Honoring John Glenn…a weekend visit to the Griffith Observatory

My friend, Pam, came to visit this weekend, and after two days of staying close to home—we devoted most of Saturday to watching Whitney Houston’s very moving and all-day memorial—a change in scenery was needed! I had an idea! Jay, Pam and I headed across town to Griffith Park and one of my favorite destinations, the Griffith Observatory.

Perfect timing! It was a good weekend to increase a little knowledge about what to me is always “the mystery” of space. Today marks the 50th anniversary of Astronaut and Senator John Glenn’s historic flight aboard Friendship 7, making him the first American to orbit the Earth.  In 1962 the spacecraft circled Earth three times in a flight lasting a total of 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds. I was just short of ten years old and remember something of the excitement of this event, although I have no memory of hearing anything about control problems requiring Glenn to switch back to the manual fly-by-wire system, piloting the spacecraft in that mode for the remainder of the flight.

“Astronaut fever” was a part of my early years—not so much for me personally, but for the more adventurous! School children were challenged by President Kennedy’s decision to “Go to the Moon” and even children’s television programming supported the imagination through introduction of the futuristic family, The Jetsons. George, Jane, Judy and Elroy (I can still sing the song, can you?) represented the family of the future, complete with every-day space travel, people-movers, and a robot maid, Rosie—just push the button and the work is done. We wondered if one day we’d have our very own personal robot!

So Sunday we made a day of it! Griffith Park is the second-largest city park in California covering 4,310 acres, featuring many inviting activities.  It is home to the Los Angeles Zoo, the famed Greek Theater, the Gene Autry Museum and Travel Town, and dozens of nature and hiking trails.

Weekend experiences in Los Angeles often pose the challenge of crowds! But Griffith Park is HUGE, making it possible to have a comfortable experience with thousands of other friends.

We enjoyed a meandering walk along the Ferndell Trail, located near the western entrance of the park. Home to over 50 fern species, the lush and charming area follows stream beds with hanging plants under the canopy of California sycamores and redwoods. Jay and I never head over to the larger park area without at least taking the thirty minutes to stroll through this verdant picnic area.

I’m a stay-on-the-path pseudo-hiker, but there were plenty of more adventurous trail blazers! Some appeared to be climbing to our eventual destination. We opted for the car!

From a lower vantage point we spied the Observatory. Isn’t this a beautiful building?

Griffith Park was once a part of a Spanish settlement known as Rancho Los Felis. Griffith J. Griffith, a wealthy mining speculator, purchased what remained of the original Rancho in 1882, and it was his dream to one day make science more accessible to the public. Griffith offered the City of Los Angeles $100,000 (1912 money!) for an observatory to be built on top of Mount Hollywood, owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles. Griffith didn’t live to see his dream realized, but today millions of people enjoy a wonderful learning observatory.

The exterior grounds are beautiful offering a spectacular panoramic view of the greater Los Angeles area. Our view was a little obstructed by fog and a heavy marine layer, but on a clear day the view extends all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Many well-known movies have been filmed on the Observatory grounds, including Rebel Without A Cause—thus the memorial statue of James Dean.

The Foucalt Pendulum is the most popular central feature in the beautiful rotunda.  The 240-pound brass ball, suspended by a 40-foot long cable, swings in a constant direction, demonstrating the Earth’s rotation. As time elapses, the trajectory of the pendulum shifts, knocking down pins at different positions, indicating the progress of rotation. It is mesmerizing.

The Central Rotunda also boasts a vaulted ceiling and upper walls of great beauty. Hugo Ballin, muralist, film producer, and author (1879-1956) painted these beautiful murals depicting images of classical celestial mythology in 1934-35. They have recently been completely restored and are a great artistic treasure.

I’ve been coming to the Observatory since I was a child, and brought my own children many times. This trip was also a chance for me to preview the areas I believe Sophia and Karina would most enjoy. Sophia is very inquisitive about the planets, and I’ve had more than one conversation with her about falling space debris and meteors! She heard something on the radio and hasn’t stopped asking questions. I have mixed feelings about showing her this exhibit!

I hope this meteorite, the largest found in California, wouldn’t give her nightmares of falling objects!

The Apollo astronauts trained under the stars in the Griffith Observatory’s Planetarium and the Edge of Space Mezzanine showcases samples of the universe that come to Earth from space or that we acquire through space exploration.  I think both girls would enjoy seeing a real rock brought back from the Moon.

I’m not particularly knowledgeable about the Cosmos, but I have a fascination! I do stare at the night sky and think and ponder and question and wonder…and I want to share that fascination with my granddaughters. Each trip to the Observatory provides just a little more knowledge, but mostly it opens up questions. I look forward to exploring and learning together!

Happy Anniversary to Senator John Glenn. What a brave explorer!


30 thoughts on “Honoring John Glenn…a weekend visit to the Griffith Observatory

  1. It sounds that you had a great weekend, what a lovely pictures you are sharing and thanks for all the interesting information, I’ve never being to California, just Florida where I have relatives.:)

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures, Katya, and I hope someday you can indeed visit! There are so many interesting places to visit all across the county (and around the world, for that matter!) and we can’t do it all, I know! But California has its own unique offerings, and I hope you might visit sometime! Debra

  2. What a wonderful place to have so near, Debra. Thank you for sharing it here. I would love to see it someday; the ferns, the paths, the Observatory. What wonderful adventures you will have with the girls sometime in future.
    Wow! 50 years since John Glenn’s orbits. I was 12 years old and remember the fascination of it, though, like you, I don’t remember the grave danger he was in. It was a challenging time and one of believing in what could be, wasn’t it?

    1. It is really quite fascinating to think back to how little was yet known about space and certainly even the technology must have been very rudimentary compared with all the computerized mechanisms we employ today. It was all “future” and we did dream big. When I think of fifty years, I do gasp just a little bit 🙂 D

  3. Dang, Debra. I wish I ‘met’ you before I came out there. I would’ve loved to see this place. Like you, I’ve always been fascinated by space and astronomy. Thank you for giving me another place to visit next time.

  4. What a great place — and day!! — to visit! It’s a wonderful place to take the grandkids and such a special memory for everyone to cherish. I, too, remember Glenn’s flight. Prior to that, I remember the neighbors gathering on the front lawns to try to find some satellite pass far above us. I don’t think that it was Sputnik because I would have only been 3 – 4 years old and doubt I’d have remembered it. Hard to believe that in our lifetimes, we all went from being awestruck at the thought of a man in space to being rather blasé about it all.

    1. You are so right about that John! There isn’t much interest today, is there? What an incredible memory to have of sitting outside and watching for “something” to pass above! We have on a few occasions seen the Space Station…that alone is mesmerizing. I enjoyed my time at the Observatory, and walked away realizing how little I really know. But I do have a curiosity, so that’s a start 🙂 D

  5. What a great, adventurous day with your friend. It will be so much fun to share with the grandkids. That rock might give me pause about falling debris, but I’d show it to her anyways. 😉

    The push to send a man to the moon was so exciting to me, too, when I was a kid. John Glenn was quite the hero to us. And the Jetsons! LOL! Yup, lots of memories. Have a great Tuesday! 🙂

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed, Rita! The funny thing about showing Sophia the exhibit is the large black and white photo of a woman who WAS hit by a meteor in the ’50s, I think. She lived somewhere in the midwest and a meteor crashed through her home and hit her in bed! The picture shows her very black an blue side of the abdomen…how it didn’t kill her, I don’t know! I’m not sure I’m up to all those questions! LOL! So glad you remember the Jetsons, too. Funny how memories come back of the oddest things sometime! D

  6. You are a very capable and enthusiastic tour guide, Debra. I learned so much this morning on your tour, and oh how I wish I lived closer so I could visit in person. THANK YOU so much!

  7. You have already found out, but to make it formal: I want to tell you that I have nominated you for the Hug Award, because your are such an inspiration for the whole blog sphere. For more info about the nomination, have a look at my post More Rain.

  8. Dear Debra,
    I always enjoy your postings, but never more so than when you introduce us to the natural beauty of California and the sights I could see when/if I come there someday. The Observatory building is indeed beautiful. Majestic really. I’d love to stroll through the fern walk.
    Truthfully, I’ve never wanted to come to California–I’ve done so on three business trips, but seen little–and yet your postings make a trip there so attractive!


    1. Maybe you’ll come another time, Dee, and have a chance to see some of the more historic buildings and museums. I think you’d enjoy them. There are many reasons why a trip to Southern California is formidable, however, and I can easily believe it isn’t on your top 10 list! I’ll keep posting about some of my favorite spots and see if I can eventually entice you back! 🙂 Debra

  9. Thanks for another fascinating and informative tour, Debra. I just love the way we can discover so much from good blogs like yours about places and things we may never get to see for ourselves. I was in my early teens when these first manned spaceflights took place, so remember the excitement of the news coverage very well.

    1. Thank you so much, Perpetua. I think blogs have somewhat replaced the need for “travelogues” of the past. We keep one another abreast of what’s happening all over the world. I wonder if local governments know what we are doing for them in helping promote travel! 🙂 Debra

    1. I’m so surprised, Claire, that I have friends who have lived in Los Angeles County most of their lives and they have never been to the Observatory…or not since they went as children and part of a school field trip! The whole park is worth the experience, but I think if I’m going to live in a city with gridlock traffic and many rather unappealing facets, I should be more proactive to find the natural settings that are available! Balance is important to me 🙂 I’m glad to share with you! Debra

  10. A great way to spend the day honoring John Glenn. As an Ohioan, he is special. And to think that on Monday, Neil Armstrong (another Ohioan) was present at the ceremony honoring John Glenn. And yes … thanks for subscribing to my blog and hope you return.

  11. The observatory is a favorite place that my wife and I take visitors. It’s a great view and very interesting as well. I need to explore more of Griffith Park. Last time we drove down the hill from the observatory we saw two coyotes walking together right on the roadway.

    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out
    Twitter: @AprilA2Z

  12. Pingback: A historical Carousel and a day in THE Park | breathelighter

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