Exploring Armand Spitz’s Love for Stars
Haverford native had journalistic roots.
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The stars are eternal, but the reasons we study them come and go. Navigators have used stars to guide ships, astrologers to predict human events, NASA to search for extraterrestrial life. Standing at night on the deck of a Paris-bound freighter, Haverford’s Armand Neustadter Spitz was awestruck. His interest eventually led to an affordable planetarium that democratized the indoor sky-watching experience.
Later, during the Cold War, national defense became the most pressing reason to study the heavens, and Spitz was pushed out of his own company. “Spitz’s accomplishment enacted the single greatest transformation of the American planetarium community,” wrote astronomy historian Jordan Marché.
Rather than confine the experience to a few big-city planetaria controlled by an academic elite, “Spitz pursued a sharply different vision,” Marché continued. “That of a much larger, pluralistic community of smaller institutions that could present the basics of astronomy to children and adults alike.”
Born in West Philadelphia, Spitz was the son of a physician, graduating from public school and attending the universities of Pennsylvania and Cincinnati without receiving a degree from either. Instead, he went to work as a reporter for the Camden Courier in 1926.
“He enjoyed gathering news, and later recounted, ‘I acquired a sneaking desire to have a newspaper of my own,’” wrote Brent P. Abbatantuono, a writer for Planetarian, the official journal of the International Planetarium Society.
In 1928, Spitz joined the weekly Haverford Township News as its editor. Within three months, he’d bought it. Spitz also continued as a correspondent for the Bulletin into the 1930s. Being editor, publisher and owner of a community newspaper gave Spitz some clout in Haverford, and he used it. He served as president of the Haverford Township Free Library and helped found the township chamber of commerce. Spitz also stuck out his neck politically. During the election campaign of 1932, he endorsed several candidates from the “wrong” party—probably Democrats. “Some residents burned him in effigy,” wrote Abbatantuono.
It all ended in the Depression. Spitz offered advertisers credit and even allowed them to barter goods for space. But the News still closed in 1932. With no money, no job or a wife to say no, Armand decided on a change of scenery. He headed to Paris with designs on writing or, perhaps, working as a foreign correspondent for U.S. newspapers. In the early 1930s, Paris was full of American writers—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller and, of course, Ernest Hemingway.