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Delphos astronomer Leslie Peltier’s prescription: One dose of starlight each clear night before retiring

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Leslie Peltier; Astronomy; Science; Sky; Planets; Comets; Delphos; Allen County Historical Society; The 419; Lima, Ohio; History of Astronomy

By Dawn Kessinger

DELPHOS – Leslie Peltier was only 5 years old when his curiosity in the night sky was piqued. According to Barbara Silverman’s “History of Astronomy, Leslie Peltier Part One,” something from the sky outside had caught the boy’s eye through the kitchen window. Peltier’s mother, Resa Copus Peltier, identified the mystery object he had seen as the Pleiades, also calling them the Seven Sisters.

Peltier, who was born Jan. 2, 1900, to Stanley and Resa Peltier, lived on a Delphos farm with his parents and two older siblings, Kenneth and Dorothy. His mother had been a schoolteacher and his father farmed 50 acres in addition to being an expert carpenter and building the family’s home.

The home Peltier grew up in had no electricity until 1925 and no indoor plumbing. Peltier attended a one-room schoolhouse until 1914, when his brother left to serve in the war. Peltier had to leave school so he could help with work on the farm.

Although he didn’t graduate from high school, Peltier came from a family of readers: His mother often read aloud in the evenings, and she gave Peltier a book about the stars for Christmas when he was still a boy. When he was 15, Peltier got “The Friendly Skies” by Martha Evans Martin from the library and used the book for two years. “The Friendly Skies” helped him find the star Vega, which became a lifelong friend.

By the time he was 16, Peltier was so captivated by stargazing that he picked 900 quarts of strawberries at 2 cents a quart over the course of a month, to earn the $18 he needed to buy a 2-inch telescope, which was his first. With the telescope, Peltier viewed planets Uranus and Neptune as well as the Great Nebula in Andromeda, the Dumbbell Nebula and others.

On November 25, 1933, Peltier married Dorotha “Dottie” Nihiser, and the couple had two sons, Stanley and Gordon. In addition to studying astronomy as a hobby, Peltier designed children’s toys and furniture at the Delphos Bending Company, according to Lima’s Carolyn Hurless, who wrote “Our Friend, Leslie Peltier: A Personal Reminisce.” Hurless was a fellow stargazer who had met Peltier in 1958 and became good friends with him until his death in 1980 – she even visited with him the day Peltier died.

On Oct. 21, 1934, The Boston Herald reported that Peltier, 33, had been awarded the merit prize of the American Association of Variable Star Observers.

“This was the first time the award was made by the association and its presentation to Peltier, who has never been to college, stamped him as one of the most distinguished amateur astronomers in the world. He also has discovered several comets as well as performing much valuable research on variable stars – those whose brightness rises and falls with periodic regularity,” was written in the news story.

In all, Peltier discovered or co-discovered two stars and 12 comets – the latest in 1954 – 10 of which carry his name. He reported to the American Association of Variable Star Observers for more than 60 years and made more than 132,000 variable star observations. Peltier’s careful reporting earned him the respect of scientists and universities: Scientists at Harvard and Princeton loaned him instruments including the 6-inch refractor from Princeton known as the “Comet Seeker.”

Peltier built a small observatory on his Scott’s Crossing farm and later obtained an 1868 observatory from Miami University, which he set up near his Delphos home.

Not only did Peltier develop products for the Delphos toy factory and discover comets, he also authored several articles for Nature Magazine, Popular Science, Popular Astronomy and Sky & Telescope as well as three books, “Starlight Nights: The Adventures of a Star-Gazer,” “Guideposts to the Stars” and “The Place in Jennings Creek.”

Peltier’s love for reading and educating himself continued throughout his life. He was a board member of the Delphos Public Library from 1947 until his death in 1980.

Peltier also showed a fun-loving side to his personality when he appeared on the television show “To Tell the Truth” on Jan. 12, 1966, with two imposters as one of the nation’s leading astronomers. He fooled two of the four panelists who were asking questions.

“Leslie accomplished all he did because he lived exactly as he wanted to. He was very uncomfortable with those who sought him out because he was famous, but to those fellow variable star observers who visited, he was a warm and welcome individual. When local groups from the Delphos area came to see him and the observatory, he was always happy to share the beauty of the night skies,” said his friend Carolyn Hurless in “Our Friend, Leslie Peltier: A Personal Reminisce.”

On the evening of May 10, 1980, Peltier had a heart attack and died while working near his garden.

“Leslie’s own words best sum up his way of life,” said Hurless.

“Were I to write out one prescription designed to help alleviate at least some of the self-made miseries of mankind, it would read like this: One gentle dose of starlight to be taken each clear night, just before retiring,” Peltier said.