I want to thank my friend Barbara who works at Caltech. She doesn't want me to use her last name, but I'd still like to embarrass her a little. She offered a tour of the Caltech campus for the sake of Pasadena Daily Photo, and I took her up on it one day last week. It turned out to be more than just a campus tour. It was an afternoon full of fascinating history and stories. Barbara's a fountain of information about the California Institute of Technology, and she has continued to answer my questions in emails throughout the week.
This item, though, is a bit of a mystery even to Barbara. Perhaps it's a birdbath, though there was no water in it the day we visited. Barbara said no one was quite sure where it came from (Europe?) - or when (we can narrow it down to the first half of the 20th century, surely pre-WWII). Maybe you know and can shed some light.
Update, 3/19/09: please see the comments for further discussion of the birdbath and its origins.
The birdbath stands beneath a rare Engelmann Oak in the courtyard of Caltech's Henry M. Robinson Laboratory of Astrophysics. The building's occupants are in the process of packing up and moving across California Blvd. to the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics.
If I had to make that move my heart would break, and not because the Cahill is controversial. The Robinson Laboratory of Astrophysics is a special place. I'll attempt to demonstrate why in this week's posts.