Charles Hagar

Charles Hagar 1930-2013

Well-known planetarian Charles Hagar, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at San Francisco State University, passed away peacefully in his sleep on April 28, 2013. He is survived by his adopted daughter Melanie Meyer (husband John Meyer).

Born August 7, 1930 in Los Angeles, Charles was the only child of Dr. Frederick Hagar, a physician, and Gertrude Hagar, a nurse. He became interested in astronomy at a very early age, and at age 16, while still in high school, began working at the Griffith Observatory and Planetarium.

He first appears in the Griffith log on June 8, 1946, when he “teched” a planetarium show for Clarence Cleminshaw. The tech was usually a guide who operated the auxiliary projectors from the console alongside the lecturer, who operated the Zeiss planetarium projector while giving the live talk as well (it was news to this writer that in those days it took two people to give a planetarium show at Griffith!) Charles also appears in the Observatory log, operating the Zeiss telescope for the public on August 16, 1946.

Throughout the rest of his high school career and into college he continued as a Guide and Telescope Operator at Griffith. Things changed on May 27, 1952, however, when Charles gave his first planetarium lecture, apparently filling in for a morning school show. By June 1952 he had become a full-fledged Planetarium Lecturer, and by the time he left Griffith in 1957 he had delivered 832 planetarium shows.

Charles graduated from Hollywood High School in 1949, and went on to UCLA, graduating with a BA in Astronomy in 1954. In 1957 he joined the staff of the Morrison Planetarium and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. While at Morrison he continued his education, receiving an MA in Astronomy from UC Berkeley in 1960. That same year, he joined the faculty of San Francisco State College as an Assistant Professor of Astronomy, but continued as a part-time lecturer at Morrison for many years.

In the late 1960’s SF State began planning a new science building, and Charles was instrumental in ensuring that a planetarium would be included. Opened in 1973, the new planetarium featured a fully automated Spitz 512 projector under a 26.5-foot dome (reduced in diameter from the standard 30 feet due to architectural constraints). About the same time, Charles developed a graduate program in planetarium education. Several graduates went on to long and successful careers in planetariums and science education, including this writer, Jerry Abad, Ron Hipschmann, John Hines, Ben Mendelsohn, and Claudette Serra, among others.

In the 1970’s Charles was commissioned by the Zeiss Company of Germany to write a book about the company’s planetarium products. “Planetarium: Window to the Universe” was published in 1980, becoming the first book to document the history of the planetarium from ancient times to the present. Active in the local and regional planetarium community as well, Charles served as President of the Pacific Planetarium Association in 1983.

Steven Craig, former Chairman of Morrison Planetarium, recalls that, as Planetarium Technician in the 1960’s he needed to adjust and reset the complex gearing system that controlled the projected positions of the planets. Having no documentation and little idea how that unique system worked (it incorporated elliptical gears), he called upon Charles for help. With his deep understanding gained from working at both Griffith and Morrison, Charles was able to write up a complete description of the gearing system, as well as step-by-step directions for accurately setting the planet projectors.

Always the consumate planetarium lecturer, Charles was known for never becoming flustered while giving a show, no matter what technical crisis might occur. Years ago, during a Saturday afternoon show at Morrison, an infant suddenly became terrified of the dark and started screaming—loudly and steadily. Even after the anxious young usher (this writer) managed to escort mother and baby out the door, the startled audience continued to be completely distracted. Charles taught that young usher a valuable lesson that day, gently bringing the audience back to the show topic by humorously remarking, “Well, I guess not everyone agrees with that theory, however...” and then smoothly continuing with his presentation.

When Charles retired in 1994, San Francisco State University renamed their planetarium the C.F. Hagar Planetarium in his honor. Charles continued to teach part-time at S.F. State until 2004, when he moved from his long-time home in Burlingame to Brentwood, in the East Bay. Even then, he continued to teach and give planetarium shows at nearby Los Medanos College for several more years.

Deeply religious throughout his life, Charles joined the Heritage Baptist Church in Antioch after his retirement to Brentwood, singing in the choir, helping in the academy, advising the pastoral staff teaching Bible study, and sponsoring many children through various international outreach ministries.

Teacher, mentor, friend, Charles was admired by all who knew him for his unfailing gentleness, kindness, and quiet humor. He was a true gentleman, and we are all poorer upon his passing.

Written by Michael Bennett

With help from

Melanie Meyer

Steven Craig, Morrison Planetarium (retired)

Anthony Cook, Griffith Observatory

Ben Mendelsohn, West Valley College