Children's Planetarium Shows at
Pittsburgh's Original
Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science

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

Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science offered planetarium shows specially-designed for children, as an important part of their mission to educate young people. Both pre-school and school-age planetarium shows were performed in Buhl Planetarium's Theater of the Stars.

All children's shows were available to school groups, who primarily visited Buhl Planetarium during weekday morning hours. From time-to-time, children's shows were also offered to the general public, primarily on weekends and during busy holiday periods. Typically, a children's planetarium show would be offered on Saturday at 12:00 Noon and on Sunday afternoon.

Buhl Planetarium's weekday schedule was specifically arranged so that school groups would get practically exclusive use of the Buhl Planetarium and the Institute of Popular Science (later referred to as the Science Center) during the morning hours. Buhl Planetarium's published time of opening to the general public was 1:00 p.m. every day except Saturday, when the published time of opening to the general public was 10:00 a.m. During holiday periods, and later on "Monday" holidays (which included the first day of deer-hunting season, with guns, in Pennsylvania, at the end of the Thanksgiving holiday period), the published time of opening to the general public was 9:00 a.m.

From the day Buhl Planetarium opened to the general public on 1939 October 25 (following the official building dedication the previous evening), it was recognized that Buhl Planetarium was a fairly small facility. While the Theater of the Stars was one of the nation's largest, designed to seat nearly 500 people (the city Fire Marshal posted a capacity limit of 490 people, at the main entrance to the Theater of the Stars), the Buhl Planetarium building was only 40,000 square-feet in size, with the five exhibit galleries consisting of only 15,000 square feet.

So, it had been decided that pre-scheduled school groups would be mostly scheduled during the weekday morning hours, while the afternoons and evenings would be, primarily, reserved for the general public. Now, this did mean that during certain seasons, many weekday mornings went without any school groups, and the Planetarium and the Institute of Popular Science/Science Center were closed and unused.

Although weekday mornings were generally reserved for school groups, and the Planetarium and the Institute of Popular Science/Science Center were not publicized as being open to the general public at these times, if a member of the general public wandered in on a weekday morning they were usually not turned-away. Often visitors from out-of-town, who had no idea of Buhl's operating hours, would come on a weekday morning. The admissions staff would simply accept their entrance fee, while explaining that school groups were currently in the building. The visitors were told that, if space allowed, they would be welcome to attend a school group, pre-scheduled planetarium show (the regular sky show being shown to the general public would not be available until the afternoon, unless a school group has specifically scheduled to see this show), presentation of Transpara the Talking Glass Lady or other science lecture or demonstration in the Little Science Theater, astronomical observing (primarily of the Sun) in the third-floor astronomical observatory, use of the Computer Learning Lab, or other school-group pre-scheduled lecture or demonstration, such as a demonstration of the Van de Graaff Electrostatic Generator or the 1,200,000-volt Oudin-type Tesla Coil.

Although there was a major effort to schedule school groups on weekday mornings, it was not unusual for school groups to visit the Planetarium and the Institute of Popular Science/Science Center in the afternoons and evenings and on weekends. Particular in the evenings and on weekends, it was also not unusual to see other youth groups, incuding Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownies, and Camp Fire Boys and Girls. Non-traditional school groups, including home-schoolers and a school group from a Mennonite church school, clothed in their traditional garb, from Pennsylvania's Fayette County (southern portion of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area) also visited Buhl Planetarium and the Institute of Popular Science/Science Center.

One student group that came every-other year was from Randolph High School in Randolph, New York (south of Buffalo, near the Pennsylvania state line, not far from Jamestown, New York). Probably the school group, visiting on a regular basis, from the greatest distance, this group of students would schedule a visit to Buhl Planetarium one year, while scheduling a visit to the Ontario Science Center in Toronto the next year, then back to Buhl the following year. After a while, they stopped visiting the Ontario Science Center and came to Buhl every year. The author often gave this group a tour of Buhl's Astronomical Observatory on their visits. In addition to a planetarium show and other science demonstrations, the group of high school teenagers would also enjoy a laser-light concert, which could also be specially-scheduled for school groups. One year, when they visited in May of 1986, they had scheduled to leave in the early evening, to return to Randolph, New York. Although the author strongly suggested that they stay a couple more hours, to see Halley's Comet in a Buhl Planetarium telescope during the comet's rare passing of Earth, the teacher in charge stated that they could not delay their leaving due to the long distance they had to drive to return home.

The Spring season, particularly the months of March, April, and May, was the time when when Buhl Planetarium and the Institute of Popular Science/Science Center would be deluged with school groups on weekday mornings. It was not unusual during this "Field Trip Season," particularly after a planetarium show or other lecture/demonstration let-out, for the first floor's Great Hall to be wall-to-wall with young people; yes, at certain times, it was difficult to move in the Great Hall with all of these school groups there at the same time. And, moving these groups from one event to another (e.g. from planetarium show to a lecture/demonstration in the Little Science Theater, or to the Computer Lab) was very challenging at times. School groups visiting during the "Railroad Season" (i.e. the months of November through February during the annual presentation of the very popular exhibit, the Miniature Railroad and Village) presented similar challenges, but it was never as difficult as during the "Field Trip Season" of March, April, and May.

In the opposite extreme, the month of September, after Summer vacations when people return to work or school, was always the deadest month at Buhl Planetarium, for both school groups and the general public. Very few school groups or members of the general public visited Buhl Planetarium and the Institute of Popular Science/Science Center during this month, unless for a special event. One special event scheduled to try to increase attendance during the Autumn months was the annual Tropical Fish Show sponsored by the Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society, which occurred for two weeks in September and/or October.

One year, Buhl Planetarium management tried to give school groups an incentive, a discounted field trip group admission price, to encourage them to schedule their field trip in the Autumn, rather than in the Spring. In addition to the discount price, they could have avoided the huge crowds in the Spring, and thus, their group would have had a better quality visit. However, this attempt did no good. Most teachers still scheduled their school group field trips in the Spring, when students were getting bored and antsy with school and anxious to get outside as the weather improved. It is the author's opinion that this attempt may have been more successful if management had targeted this discount price to school principals and school district superintendents, who have to worry about school budgets, rather than only to teachers.

Children's Planetarium Shows:

"The Magic Sky"
(Pre-School Show)

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

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: < children@planetarium.cc > *** Internet Web Site Cover Page: < http://www.planetarium.cc >
This Internet Web Page: < http://buhlplanetarium3.tripod.com/skyshow/children >
2009 May

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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 --
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