09 August 2009

Hi-Ho, Hubble, Away!

After being interviewed recently on a national radio program, I was surprised and thrilled to be contacted by a not-so-distant relative of Edwin Hubble.

Vickie Kalthoff of Chesterfield, Missouri, e-mailed that her grandfather, Ralph James, and Hubble’s mother Virginia were first cousins (both distant relations to the famous outlaw Jesse James). In fact, Vickie's brother was born in the same house that Hubble was born in Marshfield, Missouri, a town that celebrates its most famous resident with a replica of the Hubble Space Telescope on the courthouse grounds. She recalls the superb nighttime sky there in the 1940s and 1950s: “I would stand outside at night, and I felt as if I were floating in the Milky Way.”

Vickie’s grandfather once drove from Kansas to California just to meet the great astronomer, and she wondered what Hubble thought about her “cowboy” gramps. I thought about that, too. While a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in his youth, Hubble completely reinvented himself. He adopted a British accent that he maintained the rest of his life, dressed like a dandy, and could often be arrogant and standoffish to his fellow astronomers. He married into a rich Los Angeles family and throughout his life seemed intent on erasing his Midwestern roots.

In fact, Hubble rarely saw his mother and siblings, who remained in the Midwest. But Vickie told of one particular visit. Her mother and aunts were present when Hubble returned to the family ranch and got on a horse backwards. “They never forgot that,” says Vickie, “but I am sure he was teasing them.”

Above image: Replica of the Hubble Space Telescope on the courthouse grounds of Marshfield, Missouri. (Credit: freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com)


  1. Hello Marcia,
    It was fun reading on your Cosmos Firma. I discovered it last night when I googled my name, Vickie Kalthoff, and found the Hi Ho Hubble, Away. What a hoot!
    My husband and I think you are a very good writer and smart. I am currently working my way through your book.
    At our state capitol in Jefferson City,MO there is a Walk of Fame. A few years ago a bust of Hubble was dedicated. I was honored to give a talk about Hubble in Marshfield. My mother helped when I was picking her brain while she was in the hospital. I was the only cousin who was willing or able to go to the capitol for it.
    Keep up your good work and give us a heads up if ever in Missouri!

  2. Thanks for checking into Cosmos Firma, Vickie! Great to hear from you again.

  3. Hubble, a champ and a scamp, how funny.

  4. Yeh! Someone caught my joke. Thanks, jump.