WILLISTON It was as if the stars had aligned to deliver Carrie Cruz’s cosmic second act. The Planetarium Lady moved to Vermont from Long Island in 2020 following two of her adult children and plans to open a cooking school.
But when her real estate agent showed her a property in Williston that included an observatory, the retired teacher and former planetarium presenter set a new course.
“I didn’t anticipate this, but it makes sense,” Cruz said. “Instead of stuffing people with food and satiating the physical appetite, it’s like an appetite curiosity. Because people are always curious about the sky.”
The Planetarium Lady was born, and astronomers of all ages can come to her wooded property to learn about the night sky or sit inside the inflatable dome as she travels to libraries, community centers and summer camps throughout the area.
Honoring tradition and making it your own
With its purple walls, blue-and-yellow color accents, and a hand-painted “Planetarium” sign directing visitors up the short path to the site, it’s easy to deduce that a former educator now runs the observatory.
Built in 1982 by the Vermont Astronomical Society to house the University of Vermont’s Clark Telescope, the white cinder block building with a retractable roof was abandoned years ago and stood empty until Cruz gave it new life. He put up a solid roof and knocked out most of an interior wall to fit his portable dome that seats 15 inside. Add to that a cozy seating area with space-themed literature, fairy lights, and other whimsical touches.
But it didn’t cover the cornerstone engraved in 1982 or the quotes above the door jambs that include “May every night be clear and starry,” “We have loved the stars too fondly to be afraid of the night” and “Let us always remember to follow the stars – TGT 9/5/82.”
What she calls the elementary teacher’s bulletin board includes historic photos of the observatory under construction provided by the astronomical society, as well as pictures of the renovation and final product. It’s a tribute to the past refreshed for the future.
A traveling planetarium for the western part of the state
The Planetarium Lady set-up can be delivered to the Williston Observatory or taken to another location. Guests sit inside an inflatable dome that thinks of a bouncy house that you can enter, and a Digitalis Iota Digitarium system projects the stars onto the inside walls of the hemisphere. The software can show past and future spatial phenomena from virtually anywhere as the camera flies near or away from celestial objects, as handled by Cruz with his iPad.
The structure folds into a duffel bag, the computer components reside in a suitcase and, with the fan, it all fits into his machine. So far, most of his touring shows have been at community libraries, but he’s also working with parks and recreation programs and will be visiting a few summer camps this year. Now that he feels he’s had a successful soft launch and COVID has died down, Cruz hopes to bring his own programs to schools.
At the Williston location, he can book private events for groups or families. His property also includes an AirBnB apartment where he offers a “Romancing the Stars” package that includes a planetarium show for couples.
Travel program prices are $225 for the first program and $75 for each additional program. On-site shows are $40 for an adult and $20 for a child, or $200 for a private event for up to 15 people.
Before The Planetarium Lady, folks in Chittenden County had to travel an hour and a half to the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury to go to a planetarium.
Planetarium Lady considers herself a storyteller as much as a science educator
During her nearly 35 years as an educator, Cruz taught elementary and middle school, including gifted students and scientific research education. She has also had a career presenting planetary programs to an audience of 300 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York, near her where she took flight on Charles Lindbergh’s iconic Sprit of St. Louis.
She truly believes herself to be a storyteller.
“So we look at the science but then we hear the stories. And most people remember the stories before they remember the science and that’s fine.”
He said he doesn’t come in with a set script and, instead, has a variety of topics he can talk about while following the interest of attendees. “I guess teaching for so many years, it’s very easy to sit down and take my lead. Sometimes you get precocious kids saying you know and we follow their curiosity, which is just fun and challenging for kids.”
Other times an adult might just want to be able to easily find the Big Dipper and other notable constellations to impress themselves and their friends. He then gives them strategies to help and sometimes feels afterwards that his instruction has worked.
The total eclipse brings renewed excitement to astronomy
Cruz is relishing the excitement of construction as northern Vermont prepares to be in the path of a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.
He is working on a presentation related to the eclipse and has given a preview. The planetarium’s ability to show 3D models and the movement and relative positions of objects in space makes the concept of an eclipse easier to understand. And, of course, there’s a story. It’s a heartbreaking story of Hades and Apollo chasing each other across the sky that Cruz recounts with ecstasy. You will have to feel how it will turn out for yourself.
For Cruz, the eclipse is a significant moment that can bring people together. She compares it to the moon landing in 1969, when the world came together to admire human spirit and ingenuity in what was a tumultuous time in society.
He said today there is social unrest with political and human rights divisions, homelessness and hunger issues as well as general nastiness going on.
“And yet people can come together as a world together, a country, a community together and everyone looks up to the sky,” he said. “And, we were united as humans on the terrestrial part of the universe.” It’s a chance for everyone to stop for those three minutes during the wholeness and have the same thought. “It’s like a miracle,” he told her.
How will Cruz mark the day? She plans to throw a party for friends and family and will surely serve “cosmos”.
Cruz still manages to cook for her AirBnB guests and says filling people’s bellies with knowledge of heaven and our place in the universe fills their souls.
“People are just in awe and tapping into that and feeding us a little bit. It’s like chocolate chip cookies, like warm chocolate chip cookies.”
Contact the reporterApril Barton Aabarton@freepressmedia.comor 802-660-1854. Follow her on Twitter@aprildbarton.
#planetarium #opens #Williston #ability #travel