No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again

As I write this, the historic Mt. Wilson Observatory is in danger of being overtaken by fire. The “Station fire” has been burning for more than a week in southern California and it’s been an exceptionally terrible fire, consuming houses, leading to the death of firefighters, and turning the afternoon light a very wrong color of orange.

Tony wrote a brilliant script to collect the pictures from the Mt. Wilson Observatory during the fire.Through all this, the Mt. Wilson Observatory has been a focus, partly because, until yesterday, it had a webcam that updated every 2 minutes, giving you a kind of real time stop-motion animation of the fire. But while most people have been talking about the communication towers that are at risk on the mountain and what a fire might mean to television stations, radios, and cell phones, my mind keeps going back to a strange little exhibit I saw at the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

Now for those of you who have never been there, the Museum of Jurassic Technology is one of the weirdest place perhaps anywhere. Squeezed in between a run-down rug store and an office building is the museum’s ornately gated doorway with a little fountain decorating the wall. When you step inside, the line between reality and fantasy instantly blurs. Most of the museum has a slightly turn-of-the-century, occultish feel to it.  The exhibits, while factual in nature, are designed in a way that make you question the meaning and realness behind them.

Up-close view of a micromosaic by Henry DaltonFor example, one exhibit chronicles, in detail, the life of two people who never met but who, at a  one pivotal moment in their lives, were at the same place at the same time. An operatic concert performed at the Igassu Falls in Argentina.

Another exhibit shows micromosaics by Henry Dalton, created entirely out of butterfly scales, which you can only view using a microscope.

But the exhibit I’m thinking of is in a small, closet-like room. Its walls are covered with letters sent to the Mt. Wilson Observatory between 1915 and 1935. They are strange rambling notes from different people, all who had discovered the secrets of the universe and felt compelled to share them with the scientists at the observatory.

Letter from the Museum of Jurassic TechnologyIt sounds crazy, but there’s a conviction, and often a poetry, to the letters that makes them cling to your mind. For example, in one letter, a man, Edward, writes, “Etholeum – The base of all existance – it is One with Electricity and There is no place where It does not exist. It is the conduit of The Light between all of the planets and thru the telephone and the radio and without it There would be no Earth Because there would be No sound. to be transferred between”

In another letter, Mrs. Alice May Williams urgently writes, “I want to tell you I am not after money & I am not a fraud. I believe I have some knowledge which you gentlemen should have. If I die my knowledge may die with me, & no one may ever have the same knowledge again.”

The writer in me wants to know what this woman knew, who she was.

Did she hold some secret that is now gone forever? Is the world a lesser place without it? A lump of a sadness forms inside me for the possibilities that have been lost.

9-02-09-fire-in-hills.jpgAs the fire rages here in the hills outside of Los Angeles, consuming buildings and lives, that sadness becomes a tangible pall over the city. Ash drifts down on us and an amber moon holds vigil. Homes and forests and people are gone that should not be gone. And no one may ever have the same knowledge again.

7 Comments

Posted September 2, 2009 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

Beautifully said, Sara.
The orange light.
The knowledge lost.
poetic.

Sigh.

Thanks for sharing,
Namaste and a Hug,
Lee

Sara
Posted September 2, 2009 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

Thanks, Lee! The fire has definitely put me in a pensive mood. And your comment was pretty poetic itself:)

Posted September 4, 2009 at 2:00 am | Permalink

This is great, Sara, because now when people ask me about the fires and if they’ve impacted me, I’ll just say “What she said!”

I have seen that exhibit, too, though I didn’t remember that quote. But it is perfect for the occasion. If you could’ve gotten the guy howling like a wolf into the post, too, that would’ve been even more impressive than it already is….

Sara
Posted September 5, 2009 at 12:49 am | Permalink

Greg, I can’t even tell you how hard I tried to work that howling guy into the post…I even have a postcard of that exhibit. But I just couldn’t explain it in ANY way that made sense. Hmmm… maybe cause it doesn’t? But it is definitely my favorite thing at the museum:)
Oh… and Thanks:)

Mary Peterson
Posted September 5, 2009 at 12:52 am | Permalink

I had forgotten the letter until I read your post which makes me hopeful the knowledge is not lost, just forgotten until a spark ignites a memory in someone, somewhere.

Thanks for the post Sara, it beautifully sums up the surreality of the last week.

Laurie Young
Posted September 5, 2009 at 12:53 am | Permalink

Very beautifully written-thanks!
To Mary: interesting choice of words–I hope memory is the only thing “spark”ed . . .

Julie Adamson
Posted September 5, 2009 at 12:54 am | Permalink

Beautifully written. Sad to think of all the wonderful places and things that have been lost forever, except hopefully in memories that can be captured.

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