technician.

Hand of Fate, Part II: In 1951, the first director of Morehead left after 22 months. Official reasons for his departure involved dislike of weekly air travel to Philadelphia to film his TV show plus Roy’s dislike of being “less famous” in Chapel Hill, North Carolina than in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There were likely other reasons, but those suffice for this story.

Upon Roy Marshall’s exit, was the logical choice for director Tony Jenzano? Tony had experience and was unarguably a genius with anything electrical or mechanical, but his lack of college degree knocked him out of the running.

UNC astronomy professor Douglas Duke was tapped to take temporary leadership of Morehead while a search was conducted to find a new permanent director.

Hand of Fate, Part III: Douglas Duke moved and took up a role as astronomy professor at a university in Florida the same year as Marshall’s exit from Morehead. Details are hazy at this point as to why and how this happened, but he never appears in any documentation after the initial announcement.

Newspaper articles from March 1, 1951 to 1959 mention Tony Jenzano as Acting Manager, Manager, Acting Director, or Director in several articles. After 1959, he is “Director Jenzano.” Thus, he became the second director/leader (regardless of exact title) after Marshall’s exit, right?

Nope.

As much as Tony Jenzano was the perfect fit in the director role at Morehead Planetarium, we can only say so now in hindsight. After all, he established and prioritized programs for school kids; he brought in 62 astronauts for 15 years for training; he oversaw technical upgrades that consistently kept Morehead a world-class planetarium. But that’s hindsight.

The effort to find a director persisted at least a few months. In November 1951, a new “Chairman of Programs” position was created, one that was effectively the director role. It was a role overseeing all other staff, including Tony Jenzano.

The new Chairman of Programs role went to Dick Emmons, an astronomer with mile-long credentials both in astronomical discovery and in planetarium work. He settled in. Dick began overseeing the facility and wrote an article for the university newspaper.

Hand of Fate, Part IV: After three months, Dick’s father passed away and it forced Dick to relocate to care for his family. It left Morehead again without a definitive leader–a void that Tony filled starting in January 1952.

Having spoken with Dick Emmons’ daughter today (thanks to a tip from my dear friend and colleague, Mickey Jo Sorrell) and having confirmed through newspaper articles most of the relevant details, I confirm that Dick Emmons was Morehead’s second director, albeit for only a short time. His tenure there looked quite promising, but was cut short. His swift exit under sad circumstances was against the odds, but that exit shaped illustrious and brilliant careers for Dick Emmons and Tony Jenzano.

Had Dick Emmons remained as Morehead’s director, would astronauts still have trained at Morehead? Would they have returned many times over the course of 15 years? It’s possible, but since it was Tony’s vision that made the astronaut program happen, I think it’s unlikely.

Regardless of how and why, Dick Emmons was Morehead’s second director, and we now know that Tony Jenzano was really third.

Epilogue

Jeanne Bishop, daughter of Dick Emmons and eminent planetarian in her own right, recounted for me by phone a small fraction of her father’s astronomical contributions. Of her father’s time at Morehead, she said that two very sad occurrences took place. First was on Christmas 1951 when her father sat in hunger and without company. He’d not realized or been told that all restaurants would be closed that day in small town Chapel Hill and all the surrounding towns for miles. Perhaps he’d turned down invitations so as not to be a burden to some local family? Either way, it was one sad memory of his time in North Carolina.

The other occurrence was, of course, the loss of his father.

In January 1952, on his last day working at Morehead Planetarium, Dick Emmons quietly set the Zeiss star projector controls one last time. He recreated the starry night sky to look exactly as it had just days earlier on the day of his father’s death. In setting the stars to the past, he put Morehead firmly in his own past and left the building for the last time.

5 thoughts on “18 Months of Research and I *just* Found out Something Mind-Blowing

  1. That’s a great story about Dr. Emmons, Michael.  In regard to the titles for dad (manager/director) it is my understanding that he was initially the manager, and in 1959 they gave him the Director title in order to give him a raise. In my opinion, the “powers that be” would not give him the same title (director) as Marshall and Emmons as they had advanced degrees and Dad simply had a high school degree. Then after he had accomplished so much, and was probably at the top of his pay level as manager, they promoted him to Director in order to give him a much deserved raise. As we assume, he was the only Zeiss planetarium director in the world with a high school degree!

    Sent from my Galaxy Tab® E

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    1. And what an amazing turn of events for all involved. Dick Emmons’ career thereafter was filled with amazing contributions to NASA, the planetarium field, and space science. Your dad ended up with such amazing accomplishments of his own. Jeanne shared with me that her dad really looked quite fondly on his time spent working with your dad! As short as that was.

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  2. Thanks Michael. This is a very interesting story. I can relate to Dr. Emmon’s last day at Morehead. I clearly remember ending my last show, resetting the Zeiss, and walking out the side door with tears in my eyes. I was determined never to look back but am so glad that I have done so many times over the years.

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