A longtime mobile landmark, familiar to thousands of Manhattanites and tourists alike, has vanished from its 42nd Street stand and will shortly find a haven in the Berkshires.

The 165-inch telescope mounted on a hearse-like station wagon this week became the property of Howard S. Babbitt Jr., 70 Holmes Road. He bought it for $100. It was a victim of big-city skepticism.

Until about six months ago, the telescope was parked nightly on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. For 10 cents you could gaze at the stars as long as you wished. Ed Balod, its owner and operator, quit the business in disgust six months ago and drove the dilapidated, 20-year-old station wagon to its regular parking lot on 12th Avenue where he abandoned it. Mr. Babbitt paid the $100 storage bill and claimed the giant telescope.

Mr. Babbitt, supervisor of photography for General Electric in Pittsfield, and a man of many interests and hobbies including astronomy, has plans to bring the telescope to Pittsfield for a general overhauling.

Before he can put it into service, however, there is one vital piece of equipment missing. It is the important refractor lens, pride of Mr. Balod and envy of knowing astrologists. When Mr. Balod left his equipment in the parking lot, he removed the lens and took it with him. No one has since seem him or the lens.

The lens was made in 1846 by Henry Fitz. It created a sensation when it was designed. It represented an innovation.

Mr. Babbitt said he can replace the Fitz lens with a 12-inch one for about $400 to $600, but he would be happier if he could locate the original.

Mr. Balod was a man devoted to the study of the heavens. His telescope was considered by experts as one of the finest for its size in the country. His offer to passersby was genuine. For a dime the uninformed could gaze on the wonderments of the world beyond, but New Yorkers, with their inherent skepticism, chose to pass it by. Only experts seized the opportunities offered by Balod's magnificent offer.

This Story in History is selected from the archives by Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.

Community News Editor / Librarian

Jeannie Maschino is community news editor and librarian for The Berkshire Eagle. She has worked for the newspaper in various capacities since 1982 and joined the newsroom in 1989.