Standing proudly next to the New York Museum of Natural History, sits the Hayden Planetarium. Beautifully located at 200 Central Park West, it occupies a prominent spot on 79st Street on the upper west side of Manhattan. Bordered on the east by New York’s iconic Central Park, this was a favorite spot of both Rob and I as kids.
As I have mentioned on many occasions in previous posts, our Dad worked two and three jobs at a time to keep our family afloat, creating a lot of time when it was just Mon and us. Quite often Dad had to work one of his second or third jobs on the weekends, particularly on Sundays. This gave rise to Mom looking for fun things to do with her boys that would keep us both occupied and entertained.
A trip to the Museum and the Planetarium was a full afternoon of both. We mostly took the bus to the prestigious and beautiful location on Central Park West. At times we would take the train, but we liked the bus ride best. It offered us a view of a part of the city we didn’t get to see all that often and we enjoyed counting the city blocks until we arrived at our destination. If it was a Sunday, the City Streets were crowed with people strolling and enjoying a pretty spring or fall day. We would watch them as our bus lumbered its way through the city traffic, wondering what department store they were going to or which sidewalk café they would stop at. Movie theaters, restaurants, wonderful department stores and record stores lined the route and we loved “taking it all in”.
The Museum and Planetarium were impressive buildings on their own and the bus stopped right across the avenue form the main entrance to the Museum of Natural History. The half globe of the Planetarium could easily be seen from the entrance to the museum and one could actually enter the Planetarium from the Museum itself.
We loved the museum, especially the exhibits featuring exotic animals as well as that part of the museum that featured the dinosaur exhibit. My little brother had a major “thing” for Dinosaurs and he would be wide eyed with wonder as we walked under the structures that depicted the skeletal fugues of the fierce Tyrannosaurus Rex, the majestic Brontosaurus and countless others. I knew the technical names of just a few, Rob could tell you the names of each one. On many occasions Mom would let him buy a plastic figurine of one of the dinosaurs at the gift shop. I believe he had quite the collection and he played with them regularly.
I could spend way too much time telling you about all the sights and sounds of the museum, but it is Planetarium I want to focus on. This would be the closing part of our outing. We would enter the Planetarium from the Museum, always anticipating what sky show we would be treated to that day in the main presentation hall. We walked past meteor exhibits, rock formations, and even some pretty cool “hands-on” exhibits for kinds to get involved with. They were both entertaining and educational.
But, the sky show is really why we really came, it was amazing. A digital video system projects across the theaters wide hemispheric dome, giving every seat in the house an incredible view of the “sky”. It was so awesome and realistic that it felt like science fiction to us, but it was amazing truth. These space shows gave us “scientific visualization” of the wonders of astronomy and our universe. Our favorite part was the star projector, which replicated the night sky as seen from earth. This was not a show; this was mind blowing reality. I remember sitting in my reclined seat, gazing at the immenseness of the night sky with planets, starts and other universes all coming into clear view. I felt like the only person in the theater and as if I was actually witnessing the majesty of the universe. It was simply awe inspiring to me. Stars shot across the dome as a deep voiced narrator walked us through everything we were witnessing. I didn’t want it to end. But, as is always the case, it did have to end. We were transported back to reality as the lights came up and I stood looking incredulously around the theater wondering how it could have been transformed into “the universe” moments before. I would look over at Rob and he looked up at me. I don’t think we ever said too much, as we were still not quite back into reality. But, the looks said it all. “That was amazing”.
Yes it was… absolutely amazing.