First Telescope |
Founding of the AAAP |
Valley View Observatory |
Buhl Planetarium |
Albert Einstein |
The "Eyes of God" |
AAAP Ceremonies |
Historic Marker and Asteroid Scanlon |
Leo's Favorite Things |
Leo's Unpublished Letter to Posterity
Even with the closure of Valley View Observatory, Leo was not done being a focal point of
community attention. AAAP member Barry Mitnick set about to secure a Pennsylvania
Historical Marker to denote the significance of the world's first aluminum observatory
dome. After several years of paperwork and negotiations with several state and local
agencies, Barry obtained approval for the marker in August, 1997. (Leo later remarked "It
took longer to get that marker than it took to build the dome!") The marker is located on a
grassy strip alongside a main highway artery not far from the Van Buren Street site.
The dedication took place next to noisy, speeding traffic along McKnight Road and
included several state, county and Historical Commission officials, one of whom read an
Allegheny County Proclamation for the occasion (details). But hidden within all the
fanfare was a surprise announcement, the naming of Minor Planet (asteroid) 8131 for Leo
J. Scanlon! At the moment of this announcement, Leo's face flashed a distinct perk and
grin. His long time friend and associate, Dr. Truman Kohman of CMU, solicited the
asteroid designation (details) from the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The
requisite approval came from Dr. Eleanor Helin, an internationally recognized astronomer
and discoverer of the asteroid, who spoke very highly of Leo in her letter of
acknowledgement. Leo regarded the asteroid naming as the greatest reward of his lifetime.
Leo stands proudly before the Pennsylvania historical marker bearing his name|
(photo © David Smith)
Dr. Truman Kohman presents Leo Scanlon with the plaque commemorating the naming of Minor Planet 8131 Scanlon. The presentation was made at the Fosnight Home
(photo by Joyce Osborne-Fischer)
Several weeks after the Valley View marker dedication, Leo was presented with the IAU
citation for 8131 Scanlon by Dr. Kohman during a visit to the Fosnight Home.
"The Torch Is Still Burning Brightly"
Prior to the dismantling of Valley View Observatory, Leo was interviewed by WQED-TV's
Rick Sebak in August, 1997 as part of an upcoming documentary North Side Story, one of
a popular series of retrospectives on the Pittsburgh area's cultural heritage. (AAAP member
Dave Smith had first 'tipped-off' Sebak on the significance of Leo and his dome.) In the
August, 1997 interview, Leo recalled his meeting with Einstein and some of the events that
marked the career of his Valley View observatory (which served as a backdrop to Leo's
comments). North Side Story was first aired on December 3, 1997.
Throughout his later years, Leo was often asked what he credited for his great longevity.
With a smile, he repeated the words of his father on the day he first observed Comet Halley:
"Just keep breathing." (In another favorite jest about his longevity, Leo spaced his hands
about 10 inches apart in front of his stomach and said: "I come from a family of long
livers.") In October of 1999, Leo required surgery for an intestinal blockage and seemed to
be on the road to recovery. However, he was finally felled by an underlying cancer and died
on November 27, 1999. He had not quite achieved a personal goal he joked about so often:
forcing the tombstone maker to erase the 19__ part of his life dates because of his survival
past the year 2000.
On several occasions in the 1980's and 90's, Leo gave speeches which could have rightly
been predicted to be his last, only to come back for more. During the groundbreaking for
the Wagman Observatory, Leo reaffirmed his strong bond to the AAAP and pride in its
achievements: "When our embryonic group gathered over 50 years ago, we did it for pure
pleasure. We built telescopes and used them; we went into each other's homes and we had a
great time. No one at that time could have predicted that our organization would last this
long and become proliferated with so much talent." His closing remarks at the AAAP's 60th
Anniversary banquet best summed up his generous and deferential relationship to his
friends and peers in the AAAP: "The torch is still burning brightly in the hands of the
present generation, and as the grandfather of the group, I salute you."