Meteor Crater Observatory

20 06 2011
Meteor Crater Observatory

Meteor Crater Observatory, c. 1943. Image courtesy Illinois Digital Archives

The building shown above wasn’t designed for viewing the night skies, but as its caption suggests, it was built for the purposes of contemplating a (long past) astronomical event. This is a photo of an observatory built by Harry Locke in the late 1930s for the purpose of viewing the Barringer Meteorite Crater near Winslow, Arizona. Harry and his wife, Hope, owned the land where Route 66 met the road leading to the Barringer crater. At that time, the crater was still privately owned by Barringer’s Standard Mine Company, and tourists weren’t welcome on the active mining site.  The Lockes opened “Meteor Station,” a cafe and gas station, at “Meteor Junction,” hoping the business would bring in enough money to fund their life’s dream, the building of a meteor museum.* They seemed to have immediately leased Meteor Station to “Rimmy Jim” Giddings (maybe they thought his colorful personality would draw in more tourists and so make more money?). Giddings ran the business until his death in 1943, after which time Ruth and Sid Griffin took over the operation.**

Apparently crater observatories weren’t a very lucrative business in the first half of the twentieth century. The Meteor Crater Observatory opened in the late 1930s but went into foreclosure after it lost money. Sadly, Locke was killed while trying to earn a living with the Winslow Police Department. After Locke’s death, Dr. Harvey Nininger took over the property and opened the the American Meteorite Museum in 1946. Nininger managed to attract some 30,000 visitors to the museum in the first year, but the business suffered with the re-alignment of Route 66 in 1949. Nininger hung on until 1953, when the museum closed for good. The building was abandoned and today, exists only as a ruin.

Meteor Crater Observatory, 1992.

Meteor Crater Observatory, 1992. Image courtesy Northern Arizona University Cline Library Special Collections and Archives

Old Observatory near Meteor Crater, 2003

Old Observatory near Meteor Crater, 2003. Photo Credit: D. C. McGhee

*Harry Locke was also an amateur cartoonist. His SW sense of humor was documented by Owen Arnold in the March 1943 issue of Desert Magazine (pp. 17-21).

**Joe Sonderman, Route 66 in Arizona, Charleston: Acadia Publishing, 49.

***Sonderman, 50.