Renee Montagne, host:
It's Friday, and time again for Storycorps. Today we'll hear how a roadside attraction got its start. Deep in the woods of Wisconsin, more than 200 miles north of Milwaukee, sits the world's largest handmade planetarium.
It isn't easy to find. A sign points you down a dirt road toward Frank Kovac's backyard. That's where he built the planetarium over a ten-year period. And at Storycorps, he spoke about how his lifelong fascination with the stars turned into a project of cosmic proportions.
Mr. FRANK KOVAC : My name is Frank Kovac, and I built my own planetarium in my backyard. As a child, my dad had small telescope and I asked him if we could take it outside and look t the sky, and he said, sure, we'll go look at the moon. From that day forward, I wanted to be an astrophysicist, but I was always terrible at math so I worked as a storeroom department clerk at the local paper mill.
And then in the year 1995 I did a presentation at a local town hall. A group of Boy Scouts were to come out and look through the telescopes that I have. It turned out to be a cloudy night, and I thought, I'm going to fix that. I'm going to build a planetarium so we can never cloud out the stars.
My neighbors, they were asking me how are you going to do it without any knowledge of engineering? And I says, well, I just have an idea in my mind, I can envision this before I even built it.
My planetarium is about 22 feet in diameter. The globe itself weighs approximately 4,000 pounds, and when I turn on the motor it rotates around the audience replicating night sky.
Every single star is painted with glow-in-the-dark paint, about 5,000 dots, one dot at a time, and it took me about five months to get every single constellation you see from the Northern Hemisphere.
My first show, I had just two people come, and I was a little nervous because I was very shy person. I did terrible, stuttered too much, but nobody complained, and now I never tire of giving a show. I almost feel like it's always my first one.
My dad passed away about the year I started building the planetarium. There were days where I kind of wondered if I was even going to make this thing work. And you wonder, why am I doing this? And I felt that my dad was there watching over me. You know, I don't think I have the knowledge to build a planetarium, and here it is the dream come true.
MONTAGNE: Frank Kovac, creator of the Kovac Planetarium in Monico, Wisconsin. This conversation will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. You can get a look at the world's largest handmade planetarium at NPR.org.
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