Historic "The Star of Bethlehem" Planetarium Sky Drama
At Pittsburgh's Original
Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science

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

"The Star of Bethlehem" Planetarium Show Script

"The Star of Bethlehem" is most probably the longest-running, *topical* planetarium show anywhere. Only the annual seasonal star-identification shows, "The Stars of Spring," "The Stars of Summer," "The Stars of Autumn," and "The Stars of Winter" may have had a longer run in planetaria.

Three Wise Men approaching Bethlehem, guided by a star. Originally called "The Star of Bethlehem" in Pittsburgh and other cities with early planetaria, this show has also used the name, "The Christmas Star," in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. And, one year in the mid-1980s in Buhl Planetarium, the show was titled "The Star of Bethlehem Revisited," to emphasize that new scientific information was included in that particular year's show. Originally, these shows were known as "planetarium sky dramas," but most people simply referred to them as "sky shows."

"The Star of Bethlehem" was first shown in the Theater of the Stars, of Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, in December of 1939, after Buhl Planetarium was dedicated on 1939 October 24. From then on, this sky drama was shown to the public every Christmas season until December of 1990. The original Buhl Planetarium closed as a public museum on 1991 August 31.

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. Hence, in the beginning, "The Star of Bethlehem" was primarily shown during the month of December. Later on, "The Star of Bethlehem's" run was extended from the very busy Thanksgiving weekend through New Year's Day, usually to the first weekend of the new year (sometimes including the Feast of the Epiphany and Orthodox Christmas).

This was the schedule for the last run of "The Star of Bethlehem," at the original Buhl Planetarium, during the 1990 to 1991 Christmas season. However, "The Star of Bethlehem" run was cut-short that year, after an unknown intruder(s) succeeded in vandalizing a computer unit in the Planetarium Console. The show run ended a few days shy of New Year's Day, 1991. As usual, following "The Star of Bethlehem" in January, "The Stars of Winter" would be shown for a week or two, before a new topical planetarium show would begin. Star-identification shows, such as "The Stars of Winter," provided planetarium technicians time to reset slides and other special effects for the next topical planetarium show. In late December of 1990, "The Stars of Winter" sky drama started earlier than usual, due to the planetarium vandalism.

By the mid-1980s, "The Star of Bethlehem" was shown on weekends and during holiday periods, back-to-back, most hours Buhl Planetarium was open to the public. Also on display at this time, in the Bowdish Gallery on one of the lower levels of the building, was the very popular "Miniature Railroad and Village" exhibit, which was displayed to the public each year from November through February. With both "The Star of Bethlehem" and the "Miniature Railroad and Village" on display, weekends and holiday periods were very busy times at Buhl Planetarium. On weekends and during holiday periods, "The Star of Bethlehem" was typically shown every-hour-on-the-hour from 10:00 a.m. through 5:00 or 6:00 p.m., with an additional show at 7:00 p.m. (sometimes a children's planetarium show and/or a holiday laser-light concert would be substituted, for "The Star of Bethlehem," during one of the hours in the afternoon). On very busy days, such as "Black Friday" (the day after Thanksgiving Day) and the days immediately after Christmas Day, it was not unusual for "The Star of Bethlehem" to be shown every-hour-on-the-hour from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., with a possible 8:00 p.m. show at the discretion of the Buhl Planetarium Floor Supervisor on-duty. This type of scheduling led to Buhl Planetarium being able to claim world records for both showing planetarium shows continuously, back-to-back, and for continuous, back-to-back, public performances in a planetarium.

The author of the first "Star of Bethlehem" show would most probably have been Buhl Planetarium's first Planetarium Director, Dr. James Stokley. In fact, it is likely that he wrote the show as early as 1933! Before coming to Buhl Planetarium, Dr. Stokley was Planetarium Director at the Fels Planetarium at Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, which opened in 1933. It is possible, even probable, that the show was revised, over the years, by each new Buhl Planetarium Director (with the exception of Martin Ratcliffe, who, after being hired in early 1991, did not serve as Buhl Planetarium Director during a Christmas season in the original building).

As part of Buhl Planetarium's "The Star of Bethlehem," a short stage performance was given. In the middle of the planetarium show, the stage curtain would open, and a gentleman, in costume from Christ's era, would point to the Christmas Star displayed on the dome and tell part of the Christmas story--from the Gospel of Saint Matthew and the Gospel of Saint Luke. Primarily, he would tell the story of the Magi.

Although the audience heard the story, the person on stage was not speaking--only lip-synching (sort-of). Actually, the person on stage only needed to move his lips a little and move his arms, and perhaps get up from his chair and walk a little on the stage. The theater was so dark, and the stage was so far away from most of the audience, they could not tell his lips did not match the words they were hearing. Many Buhl Planetarium staff members (including volunteers) portrayed this gentleman on stage, during the Christmas star show; and, this included many of our female staff. Again, with the elaborate costume, most audience members could not tell a female was actually playing the role. In addition to the costume, some staff members would also put on a beard for greater realism. Many staff members refused to wear the beard, for public health reasons. The Buhl Planetarium staff loved playing the role of this gentleman on stage, who they affectionately nicknamed "Saint Luke"!

It was Dr. Stokley's idea to include, in the construction of Buhl Planetarium, the world's first permanent theatrical stage in a planetarium theater. One of the major reasons for this was to have a place for "Saint Luke" to talk to the audience during "The Star of Bethlehem" show. At Fels Planetarium, Dr. Stokley had a temporary stage erected each Christmas season, just for "Saint Luke."

This sky show continues an annual run each Christmas season at the Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium, now also known as the "Buhl Digital Dome," in The Carnegie Science Center which is located on the northern bank of the Ohio River, just west of Heinz Field the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers and University of Pittsburgh Panthers football teams. The Carnegie Science Center is one mile west-southwest of Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium building, which is currently being used as part of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.

Additional Information on The Star of Bethlehem

Smith, Peter. "Nativity story has its share of skeptics."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2013 Dec. 23.

Walsh, Glenn A. "Was the Star of Bethlehem Real ?" Blog Post.
SpaceWatchtower 2012 Dec. 24.
This age-old question was the topic of the classic "The Star of Bethlehem" planetarium sky drama, performed each Christmas season 1939 through 1990, in the The Theater of the Stars of Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science.

Walsh, Glenn A. "What was the Star of Bethlehem? Recollections from Buhl & Hayden Planetaria." Blog Post.
SpaceWatchtower 2011 Dec. 24.
This age-old question was the topic of the classic "The Star of Bethlehem" planetarium sky drama, performed each Christmas season 1939 through 1990, in the The Theater of the Stars of Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science.

"Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."
Buhl Science Center Newsletter 1989 Nov.
Article from Buhl Science Center newsletter, during celebration of Buhl Planetarium's fiftieth anniversary, promoting Buhl's traditional holiday sky drama, "The Star of Bethlehem."

Walsh, Glenn A. Response to Monthly Forum Question:
"What are your favorite constellations to point out during a live sky tour and why? How do you describe them to your audience in a way that's different from the norm?" Column: Forum.
The Planetarian Quarterly Journal of the International Planetarium Society 54.1 (2005 March).
Regarding "The Star of Bethlehem" planetarium show at Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science.

Photograph of Buhl Planetarium entrance, with sign announcing "The Star of Bethlehem" Planetarium Show. (5)

Christmas Card Mailed by Glenn A. Walsh, Regarding "The Star of Bethlehem" Planetairum Show
Text by Glenn A. Walsh

Mosley, John. "Common Errors in "Star of Bethlehem" Planetarium Shows."
The Planetarian Quarterly Journal of the International Planetarium Society (Third Quarter, 1981).

Carroll, Susan S. "THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM: AN ASTRONOMICAL AND HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE."
Pulcherrima Productions 1997.
Accessed 2009 May 13 < http://www.tccsa.tc/articles/star_susan_carroll.pdf >.

Martin, Ernest L. The Star That Astonished The World. Portland, Oregon: The Associates for Scriptural Knowledge, 1996.

Mosley, John. "What was the Star of Bethlehem?" Slide presentation.
The Associates for Scriptural Knowledge
From the "The Christmas Star" Planetarium Show, John Mosley, Griffith Observatory and Planetarium, Los Angeles.

"The Star of Bethlehem."
Wikipedia Last modified 2009 April 15.
Accessed 2009 May 13 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_of_Bethlehem >.
With reference links.

Simanek, Donald. "The Star of Bethlehem."
lhup.edu Most recent revision: 2008 August.
Accessed 2009 May 13 < http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/bethstar.htm >.
With reference links.

"Star of Bethlehem Bibliography."
Institute for History and Foundations of Science, Utrecht, Netherlands Last update 2005 Dec. 25.
Accessed 2009 May 13 < http://www.phys.uu.nl/~vgent/stellamagorum/stellamagorum.htm >.

"The Star of Bethlehem" Planetarium Show Script
Presented: 1979 November 28 through 1980 January 8 at
Pittsburgh's Original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science
(Courtesy: F.G. Graham)

The following is "The Star of Bethlehem" script used by long-time Buhl Planetarium Lecturer Francis G. Graham. This is the script used by Mr. Graham during the 1979 to 1980 Christmas holiday season. The typed portion of the script was the portion provided to all planetarium lecturers by then-Planetarium Director Paul Oles. You will note, on the script, many handwritten notes that Mr. Graham used to assist in his particular presentation of the show. Most sky show lecturers did write notes on their prepared scripts, to help them in a show's presentation.

Script for stage portrayal of Saint Luke:
from near-end of page nine through middle of page twelve.

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Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science

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

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Internet Web Site Master Index for the History of
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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

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