The University of Chicago Magazine

February 1997


as if President Harper's success as a money raiser was due to his having shrewdly represented the Chicago university to divers men of wealth as a sort of conscience fund."

The largely positive editorial reaction did not calm Yerkes' suspicions that he was being taken advantage of--suspicions aggravated by Hale when he ordered three specially designed spectroscopes without apprising Yerkes of their cost. During a conference with Harper, Yerkes announced that he was "entirely out of patience" with Hale, whom he felt was "ready to ride a free horse to death." It took Harper almost two hours to calm the incensed millionaire.

By 1894, building plans were complete and the telescope's mounting already assembled, yet Yerkes was refusing to spend any more money on the project. As the observatory began to rise on the shores of Lake Geneva--an ideal location, close to the University but beyond Chicago smoke and haze--relations between Yerkes and University officials remained cool. However, during the final stages of construction in 1897, Harper again approached Yerkes requesting more money. Yerkes was just then battling some of Harper's friends in the reformist Civic Federation in a desperate effort to extend his streetcar franchises to 50-year terms. In a letter to Harper, he sarcastically suggested that the president hit up his Civic Federation pals--the same elite who still ostracized him and his wife--for support instead. In Harper's diplomatic reply, he told the tycoon that he was "too large and broad a man to be governed in your feeling by petty statements and false representations..." Ever the fund-raiser, Harper closed with yet another plea that Yerkes would still "consider the question of making provision for these few things that remain."

In a subsequent letter to Harper, Yerkes openly worried that his enemies might strike at the great telescope. "It is a sad fact which forces itself upon my mind, and I thoroughly believe that there are many persons--some of them high in the social scale--who would even be pleased to see an accident happen to the telescope," he wrote. Only five days later, the floor of the observatory's main dome collapsed. Though apparently the fault of the floor's designers, this disaster undoubtedly confirmed Yerkes' darkest fears. Instead of gaining him social acceptance, the observatory only seemed to increase his isolation.

On October 21, 1897, the Yerkes Observatory was officially dedicated. The observatory's namesake delivered the address presenting the observatory to the University of Chicago. Looking out of place in the crowd of robed scholars,


Sidebar: "Musical Makeover"

Sidebar: "Star Power"

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