John D. Weinhold

Amateur Astronomer & Community Activist

1929 to 2011

Telescope and observers during Solar Eclipse of 2005 April 8
John Weinhold (on the left) is shown in this photograph at the Christina Alley
Observatory, observing the partial eclipse of the Sun on 2005 April 8.
(Click on image, to see an enlarged view of the photograph.)

John D. Weinhold, an active citizen and neighborhood activist, transportation and industrial history researcher and lecturer, amateur astronomer and science educator, retired PennDOT highway designer and public transit advocate, and carnival performer, was born in the city of Allentown, Pennsylvania on 1929 August 24. John passed-away in the mid-morning of Monday, 2011 March 21. The resident of the Beechview neighborhood in the City of Pittsburgh had entered the Intensive Care Unit of UPMC-Mercy Hospital the previous day with heart problems. He died of a ruptured left ventrical wall of his heart.

John's remains were cremated. Many people in the Beechview community, and the Friends of the Beechview Branch, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, are assisting in the raising of the $1,300 needed to pay for the cremation. The Brusco-Napier Funeral Home Ltd. in Beechview completed arrangements for the cremation. John's great niece, Kelly Corby of Allentown, Pennsylvania, plans to have the cremated remains interred in Allentown, next to the remains of his wife, per his wishes. His wife, Betty, had died in 1998.

"In Memoriam, Tribute to John Weinhold" was a major part of the agenda for the Beechview Memorial Service, which occurred on Saturday morning, 2011 May 28, 10:00 a.m. EDST, at the Beechview veterans' memorial parklet (John was a veteran), Broadway and Shiras Avenue (across Broadway from the apartment building where John last resided). This event is scheduled each year on the Saturday morning of the Memorial Day weekend.

Several people gave tribute to John Weinhold at this event including friends, a co-worker, and people who worked with John in various community organizations. The people who did give such a tribute were: Phyllis DiDiano, President of the Beechview Area Concerned Citizens; Pennsylvania State Senator Wayne Fontana; Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak; Jonathan Robison and Stu Strickland, President and Treasurer, respectively, of the Allegheny County Transit Council (ACTC); Deborah M. Skillings, Community Outreach Coordinator of the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT); Marilyn Ecoff, one of John's co-workers from the local office of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT); Audrey Iacone, Manager of the Beechview Branch, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; and close friend Glenn A. Walsh.

Pretty-Up Beechview plans on naming a garden, along Broadway in Beechview, in John's memory.

Also, the John Weinhold Humanitarian Memorial Fundraiser Spaghetti Dinner is planned for the Mercy Behavioral Health Center, 2129 Broadway in Beechview, on Wednesday evening, 2011 June 22 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. EDST. Proceeds from this event (Adults: $10, Children 12 and under: $4) will be used to help cover John's burial expenses and for causes of interest to John.

John was employed for most of his career as a highway designer for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). For most of his PennDOT career he was based in Pittsburgh, where he retired. Earlier in his PennDOT career, he worked in Franklin, 66 miles north of Pittsburgh. However, highway transportation was not his only interest in the field of transportation. He also had a great interest in public transportation.

In 1984, John was one of the charter members of a new public transit advisory organization called the Allegheny County Transit Council (ACTC). This new organization was legally recognized as the official citizens body advising the Board of Directors and staff of the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT), Pittsburgh's public transportation agency, by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania General Assembly and Governor in 1986. John also served as the ACTC Treasurer for many years in the 1980s and also in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

John was also very interested in transportation history. In 1956, he was one of the founders of the Lake Shore Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society in Erie County, Pennsylvania (where he also was employed for a time), which later started the Lake Shore Railway Historical Society Museum.

For many years, John was an active amateur astronomer. He had been interested in science and science museums since his childhood, before World War II, when his family took him to visit Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and the 1939 World's Fair in New York City. In the late 1980s, he became a volunteer in the Astronomical Observatory of Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center). He was one of two very reliable Observatory volunteers, who helped Astronomical Observatory Coordinator Glenn A. Walsh maintain the weekly, public observing sessions. One April, during the annual National Volunteer Week, Buhl Planetarium Director Paul Oles recognized John as the most valuable volunteer in the Planetarium-Observatory Department.

The weekly, public observing session occurred every Friday evening 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., weather permitting, year-round. Additionally, John also assisted, particularly after his retirement, with daytime observing sessions when the public could watch sunspots on the surface of the Sun. He especially enjoyed interacting with children who visited the Buhl Planetarium Observatory, including the many school groups. John assisted with these sessions until the original Buhl Planetarium closed as a public museum on 1991 August 31.

On 1994 May 10, John viewed the Annular Eclipse of the Sun (similar to a Total Eclipse of the Sun except a small portion of the Sun is still visible, due to the fact that the Moon is farther from the Earth than normal) in an area where John had lived when he was younger. The eclipse path of annularity (similar to a path of totality for a total eclipse) passed through Lake Erie, including part of Erie County. John viewed the eclipse at the Mercyhurst College Observatory, in the suburban Erie town of Northeast, Pennsylvania. Due to the close proximity of this eclipse event to Pittsburgh, John was able to return home the same day.

Buhl Planetarium's Zeiss II Planetarium Projector (installed in 1939) and 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope (installed in 1941) are very historic pieces of astronomical apparatus that are the oldest such instruments of science museums in the world. In 1995, officials of The Carnegie Science Center (the science museum that succeeded Buhl Planetarium in 1991) attempted to sell-off these two pieces of very historic instruments to a college in Texas, which was not even going to use the equipment--only display the equipment as antique artifacts (but for how long?)!

At that time, Glenn Walsh organized a grass-roots effort to stop the sale of these very historic Pittsburgh instruments. John was a great help in this effort.

On 1995 May 18, this grass-roots group attended a special public hearing before Pittsburgh City Council, regarding the proposed sale of the historic artifacts. Although in the possession of The Carnegie Science Center, these two historic instruments are actually the property of the City of Pittsburgh. John was among ten area residents who testified against the sale of this important Pittsburgh history. The grass-roots movement was successful in convincing Pittsburgh City Council to not approve this sale. Hence, the equipment remains in Pittsburgh to this day. Although the telescope is still dismantled in a warehouse, the planetarium projector is now on display as a static exhibit in the Atrium Gallery of The Carnegie Science Center (although, regrettably, it no longer shows stars and planets, which it does superbly!).

This grass-roots effort led to a non-profit organization called Friends of the Zeiss, which continues to promote the history and preservation of this historic equipment, including the eventual return of the equipment to the original Buhl Planetarium building (the only place where these custom-built instruments could actually be used). John was an original member of the Friends of the Zeiss Steering Committee.

John participated in a special Friends of the Zeiss event, for the general public, on 2004 June 8. Early that morning, Friends of the Zeiss hosted a special telescope observing event of the very rare Transit of the Planet Venus crossing the image of the Sun. This event only happens twice each century (approximately). John brought his telescope [Meade ETX-125 4-inch reflector telescope (direct viewing of transit event through telescope using safe high neutral density, solar filter covering the objective lens--an entrance filter)] as part of this event (Special Note: exit filters, at eyepiece end of telescope, are NEVER safe for any type of solar observing, including solar eclipses!). This was the only such Transit of Venus observing event for the public in the City of Pittsburgh. Here is a web site that talks about the event and credits John's participation:

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John was quite interested in libraries, particularly considering that he did so much library research for transportation and industrial history papers, many of which were presented at symposia at the National Canal Museum in Easton, Pennsylvania. He was also a member of the Friends of the Beechview Branch, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (see Library's Memorial Poster of John Weinhold).

Interestingly, John also was very interested in circus and carnival acts. For many years he performed at carnivals with his own "Gogotz the Clown" act and "The Fabulous Jay Dee" (Jay Dee taken from the initials of his first two names. J.D.) act. In fact, he even performed at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. As "The Fabulous Jay Dee," John would do things such as lie on a bed of nails, walk barefoot on broken glass and on sharp machetes, and allow heavy cement blocks to be placed on his chest while he is lying on the bed of nails!

For the 95th anniversary (in May of 1996) of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in the Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie, Pennsylvania, John gave a presentation of his "Fabulous Jay Dee" act in the Library's 786-seat Music Hall. This show was free-of-charge to the public, and John charged the Library nothing for the presentation.

This was one of John's last major performances. In addition to coverage in several area newspapers, parts of the performance were shown on the early evening newscasts of both KDKA-TV 2 and WTAE-TV 4. At the introduction of the KDKA-TV 2 news coverage of John's performance (at the very end of the newscast), the news anchor cautioned children, "Do not try this at home!"

Here is a news release the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall issued, prior to this event:

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John was a long-time member of the Beechview Senior Citizens Center. He worked, with Center staff members, to plan for a new and enlarged senior citizens center for Beechview area senior citizens. However, these plans never reached fruition. John was a volunteer number caller for the Senior Citizens Center's weekly bingo games. He was regularly recognized at the annual city senior citizens centers luncheon for all of his volunteer work.

John represented the Senior Citizens Center at the Community Leaders United for Beechview (CLUB) organization, and he wrote for the Beechview Summit monthly newsletter. John also wrote, edited, and copied the weekly church bulletin for his small church in the Banksville section of the city.

Obituaries and Biographies of John Weinhold

* Graham, Francis. "Remembering John D. Weinhold." Obituary; .pdf file: 87 KB.
Blog: Meridian Passage 1220 2011 March 30.

* Iacone, Audrey. "John Weinhold ~ In Memoriam, 1929 ‐ 2011." Obituary; .pdf file: 651 KB.
Beechview Summit 2011 May: 3.
(Obituary can be found on page 3 of the Beechview Summit newsletter displayed in this .pdf file.)

* Short biography of John D. Weinhold, from the Friends of the Zeiss Internet web site.

* Memorial Poster of John Weinhold by Friends of the Beechview Branch, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

John Weinhold's Participation in Astronomical Events

John Weinhold participated in several major astronomical observing events including:

* 1991 July 11 - Eclipse of the Sun - Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh: Partial Eclipse

Radio reception experiment during Eclipse of Sun.
News article from the 1991 July 11 issue of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
* 1994 May 10 - Eclipse of the Sun - Northeast, Erie County PA (Mercyhurst College Observatory): Annular Eclipse
Observed by John D. Weinhold.
Part of this eclipse was broadcast, live, on Erie television station WJET-TV 24.
* 1998 February 26 - Eclipse of the Sun - Partial Solar Eclipse viewed in Library Park of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, Carnegie, Pennsylvania: Partial Eclipse
* 2004 June 8 - Transit Across Solar Disk of Planet Venus - Pittsburgh ( Upper Station Observation Deck of The Duquesne Incline)
* 2005 April 8 - Eclipse of the Sun - East Pittsburgh PA (Christina Alley Observatory): Partial Eclipse (Very Slight)

Conferences Attended by John Weinhold

In addition to making presentations at many symposia sponsored by the National Canal Museum in Easton, Pennsylvania, John Weinhold attended other conferences including:

* In May of 1989, John D. Weinhold (who, at the time, was a Buhl Planetarium Observatory Volunteer) assisted with the 40th International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, to commemorate the 50th Pittsburgh Regional School Science and Engieering Fair and the 50th anniversary of Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (1939 to 1991).

* John D. Weinhold assisted with the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Rail Transit Conference in Pittsburgh in June of 1989.

Return to History of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh

John D. Weinhold
1929 to 2011

Authored By Glenn A. Walsh *** Sponsored By Friends of the Zeiss
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2011 May

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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

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