Looking at the ornate details

The Observatory's architect, Henry Ives Cobb, was fond of ornamentation rooted in classic mythology. At Yerkes, he let his imagination roam: everywhere in the structure, both inside and out, the viewer finds hundreds of ornate, often playful representations of animals real and fanciful, signs of the Zodiac, phases of the Moon, and many other embellishments. The building and its contents constitute a fascinating example of the architecture and technological accomplishments of the late 19th century.

The building is constructed of tan Roman bricks adorned with terracotta designs.

This is a close-up of about one-third of one of the pillars. Each pillar consists of three sets of the same designs, stacked atop each other. The details show what appear to be two caricatures. The one on the bottom appears to be William Rainey Harper, the first president of the University of Chicago. There used to be a hornet perched on the nose of the figure above William Rainey Harper, stinging it and making it swell. George Ellery Hale considered the swollen nose to be "somewhat grotesque" and around 1900 requested that all of the hornets be removed, possibly because they suggested that a University benefactor was being stung for money!

More views of pillars. Note the celestial motif.

Additional views of celestial detail on the pillars - do you recognize the zodiac signs?

Even the less ornate columns are still beautiful.

This is the edge of the roof. The circular window opens into a set of rooms inside the observatory, originally a dormitory for the astronomers (who sleep during the day, and thus don't need a lot of light). Because of the shape of the windows, these rooms are referred to as "The Battleship."

Various views of of the outer wall with ornate patterns of dragons, bulls, and other constellation mythology.

This griffin and his brothers around the rest of the structure watch over the astronomers at the Observatory.

Various views of the detail from the edge of the 40-inch dome. Note the dolphins frolicking under scallop shells and bells beneath the catwalk that rings the outside of the dome.

These representations of celestial spheres are not often seen up this close. (This picture was taken from the roof.)

This is Rich Dreiser (our fearless tour guide -- you'll see more of him later) showing us a plaster owl inside the observatory's entry rotunda.
This is a better view of the owl. Photo by Dale Sandford.

For more views of inside the observatory, come inside!

Come inside and look around or back up a step to explore outside again.


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Content originally generated in March 1995.
This file was last modified on 20 April 1999.