What do you do with an empty silo? If you’re developer Dean Gitter, you turn it into a giant kaleidoscope and invite the world in. Twenty years ago, Gitter’s decision to turn an unused silo into the World’s Largest Kaleidoscope at what is now the Emerson Resort & Spa in Mount Tremper was called “carnivalesque” by some of his neighbors. But Gitter stuck by his claims that it would be good for tourism. And apparently, he was onto something; this weekend, the World’s Largest Kaleidoscope will observe its 20th anniversary.
The Emerson Resort & Spa, which recently underwent a $6 million renovation by its new owners, is celebrating the milestone for its unusual attraction with a day of “kaleidofun” for the entire family on Saturday, July 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The main attraction will be the new kaleidoshow, Star Dust, which takes viewers on an intergalactic guided tour through the life cycle of a star. A “booming and trippy” musical soundtrack in surround-sound will accompany images of white dwarfs, black holes and nebulae. The new show will be screened continuously all day at no charge.
A new kaleidoscope gallery will show an exhibit chronicling the history of the kaleidoscope and explaining how it was created. Interactive kaleidoscopes will feature a photo op that allows visitors to create a keepsake photo of their faces transformed into a mandala image.
Kaleidoscope-making workshops will be held, with preregistration necessary. Artists Sue Rioux and Carolyn Bennett will take beginners age eight and up through the basics at a cost of $25, with adult advanced workshops available for $165. Advance reservations are made by calling Linda Prinzivalli at (845) 688-2828, extension 7654.
Visitors can participate in a Woodstock Drum Circle with Kodi and Crew for jam sessions or have tarot cards read by clairvoyant and psychic medium Lorry Salluzzi. Kids can enjoy face-painting and balloon animals by clown Whoopsy Daisy. For the adults, there will be “kaleido-cocktails” served in the Woodnotes Grille during Happier Hour from 2 to 5 p.m. “Kaleido-desserts,” burgers, sandwiches and salads will be served out on the lawn. A live remote and giveaways will be presented by WDST Radio, including the chance to win a two-night stay at the Emerson with spa treatments and dinner at the Woodnotes Grille. And the kaleidoscope shop, as always, offers the optical instruments in all sizes and price points, from an inexpensive cardboard tube version to high-end artisan-made scopes.
The kaleidoscope was patented in 1816 in Scotland. Its inventor, Sir David Brewster (1781-1868), was doing experiments on light polarization when he came up with the device. The name “kaleidoscope” is an amalgam of several Greek words that have to do with observed beauty and form. At first, Brewster envisioned his creation as a scientific tool. At their height in the Victorian Era, kaleidoscopes were made by professional optical instrument-makers and intended for adult use. But it didn’t take long before they were relegated to the status of a parlor amusement for adults and eventually became a toy for children.
Still, however, Brewster thought he was going to make his fortune on the kaleidoscope: In 1817, he sold more than 200,000 kaleidoscopes in London and Paris in just three months. But a fault in his patent application meant that others copied his invention – and the rest, as they say, is history.
The key component in a kaleidoscope is a set of mirrors attached at specific angles to duplicate images of whatever objects are inside the device. We humans are drawn to symmetry, and some scientists have said that it’s because we crave order in the universe and find satisfaction in the repetition of pattern. It’s no wonder, then, that kaleidoscopes fascinate us in their ability to take random shapes and transform chaos into orderly, symmetrical patterns. And our need for constant change is satisfied, too, with the kaleidoscope’s rapidly morphing patterns and sequences.
The 56-foot-high kaleidoscope in Mount Tremper – the height of the silo and certified as World’s Largest by the Guinness Book of World Records – utilizes a 2.5-ton, 37-foot-tall pyramid of mirrors to multiply video images into 50-foot-wide kaleidoscopic patterns with 254 facets. Until its creation, the largest kaleidoscope had been a 12-foot-long model owned by a member of the Brewster Society, an organization of kaleidoscope enthusiasts named for the device’s inventor. Most kaleidoscopes are intimate objects, held in the hand and controlled by the user at his or her own speed; but the World’s Largest is a walk-in kaleidoscope, its images delivered to its viewers who simply incline and lean their heads back and look up.
It cost a cool quarter-million to create back in 1996. It took several months to make and required a 100-foot-tall crane to hoist it into the former grain silo. The World’s Largest Kaleidoscope was designed by self-taught stained glass artist and kaleidoscope designer Charles Karadimos. And in one of the oddest footnotes to this whole story, before Karadimos was brought into the project, he had apparently already been thinking about turning a silo on his own farm in Maryland into a huge kaleidoscope, but lacked the funding to do it on his own.
World’s Largest Kaleidoscope 20th anniversary celebration, Saturday, July 9, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., free, Emerson Resort & Spa, 5340 Route 28, Mt. Tremper; (845) 688-2828, extension 7654, www.emersonresort.com.