Vanderbilt Planetarium

Sitting in Centerport, along the island’s picturesque north shore. the Vanderbilt Planetarium has served as a school field trip destination to countless school kids ever since its doors opened in 1971.

William Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius, wasn’t an astronomer. No, he was all about race cars and other worldly adventures, amassing a huge collection of artifacts from around the world during his lifetime.

When he died in 1944, he left his 43-acre estate, Eagle’s Nest, to the fine folks of the State of New York, to serve as a museum and public park.


Perhaps as a result of the space race of the 60s, the County elected to build the planeterium in 1970. The state of the art facility opened to the public the following year – and a neverending stream of schoolchildren arrived. You might have been one of them.

It certainly wasn’t the worst field trip a kid could experience. You got to relax in nice comfortable chairs in a dark room while a three dimensional display of our galaxy appeared on the roof.

You would learn how everything moved around the universe, how the planets revolved, that sort of stuff. Of course, a few of us couldn’t help but nod off in those comfy chairs in the dark room.

In the decades that followed, the planeterium began offering other types of entertainment, most notably laser rock shows. They looked something like this (although this is from a different planetarium.


We may have a few folks that remember those late night Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd-themed shows, even if the memories might be a little hazy.

Into the new century, the planeterium really began showing its age. Thankfully, after much wrangling, the entire facility recieved a much needed and lengthy update in 2013.


These important renovations keep the Planetarium alive for future generations of star watchers, maybe even a few future star travelers.

Do you have fond memories of visiting the Planetarium on a school field trip? Did you fall asleep? I’d love to hear all of your recollections in the comments section below.

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7 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I remember going in the 70’s with my elementary school classmates. It was cold and the eagle statue was covered with some snow. What I remember the most is a telescope named George!

  2. Mr Pell says:

    I went here in the early 90s for school and I loved it! I can’t wait to take my kid here one day!

  3. JF says:

    Went here on a field trip as a kid. I still frequently think about how they showed how fast planets are actually going by showing a planet close to a slower moving object for the visual while playing race car and a race announcer soundtrack which was great.

  4. Winter lynn says:

    Went for a 5th grade field trip during the 1992/1993 school year and I remember goofing off mostly with my best friend and then getting dizzy while staring up at the “galaxy ” Afterward I remember we went to the gift shop and I was so upset because my mom hadn’t given me any money and most of my classmates brought some nifty souvenirs. My best friend bought me this cute little keychain with a moon that had some kinda liquid inside so it moved and changed colors when you moved it. I treasured it and kept it on my backpack zipper for years and into adulthood it was attached to my car keys. Eventually I sadly lost it. Anyway it was a fun field trip through doesn’t compare to the field trip we took a few months later where all the 5th graders got to take a bus ride into NYC to see the play “Cats” that was definitely an experience, lol.

  5. CMD says:

    Just found this. Great memories. Loved planetarium school days. A teacher would always fall asleep. I had no idea it was so new when I was a child. I remember Son of Sam Summer (his face was all over the newspapers, but I was not completely aware of what happened…) my dad took a staycation and we went to the Vanderbilt Museum. The mummy was the favorite bit and do I remember a stuffed giant octopus/crab/spider thing?

  6. Matt says:

    Remember going on an elementary school field trip. Remember the lobby being very large, more than likely because I was a young kid. Remember buying an eraser inside a silver-gray rocketship. Will never forget those memories!

  7. Dave says:

    I remember going there in 1975 with my mom as part of a parent-child astronomy course. It was a pretty cozy setting, with just a few pairs of students in the large auditorium.

    So, imagine my surprise when, as an adult in 2005, going there again for the first time in 30 years and seeing a small newspaper ad on the wall outside the auditorium describing that same parent-child course. It was dated 1975!

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