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.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.