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Published: Friday, 9/19/2003

Small town to honor amateur astronomer

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
`We need to remind the kids in town that you can grow up in a small town and still do great things,' says Bob Ebbeskotte, a local historian, next to an existing monument dedicated  to local amateur astronomer Leslie Peltier. `We need to remind the kids in town that you can grow up in a small town and still do great things,' says Bob Ebbeskotte, a local historian, next to an existing monument dedicated to local amateur astronomer Leslie Peltier.
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DELPHOS, Ohio - Leslie Peltier was a high school dropout who lived his entire life in and around Delphos, a small town that straddles Allen and Van Wert counties.

He worked as a farmer, designed furniture for a local business, and served on the town's library board for more than 30 years.

And in his spare time, he peered through telescopes at the night sky and made history.

In more than 50 years of celestial observations from his home in west Delphos, Mr. Peltier discovered a dozen comets and made 132,000 variable-star estimates.

Peltier: died in 1980. Peltier: died in 1980.
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“What he did with what he had was just amazing,” said Bob Ebbeskotte, a local historian. “He's easily the most famous person to come out of Delphos.”

Tomorrow, an Ohio Historical Marker honoring the late amateur astronomer will be unveiled in front of the library on Second Street. The 11 a.m. ceremony will be attended by city officials and representatives from the Ohio Bicentennial Commission and the Ohio Historical Society.

Two-thirds of the marker's $1,500 cost was paid by the bicentennial commission and the Longaberger Co. The rest was covered by local donations, Mr. Ebbeskotte said.

Mr. Peltier died in 1980. His 93-year-old widow, Dorotha, still lives in a white Victorian farmhouse in west Delphos, next to the meadow where her husband made his celestial discoveries.

Mrs. Peltier, who avoids publicity, isn't expected to attend the ceremony. The astronomer's two sons, Stan and Gordon, live out of town, and neither will be in Delphos that day either.

But Stan Peltier, who lives in Germantown, Ohio, near Dayton, said he and his family are pleased by the recognition.

“I've always been amazed that people are still aware of and interested in what he did,” he said. “Through Sky and Telescope magazine and periodicals like that, there's still mention made of his name. It's nice that they're doing this marker.”

Stan Peltier said his father did most of his observations late at night while his wife and children were asleep. He said a little of his father's fascination with the stars rubbed off on him.

“He tried to give us an interest in astronomy,” said Stan Peltier, a retired technical education teacher. “Lots of times we'd go out and he'd show us the different stars and constellations, and I'm still interested in it. But I don't have that dedication to what he was doing.”

Gordon Peltier, an emergency room physician in Atlanta, said the marker reflects his father's close ties to his hometown. He recalled residents helping the family transport and erect an observatory donated to his father by Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 1959.

“It's obviously quite an honor for the family, but I think Delphos can congratulate themselves.” Dr. Peltier said. “It's nothing that we did. The town has always been so supportive of Dad.”

Mr. Peltier left school after the 10th grade to help on his family's farm. In 1916, he earned $18 by picking 900 quarts of strawberries and used the money to buy his first telescope, a mail-order model with a two-inch lens.

Two years later, his nocturnal observations paid off. On Nov. 13, 1925, Mr. Peltier spotted a fuzzy object in the sky. He bicycled into town to the Pennsylvania Railroad station, where he cabled the Harvard College Observatory about his discovery.

A week later, he got a telegram back that confirmed it as a previously unknown comet.

Over the next 29 years, Mr. Peltier discovered 11 more comets. He made many of those finds from an innovative “merry-go-round” observatory that he built outside his home. The structure, which rotated on a carousel track, allowed Mr. Peltier to follow the stars without moving his telescope.

Bowling Green State University awarded Mr. Peltier an honorary doctorate in astronomy in 1947. In 1965, a mountain near San Bernardino, Calif., was named Mt. Peltier in his honor.

Mr. Ebbeskotte said Mr. Peltier's life and fame can serve as an inspiration to Delphos residents, especially children.

“We need to remind the kids in town that you can grow up in a small town and still do great things,” he said. “This guy grew up in a small town with a 10th-grade education, and he's got a mountain named after him.”



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