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Remembering Bob Ariail

By Tom Falvey, Director of Education

Robert B. Ariail, Fitz Telescope, South Carolina State Museum

Fascinated by astronomy, Bob Ariail ultimately assembled one of the finest collections of early American telescopes in the world. In 2004, Bob promised that collection to the South Carolina State Museum and the instruments are now a permanent part of our 4th-floor galleries.

In addition to the gallery that bears his name, Bob Ariail is also largely responsible for the historic Alvan Clark 12 3/8 inch refracting telescope currently housed in the State Museum’s Boeing Observatory. When he was notified of the availability of the instrument Ariail traveled with museum staff and board members to inspect the telescope. He then advised in the disassembly, transport, and necessary alterations needed for use at the museum.

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The historic Alvan Clark 12 3/8-inch refracting telescope in the Boeing Observatory.

The next time you visit the museum’s 4th-floor gallery featuring the Robert B. Ariail Collection of Historical Astronomy, take a couple of minutes to study the Erskine College telescope made by Henry Fitz. When Bob discovered this rare instrument was somewhere at the college, he requested permission to locate it. Once he found all the remaining parts, he received the go-ahead to restore the instrument.

After 13 years of study and very careful restoration by Bob, Erskine College, at the urging of Bob and then sci/tech curator Ron Shelton, donated the telescope to the museum. This 1849 telescope is the oldest surviving American-made observatory instrument in existence, and one of fewer than 50 Henry Fitz telescopes in the world.

Robert B. Ariail Collection of Historical Astronomy Gallery at the SC State Museum. #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

The Robert B. Ariail Collection of Historical Astronomy on display at the South Carolina State Museum.

Bob also served on the South Carolina State Museum Foundation Board and was a key figure in the museum’s Windows to New Worlds expansion project, which opened in 2014. Many years before, it was Bob and his cousin Bland Quantz (also a former board member) along with museum staff and former director Tony Ganong who created the concept once called OPT, an acronym for Observatory/Planetarium/Theater, that later became Windows to New Worlds.

Bob’s energy and passion to create something special for South Carolinians, particularly students, will always be part of the museum. His legacy is an enduring one and the South Carolina State Museum is forever indebted to his generosity.

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