By Joseph M. Laufer


            How does one bring to a close six years of involvement with a project that changed his life?  With the publication of this, the twenty-first issue of the Halley’s Comet Watch Newsletter, we end an exciting enterprise.


            Little did we know back in 1980, when we first laid the plans for Halley’s Comet Watch ’86, how it would develop, the many travel and educational projects which would spin off the original idea, and the many personal contacts we would make worldwide.


            We are indebted to a great number of individuals for the success of our projects.  The first publicity we received was from Sally Friedman, a freelance writer for the BURLINGTON COUNTY TIMES in New Jersey, whose 1982 article gave us the exposure we needed to get started.  Little did we know when this article appeared that our activity eventually would be mentioned in TIME, LIFE, and NEWSWEEK, most major Newspapers, several books and most recently (December, 1986), in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, photo and all.


            We never anticipated that we would be on several radio interview and call-in shows, including one nation-wide on the Mutual Radio Network.  Nor did we anticipate the Television appearances: on GLOBO in Brazil, throughout the U.S. on CBS News, P.M. Magazine, and locally on A.M. Philadelphia”.


            These positive experiences with the media were offset by several bad experiences where we felt we were “used” by certain reporters.  Being a storehouse of information on Halley’s Comet, we were a natural target for reporters who wanted us to do their research for them – without giving us any of the credit.  We spent many hours on the phone with reporters only to find that our information appeared under their name without any reference to our organization or projects.


            We gave over 200 lectures and school assemblies.  We personally met dozens of interesting individuals, including NFL Football players, Princess Anne of Great Britain, “Mr. Wizard” (Don Herbert), Astronaut Ed Gibson, noted astronomers and authors, and a host of noted Halley’s Comet experts and entrepreneurs.


            Not all was positive, however.  There were those who were too eager to “cash in” on Halley’s Comet at the expense of integrity and scholarship.  This was to be a valuable learning experience as we met and worked with a variety of entrepreneurs, advertising and marketing professionals, agents and inventors.  We misjudged some of the personalities and became entangled in several ventures we later regretted.  Nevertheless we emerged with our integrity intact, much the wiser for the experience.


            It would be impossible to name everyone to whom we are indebted for the successes of the past several years.  Some names, however, must be listed.  First of all, were it not for the fact that both my Mother and Father were born in 1910 under Halley’s Comet, the seed for this enterprise would never have been planted.  It was when I was preparing a paper on my Mother for a family reunion that I was struck by the fact that she and my Dad were born under the comet.  I often boasted that I had comet dust in my blood!


            The support and assistance of Ruth Freitag of the Library of Congress and Doctor Donald K. Yeomans of NASA and the International Halley Watch helped us gain our credibility and integrity.  Fred Schaaf of “Dark Skies for Comet Halley” gave us some exposure – and a worthy cause to endorse and support.  And Hariett Miller saw the educational possibilities of the return of the comet and shared her writing talents with us.


            We have stated on several occasions that Brian Harpur, founder of the Halley’s Comet Society, became both an inspiration and a friend.  He gave our organization the international flavor it needed, and opened the door to Europe for me, personally.  Association with Mr. Hamagucci of the Japan Halley’s Comet Society was a high point in the project.


            Roberta Etter and Stuart Schneider were generous in sharing their Comet expertise with us and were instrumental in making us a part of the Halley’s Comet Cruise on the S.S. Norway in March, 1986.


            Bill McDaniel, Sr. and Bill, Jr. demonstrated a great deal of faith in our efforts and provided the experience of the business and marketing worlds to guide our venture.


            Burlington County College, my employer, saw the educational potential of my projects and granted me the time and moral support I needed, including a Sabbatical and a leave of absence to devote my energy to the many aspects of the project.  Ironically, the President of Burlington County College and his wife were tragically killed in an airplane crash in October, 1986, as Halley’s Comet faded from sight.  Dr. Harmon Pierce had been most supportive of my comet activity.  I shall long remember his comment when I presented him with a Halley’s Comet Stock Certificate:  He said he’d carefully stash it away with his collection of Confederate money!  Little did we anticipate that he would “go out with the Comet”, as did Mark Twain, and I shall always be indebted to him for his support.


            I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the role of Congressman Jim Saxton in spreading the word about our Time Capsule project.  By having it read into the Congressional Record, he gave it a special seal of approval that was to lead to its resounding success.  Another political figure, Senator Jennings Randolph of West Virginia, a “Halley Two-Timer”, was publicly supportive of our activity.


            Finally, there is my wife, Penny (the “Comet Widow”, as described by the New York Times, and my four children, Kurt, Kerry, Kevin and Kris, who sacrificed much as I spent too many hours on the phone, at the computer and on the road, neglecting their recreational needs and my home responsibilities.  Their reactions were understandably mixed – excited about the “celebrity status” that changed their Dad’s life, yet a bit angry with the comet which took me away from them for so long.


            I’ve kidded folks about what I’d be doing when the Comet left us.  I anticipated a need for therapy for my “comet withdrawal symptoms” during 1987.  Well, last month I packed four large trunks – one for each of my children – with souvenirs, magazine and newspaper articles, and a variety of comet-related material to be opened as 2061 approaches.  I moved out of the “Comet House”, a two-room cottage rented from my next-door neighbor that served as headquarters for the Newsletter, HCW ’86 and Halley’s Comet Society – USA.  It was in  “The Comet House” where I was interviewed by reporters, TV crews set up shop, volunteers answered the mail, and the now-famous NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC photograph was taken.  There has been a natural emotional void, as expected, but not to the extent anticipated.  The reason?  Things have already started coming together for the next project, the 1992 Christopher Columbus Jubilee.  We’ve already started the Newsletter and we’ve constructed our own “Columbus House” as headquarters for what promises to be even bigger than the Halley enterprise.  Thanks to Halley’s Comet, we have a head start and will hopefully avoid the mistakes and capitalize on our many successes.  Watch out, 1992 – here we come!


Halley’s Comet Watch Newsletter, Volume 5, Number 6 – November, 1986 (Final Issue)



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