Sagan, 22, “Peddling Without a License”

The fall of 1956 temporarily separated Lynn and Carl. Sagan began work at the University of Chicago’s astronomy school in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. This is the home of the Yerkes Observatory. Completed in 1897, the forty-inch Yerkes refractor was housed in a brick-and-terra-cotta domed building. It was by then a storied relic.

Williams Bay had a population of barely 1,000. For city-bred Sagan, it presented a culture shock. For the first time in his life, Sagan encountered anti-Semitism. He also ran into trouble with the law. He attempted to raise funds for the Democratic Party, asking householders for a dollar each. As Sagan told it,

I spent all morning going door to door. And I got the most amazing responses: “The what party?” or “Shh! the master will hear!” or “Wait right here, young fellow, and I’ll get my shotgun.” Finally I was arrested by the sheriff, who had had innumerable complaints, on the grounds of peddling without a license. They figured I was peddling receipts at a dollar each. And I was remanded to the custody of the observatory director, who I don’t think understood anything about it, but just said to me, “Be a good boy.”

—From the bio Carl Sagan, 1999, by William Poundstone

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