Charles Y. McAteer



Charles Y. McAteer, Variable Star Observer and Founding Member of the AAVSO. (1865-1924)

Of the early AAVSO members known as "The Old Guard," none was better liked and more respected than Charles Y. McAteer. "Mac" as he was known, was a locomotive engineer for the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway Co. when he offered to make observations for the AAVSO in 1912. He lived in the Pittsburgh - Mckeesport area. In 12 years of variable star observing, he made almost 12,000 observations for the AAVSO. McAteer reported that he had "been reading astronomy since 1884," and although he was pretty much self-taught in the subject, he became so good at it that he was permitted to use the equipment at the Allegheny Observatory, and ran the observatory's open house nights. McAteer was the AAVSO's first librarian. Upon his death in 1924, the AAVSO library was officially named the "C. Y. McAteer Library" "in order to perpetuate the name of the first librarian" and in honor of his "most faithful and efficient" work in support of the AAVSO.

In 1924, AAVSO President D. B. Pickering wrote the following description of McAteer for the benefit of those who could not meet him in person:

"Do you know Mac?.... We class him as among the very few of our really big observers. And how do you think he does it? Grizzled and quaint, square-jawed, with deep-set kindly eyes twinkling under shaggy brows, he is keenly interested in every subject that is touched upon, and we turn to him over and over as one who speaks with authority and from a profound experience. Seldom does he fail to make the 500-mile attend spring and autumn meetings. He is an intimate associate of the Staff of the Allegheny Observatory, was a dear friend of [telescope maker] Dr. Brashear.... Mac is a locomotive engineer and through long, long years of honored service has never wavered in his devotion to that trinity of interests that make his world: his job, his hobby, and his church.

"Can't you picture him, years ago, bringing the fast night freight into Pittsburgh? It's a moonless, cloudless night and he leans out of the cab window as the engine sways and jolts, and the drivers sing their night song to the rails; one eye is on the track ahead and one is on Orion sinking low in the southwest; his left hand is firm on the throttle, above which, in a little rack, are a prayer-book and an atlas. The run is finished in the small hours of the morning and he hastens home to bring the three-inch glass out into the yard, in order to catch as many of the rare late variables as he can pick out of the east before the dawn forces him in and to bed...."

"Despite the limits of a common school education, his love of the stars and their story drew him from childhood to a study of the skies, and led to the work and associations that he so cherished. He has told us very simply: 'I received my first lessons in astronomy from my mother, who was a very good amateur astronomer.'

"He early became a locomotive engineer, making all night runs out of Pittsburgh, but through all the nights of all the years there ever reached his heart, above the raucous clangor of the rattling rails, the harmony of the music of the spheres.

"He was one of the original seven who met to form our Association.... He was the librarian of the Association and assumed the care and distribution of its hundreds of books....

"No member has ever traveled so far and so often to be with us - and none were ever so welcome.

"The obstacles which he overcame shall ever make our way easier. His achievements shall ever inspire us to greater effort. His meetings with us shall ever be unforgettable because of his gentle kindliness."