by Lucy Leitner
When my sister Wendy was a child, she constantly regaled the rest of our family with tales of her glory days when she was two-and-a-half. She claimed many amazing feats, my favorite of which was turning the ’90s novelty item Liquidator baseball bat into a vacuum cleaner. At times, Pittsburgh seems like Wendy at two-and-a-half. It seems as though every day, I am inundated with more claims of the city’s contributions to, well, everything. We’re all well aware of the polio vaccine and zombies as we know and love them. Then there are lesser known items like the first gas station and the Big Mac. But then there’s astronomy, which no one ever seemed to know was much of a Pittsburgh industry.
Undaunted: The Forgotten Giants of the Allegheny Observatory premiered last Wednesday evening at a private screening at the Heinz History Center, documenting Pittsburgh’s contributions to astronomy. According to the film directed by local scientist Dan Handley–who has studied documentary filmmaking at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, and earned degrees from Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, and Pitt–the Allegheny Observatory has been on the cutting edge of space research since its birth in the 1860s.
Narrated by local actor David Conrad, the film chronicles the history of the Allegheny Observatory, which is apparently responsible for time as we know it. Not a short-lived kids’ sporting goods fad transformed into a useful household item, but almost as cool.