Planetarium Sky Dramas at
Pittsburgh's Original
Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science

The Sky Shows

Authored By Glenn A. Walsh *** Sponsored By Friends of the Zeiss
Electronic Mail: < skyshow@planetarium.cc > *** Internet Web Site Cover Page: < http://www.planetarium.cc >
This Internet Web Page: < http://buhlplanetarium3.tripod.com/skyshow/ >
2009 May

The primary purpose of the Planetarium Theater, or Theater of the Stars, at Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, was to present to the public "planetarium sky dramas," better known as simply "sky shows." Such sky dramas were shown to the public, as well as to school and other specially-scheduled groups, every day Buhl Planetarium was open to the general public: from the day of dedication, 1939 October 24, until the last day the planetarium was available to the general public, 1991 August 31.

In the beginning, Buhl Planetarium was open every day of the year except New Year's Day. Later on, it was open to the public every day of the year except Christmas Day.

Originally, organ music from a real organ in the planetarium theater, was used during these shows, as well as during the times the audience entered and exited the planetarium theater. That was later replaced with pre-recorded music on vinyl records or tape recordings.

Beautiful classical music was a mainstay of Buhl Planetarium sky shows for decades. Then, in the mid-1980s, music licensing organizations demanded that Buhl Planetarium cease using recorded music, for which licensing payments had not been made. As a non-profit, educational organization, Buhl Planetarium managemnt had assumed that such pre-recorded music could be used for educational planetarium shows (as opposed to the laser-light concerts performed evenings and weekends) without payment. The company operating the laser-light concerts had made the appropriate arrangements for payment of songs used during the laser shows.

However, from that time on, classical music was no longer heard during planetarium shows. Buhl Planetarium primarily used music from past topical planetarium shows, for which the licensing fees had already been paid.

Laser-light concerts were also shown in Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium, beginning in the late 1970s through 1991, when Buhl Planetarium closed as a public museum. "Laserium," operated by Laser Images of Van Nuys, California originated laser-light concerts in planetarium venues and operated the show in Buhl Planetarium for several years. Audio Visual Imagineering (AVI) was a second company which operated laser-light concerts in Buhl Planetarium. Laser Fantasy International (LFI) was the third company to operate laser-light concerts in Buhl Planetarium.

There were two primary types of planetarium sky shows presented to the public: star-identification shows and topical shows. In later years, the topical shows were also called "multimedia" shows, as they included many slides, special effects, and motion picture and video clips.

The first star-identification show shown in Buhl Planetarium's Theater of the Stars was called "Stars Over Pittsburgh." This particular show was also shown during Buhl Planetarium's 50th anniversary celebration in 1989, along with a short pre-recorded narration by Arthur Draper, who served as Buhl Planetarium's second Planetarium Director from 1940 to 1967. Mr. Draper was long-remembered, by early Buhl Planetarium visitors, due to his deep, resilient voice.

Later on, star-identification shows took on the form of seasonal shows: "The Stars of Spring," "The Stars of Summer," "The Stars of Autumn," and "The Stars of Winter". These shows were usually performed at or near the beginning of their respective season and had a one or two-week run, before the beginning of the next topical/multimedia show.

The most well-known and long-lasting of the topical shows is the historic "The Star of Bethlehem" (a.k.a. "The Christmas Star"), which was shown every Christmas season Buhl Planetarium was open to the general public: 1939 to 1990.

In the beginning, each topical/multimedia planetarium show shown at Buhl Planetarium was usually presented for a month's time, with a new show the following month. Later on, most topical shows were presented for a minimum of two-to-three months. In later years, some special topical shows were performed for a half-year, with the only interruptions being for the seasonal star-identification shows. "The Star of Bethlehem" (a.k.a. "The Christmas Star") was first shown only during the month of December; in later years, this show was presented from the Thanksgiving holidays through the New Year's holidays (sometimes including Epiphany and Orothodox Christmas).

As an important part of their educational mission to young people, The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science also offered special planetarium shows geared to children. These children's shows were mostly available for scheduling (primarily during weekday mornings) for school group field trips. However, some children's shows were also offered to the general public, mostly on weekends and during busy holiday periods.

Each year, Buhl Planetarium presented a Foreign Language Festival where a planetarium show, narrated in a foreign language (in the beginning Latin; later Spanish, French, and German), would be shown to specially-scheduled foreign language class student groups. Usually, the planetarium show in the foreign language during the Festival would be a foreign language version of the topical planetarium show performed for the general public at that time.

The following links provide more information regarding sky shows presented at Buhl Planetarium; in some cases, planetarium show scripts are included:

Star-Identification Planetarium Shows
(Usually, completely live lecture show,
with limited pre-recorded segments.) --
The Seasonal Shows:

"The Stars of Winter"

Topical (a.k.a. "Multimedia") Planetarium Shows:

Historic "The Star of Bethleham" (a.k.a. "The Christmas Star")


Children's Planetarium Shows:

"The Magic Sky"
(Pre-School Show)

Foreign Language Festival Planetarium Shows:

"The Invisible Universe"
(Radio Astronomy)

Return to Planetarium Theater of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science The Theater of the Stars

Return to History of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh


Authored By Glenn A. Walsh *** Sponsored By Friends of the Zeiss
Electronic Mail: < skyshow@planetarium.cc > *** Internet Web Site Cover Page: < http://www.planetarium.cc >
This Internet Web Page: < http://buhlplanetarium3.tripod.com/skyshow/ >
2009 May

NEWS: Planetarium, Astronomy, Space, and Other Sciences

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Internet Web Site Master Index for the History of
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh

Other Internet Web Sites of Interest

History of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh

History of Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, Chicago

Astronomer, Educator, and Telescope Maker John A. Brashear

History of Andrew Carnegie and Carnegie Libraries

Historic Duquesne Incline cable-car railway, Pittsburgh

Disclaimer Statement: This Internet Web Site is not affiliated with the Andrew Carnegie Free Library,
Ninth Pennsylvania Reserves Civil War Reenactment Group, Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium and Observatory,
The Carnegie Science Center, The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh/Carnegie Institute, or The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

This Internet, World Wide Web Site administered by Glenn A. Walsh.
Unless otherwise indicated, all pages in this web site are --
Copyright 2009, Glenn A. Walsh, All Rights Reserved.
Contact Web Site Administrator: < skyshow@planetarium.cc >.

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