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A visit with Sidewalk Astronomer Joel Allen

Nicki's Central West End Guide Education Events, Sightings For Children Services

When CWEnder Joel Allen, aka the Sidewalk Astronomer, invited me to look at Saturn through his telescope last week, I couldn’t imagine a more constructive way to take a break from the incessant bad news we’ve been experiencing lately and find some peace.

I first learned about Allen through his occasional posts on NextDoor CWE inviting anyone interested to stop by The McPherson Lot (at Walton Row) when he sets up his SkyQuest Intelliscope, above.

Turns out the heavens aren’t exactly peaceful either. We city dwellers don’t see much in the night sky but, upon closer inspection and with Allen as a guide, there’s a whole lot more to explore than can be seen with the naked eye.

“We just missed the International Space Station by 2 minutes,” Allen said as he glanced at the western sky and checked an amazing app on his phone called Sky Safari (available for iOS and Android), which enables you to track the action above from wherever you are.

Next he pointed to Arcturus, the 4th brightest star, and explained that it played a role in the opening of the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. Coincidentally, it was at the time of the invention of the first solar cell and the light from the star was zeroed in on the cell which in turn lit up the Fair. For more fascinating information, read this: The Curious and Confounding Story of how Arcturus electrified Chicago.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Education Events, Sightings For Children Services

In the photograph above, Allen is calibrating his telescope so we could view Saturn, which is apparently in “full expression” right now.

Allen fell in love with Saturn at age 4 when his grandparents introduced him to astronomy. His parents fostered his interest by giving him a basic telescope. His love of the night sky eventually inspired him to become a geologist. When his grandparents died, they left him a little money he used to purchase the telescope you see in the photo. That telescope completes the circle as Allen uses it to teach others to love astronomy as well.

Allen took a circuitous route to get to St. Louis where he is teaching science at The Chesterfield Day School. Along the way he taught science in high school and at Denver’s Arapahoe Community College, and later helped opened a school in Kunshan, China, a suburb of Shanghai. There he taught biology, physics and astronomy.

In 2007 Allen worked as an astronomer with the National Park Service’s Night Sky Team in Bryce Canyon and the Arches in Utah, where the stars are endless.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Education Events, Sightings For Children Services

Once the telescope was set up last Monday, Allen invited passersby to take a look. The reaction was not surprising. Some people were hesitant when a stranger—even a friendly-looking one like Allen—asked if they wanted to look thru a telescope, and others wondered if it cost anything. Most people, however, responded the way I did and were eager to take a look. When each person viewed Saturn, the reaction was always a “wow.” We learned we were looking at the backside of Saturn which is visible only 2 months of the year. We could also see two moons outside the planet’s rings.

Those who stopped by included CWEnders Jared and Stacey Plank, proprietors of The Eye Bar, and a chef from The Tavern who said he and his wife had just purchased their first telescope.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Education Events, Sightings For Children Services    A visitor with a British accent, above, said she had just arrived in town for business and was staying in the neighborhood. She said that the neighborhood was so lovely, and an invitation to look at Saturn made her visit an even better experience.

. Nicki's Central West End Guide Education Events, Sightings For Children Services

After everyone walked away Allen suggested he train the telescope on the moon, see above. He said it’s much better to view when it isn’t full, as it was that evening, as then you can see the peaks and valleys of the moonscape on the rim. It was so, so beautiful, absolutely stunning. The peaks looked like they had wisps of whipped cream on top.Nicki's Central West End Guide Education Events, Sightings For Children Services

Photo above from Allen’s Facebook page

As Allen dismantled his telescope that evening, we brainstormed about how to get more people out to experience what I was so fortunate to see. One idea Allen is exploring is pairing a night sky event with a wine tasting at The Vino Gallery (across the street from The McPherson Lot).  In the meantime, check out the Sidewalk Astronomer’s Facebook page, Starwalking with Annie Jump Cannon. or NextDoor Central West End for notices about viewings. These will always be last minute due to weather conditions. For more info, contact Joel Allen via email: joelglennallen@gmail.com.

Don’t miss the opportunity to take a tour of the night sky with the Sidewalk Astronomer. I can’t explain exactly why, whether it was learning something completely new, or getting outside and leaving the news behind, or both, but the experience was really exhilarating.

P.S. – The term Sidewalk Astronomy began with John Dobson, a Buddhist monk who lived in San Francisco. Dobson made telescopes he would then give away to schools. Not only that, he gave away his plans too. The mount on Joel Allen’s telescope is called a Dobsonian mount. And Allen has adopted Dobson’s moniker as his own.

Curious about construction on W. U.’s Danforth Campus?

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Education  XYZ Type Washington University Mary Ann Lazarus Hannah Roth Campus Next Transformation project Campus Next Newsletter Ben Kiel   In early September a neighborhood friend told me that, as a prelude to their workday,  McCarthy Bros. Construction Company workers practice yoga each morning at the east end of Washington University’s Danforth Campus. Thinking that would make for an interesting story, I drove out to the campus early on 2 consecutive mornings but was unable to locate any construction workers doing sun salutations. It’s difficult to traverse the campus these days with all the construction fencing surrounding the site, and at that hour of the day the campus was deserted and there was no one around to ask.

Instead, because I was curious about what’s going on on the east end of the campus, I decided to change the focus and share what I’ve learned about W.U.’s East End Transformation project.

Due to the limited access, the only photograph I could get of the construction site was a distant view, see photo above.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Education  XYZ Type Washington University Mary Ann Lazarus Hannah Roth Campus Next Transformation project Campus Next Newsletter Ben Kiel

At 6:30 a.m. there was already a long line of dump trucks waiting to turn into the construction site from Skinker Boulevard.Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Education  XYZ Type Washington University Mary Ann Lazarus Hannah Roth Campus Next Transformation project Campus Next Newsletter Ben Kiel

This past summer, during the peak of excavation work, there were 1,000 trucks a day hauling away dirt for a 790-car underground parking garage (which will be accessible from both Skinker and Forest Park Blvds.). At that time there were construction crews working 6 days a week 2 shifts per day. Here are some fun facts titled “The Dirt on Dirt” found on Campus Next newsletter.

Some of the dirt, which was stockpiled on what has been nicknamed Mount McKelvey, above right, will be used as backfill for the project which is scheduled to be completed by graduation of 2019. The underground garage will be completed and in use at an earlier date.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Education  XYZ Type Washington University Mary Ann Lazarus Hannah Roth Campus Next Transformation project Campus Next Newsletter Ben Kiel

photo courtesy of Hannah Roth

Thanks to CWEnder Hannah Roth, who is on the faculty of the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, and who agreed to take photos of the construction site from an upper floor of a building overlooking the site, above and below.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Education  XYZ Type Washington University Mary Ann Lazarus Hannah Roth Campus Next Transformation project Campus Next Newsletter Ben Kiel

photo courtesy of  Hannah Roth

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Education  XYZ Type Washington University Mary Ann Lazarus Hannah Roth Campus Next Transformation project Campus Next Newsletter Ben Kiel

Construction has caused a parking nightmare for faculty and students alike. Forest Park has long been a popular place to park for WU students, but now both sides of Skinker Blvd. are lined with cars almost as far south as Clayton Road as well.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Education  XYZ Type Washington University Mary Ann Lazarus Hannah Roth Campus Next Transformation project Campus Next Newsletter Ben Kiel

W.U. Sam Fox School lecturer Ben Kiel, above, created a clever solution to the parking problem. He drives his daughters to school, parks his car on the lot at his CWE studio where he keeps his bike, and then bikes to and from the campus (wearing a helmet of course).

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Education  XYZ Type Washington University Mary Ann Lazarus Hannah Roth Campus Next Transformation project Campus Next Newsletter Ben Kiel

Kiel’s logo for his side business, XYZ Type, is affixed to his Ikea bike (assembly was required). Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Education  XYZ Type Washington University Mary Ann Lazarus Hannah Roth Campus Next Transformation project Campus Next Newsletter Ben Kiel

The sign on construction fencing at W. U. contains a quote from CWEnder Mary Ann Lazarus who’s also on the faculty.  She describes what’s behind the East End Transformation project, above.

The following two photos were taken from the W. U. website. For more information I’m including a link to what’s ahead in the coming months.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Education  XYZ Type Washington University Mary Ann Lazarus Hannah Roth Campus Next Transformation project Campus Next Newsletter Ben Kiel

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Education  XYZ Type Washington University Mary Ann Lazarus Hannah Roth Campus Next Transformation project Campus Next Newsletter Ben Kiel

Here is more information on the buildings under construction as shown on the master plan, above.

Snapshots from BookFest St. Louis

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater Education For Children Services Shop News  Zac Brewer William Burroughs Whitney Terrell Vlad Zhitomirsky The McPherson St. Louis Poetry Center St. Louis Sherman Alexie Shanthi Sekaran Nina LaCour Mary Ann's Tearoom Left Bank Books Kris Kleindienst Kate Haher Gabriel Tallent Erin Quick Elisa Essner Charlie Jane Anders Central West End North Community Improvement District Central West End Association Carol Shepley AnnaLee Newitz Amy Stewart

Last weekend’s inaugural BookFest St. Louis was such a success that talk of 2018’s event began before the last line of poetry was uttered at the closing event—the 100th anniversary celebration of T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock & Other Observations held at Dressel’s.  Throughout the day book lovers brushed aside the unusually hot late-September weather and dashed from venue-to-venue enjoying as many events as they could manage from the jam-packed schedule.

There were approximately 40 prominent authors in town for BookFest, each participating in a reading or a panel discussion on topics as varied as poetry, weird, literary and science fiction. Miss Kopp’s High Tea with Amy Stewart (author of the best-selling Kopp Sisters mystery series) was held at Mary Ann’s Tearoom, and at 6 p.m. Saturday at least 100 people gathered on the sidewalk at Left Bank Books for the dedication of a bronze sculpture of William S. Burroughs, the installation of which completed the Central West End Association’s Writer’s Corner project (see photo above).

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater Education For Children Services Shop News  Zac Brewer William Burroughs Whitney Terrell Vlad Zhitomirsky The McPherson St. Louis Poetry Center St. Louis Sherman Alexie Shanthi Sekaran Nina LaCour Mary Ann's Tearoom Left Bank Books Kris Kleindienst Kate Haher Gabriel Tallent Erin Quick Elisa Essner Charlie Jane Anders Central West End North Community Improvement District Central West End Association Carol Shepley AnnaLee Newitz Amy Stewart

Friday night’s keynote event, “An Evening with Sherman Alexie,” was held at The Sheldon, the only BookFest venue not in the immediate neighborhood. I asked Cory Lovell, Left Bank Books’ event coordinator to describe the hundreds of Alexie fans in the audience:

“Very diverse. In age, race, socio-economic class, and ideology. There were radical activist artists who I know have been active in St. Louis since the 60’s, and junior high students who have taken a shine to their required reading project (Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian). There were so many kinds of folks and I think they all were there because they appreciate Sherman’s honesty. He explains tragic elements of humanity in a way that’ll make you crack a smile. Its rare. So people take notice.”

And notice they did—except for moments of raucous laughter that interrupted Alexie’s 1 hour & 45 minute performance, the audience was so engaged, you could have heard a pin drop.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater Education For Children Services Shop News  Zac Brewer William Burroughs Whitney Terrell Vlad Zhitomirsky The McPherson St. Louis Poetry Center St. Louis Sherman Alexie Shanthi Sekaran Nina LaCour Mary Ann's Tearoom Left Bank Books Kris Kleindienst Kate Haher Gabriel Tallent Erin Quick Elisa Essner Charlie Jane Anders Central West End North Community Improvement District Central West End Association Carol Shepley AnnaLee Newitz Amy Stewart

BookFest St. Louis was a collaboration between Left Bank Books and the Central West End North Community Improvement District. LBB’s Kris Kleindienst, right, and CID Executive Director Kate Haher, left, are shown just before the William Burroughs dedication.

Others who threw their hearts and souls into the months-long planning were LBB’s Cory Lovell (mentioned above), Lauren Wiser, and a long list of other LBB staffers, CWENorthCID‘s Elisa Essner and Maggie McCarthy, and Enchanting Embellishment’s Ken Fowler.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater Education For Children Services Shop News  Zac Brewer William Burroughs Whitney Terrell Vlad Zhitomirsky The McPherson St. Louis Poetry Center St. Louis Sherman Alexie Shanthi Sekaran Nina LaCour Mary Ann's Tearoom Left Bank Books Kris Kleindienst Kate Haher Gabriel Tallent Erin Quick Elisa Essner Charlie Jane Anders Central West End North Community Improvement District Central West End Association Carol Shepley AnnaLee Newitz Amy Stewart

Literary Fiction Panel II was held at the newly opened event venue The McPherson, 4715 McPherson. Panelists Whitney Terrell, left, author of The Good Lieutenant (named best novel of the Bush war years by The Guardian), Shanthi Sekaran, author of the acclaimed Lucky Boy, and right, debut novelist Gabriel Tallent, whose My Absolute Darling became an instant hit, discussed “crafting searing and relevant fiction that helps us empathize with parts of the American experience otherwise foreign to many of us…”

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater Education For Children Services Shop News  Zac Brewer William Burroughs Whitney Terrell Vlad Zhitomirsky The McPherson St. Louis Poetry Center St. Louis Sherman Alexie Shanthi Sekaran Nina LaCour Mary Ann's Tearoom Left Bank Books Kris Kleindienst Kate Haher Gabriel Tallent Erin Quick Elisa Essner Charlie Jane Anders Central West End North Community Improvement District Central West End Association Carol Shepley AnnaLee Newitz Amy Stewart

Charlie Jane Anders, left, author of  Nebula-Award winning All the Birds in the Sky, and MIT Fellow and io9 founder Annalee Newitz , author of Autonomous shown leaving the William Burroughs event. The authors participated in the Science Fiction Panel which also took place at The McPherson.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater Education For Children Services Shop News  Zac Brewer William Burroughs Whitney Terrell Vlad Zhitomirsky The McPherson St. Louis Poetry Center St. Louis Sherman Alexie Shanthi Sekaran Nina LaCour Mary Ann's Tearoom Left Bank Books Kris Kleindienst Kate Haher Gabriel Tallent Erin Quick Elisa Essner Charlie Jane Anders Central West End North Community Improvement District Central West End Association Carol Shepley AnnaLee Newitz Amy Stewart

Sculptor Vlad Zhitomirsky, creator of the William Burroughs statue, is photographed with Central West End Association board members, from left, Anna Cardot and Kate Walter, and CWEA Director Jess Batchelor.

The video shows sculptor Zhitomirsky unveiling the Burroughs statue. Burroughs joins T. S. Eliot, Kate Chopin, and Tennessee Williams on Writer’s Corner, each of whom resided in the CWE. Local author Carol Shepley, who spoke about Burroughs’ connection to the neighborhood and to Left Bank Books can be spotted in the video, as well as Erin Quick of the St. Louis Poetry Center.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater Education For Children Services Shop News  Zac Brewer William Burroughs Whitney Terrell Vlad Zhitomirsky The McPherson St. Louis Poetry Center St. Louis Sherman Alexie Shanthi Sekaran Nina LaCour Mary Ann's Tearoom Left Bank Books Kris Kleindienst Kate Haher Gabriel Tallent Erin Quick Elisa Essner Charlie Jane Anders Central West End North Community Improvement District Central West End Association Carol Shepley AnnaLee Newitz Amy Stewart

Special thanks to the CWE North Community Improvement District and the Central West End Association for their generous contributions to make this project possible, to sculptor Vlad Zhitomirsky for his provocative representation of William Burroughs, and to the St. Louis Poetry Center for their sponsorship of this BookFest event.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater Education For Children Services Shop News  Zac Brewer William Burroughs Whitney Terrell Vlad Zhitomirsky The McPherson St. Louis Poetry Center St. Louis Sherman Alexie Shanthi Sekaran Nina LaCour Mary Ann's Tearoom Left Bank Books Kris Kleindienst Kate Haher Gabriel Tallent Erin Quick Elisa Essner Charlie Jane Anders Central West End North Community Improvement District Central West End Association Carol Shepley AnnaLee Newitz Amy Stewart

At the dedication ceremony the Chanco Cruz Duo played jazz, while Brett Underwood, right, performed a reading of rare and out-of-print Burroughs poetry.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater Education For Children Services Shop News  Zac Brewer William Burroughs Whitney Terrell Vlad Zhitomirsky The McPherson St. Louis Poetry Center St. Louis Sherman Alexie Shanthi Sekaran Nina LaCour Mary Ann's Tearoom Left Bank Books Kris Kleindienst Kate Haher Gabriel Tallent Erin Quick Elisa Essner Charlie Jane Anders Central West End North Community Improvement District Central West End Association Carol Shepley AnnaLee Newitz Amy Stewart

The BookFest Festival Zone (on McPherson east of Euclid) was open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday with live music, demonstrations, book sellers (The Novel Neighbor, Eagle Heights Press, St. Louis Small Press), local artisans, and not-for-profits (Missouri Humanities Council, St. Louis Public Library, We Stories, St. Louis Poetry Center).

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater Education For Children Services Shop News  Zac Brewer William Burroughs Whitney Terrell Vlad Zhitomirsky The McPherson St. Louis Poetry Center St. Louis Sherman Alexie Shanthi Sekaran Nina LaCour Mary Ann's Tearoom Left Bank Books Kris Kleindienst Kate Haher Gabriel Tallent Erin Quick Elisa Essner Charlie Jane Anders Central West End North Community Improvement District Central West End Association Carol Shepley AnnaLee Newitz Amy Stewart

A proud participant at the poetry challenge board in the Festival Zone is photographed above.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Art & Architecture Books, Dance, Music, Theater Education For Children Services Shop News  Zac Brewer William Burroughs Whitney Terrell Vlad Zhitomirsky The McPherson St. Louis Poetry Center St. Louis Sherman Alexie Shanthi Sekaran Nina LaCour Mary Ann's Tearoom Left Bank Books Kris Kleindienst Kate Haher Gabriel Tallent Erin Quick Elisa Essner Charlie Jane Anders Central West End North Community Improvement District Central West End Association Carol Shepley AnnaLee Newitz Amy Stewart

It was wonderful to see families participating in BookFest events or just out enjoying the neighborhood scene.  On Saturday morning there was a Children’s StoryTime event, as well as a Middle Readers Meet & Greet at Schlafly Library. A Young Adult Panel at The McPherson brought together Sherman Alexie (An Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), Nina LaCour (We Are Okay), and St. Louisan Zac Brewer (The Blood Between Us and Madness).

BookFest St. Louis was supported by a long list of generous sponsors including Left Bank Books Foundation, St. Louis Public Radio, St. Louis Public Library, The Chase Park Plaza, St. Louis Poetry Center, The Green Goose, Central Print and Lofts@Euclid.

Thanks to everyone who made BookFest St. Louis happen, including 100 generous volunteers. It was a stellar debut and garnered the positive attention the neighborhood—and all St. Louis—needed.