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Mars-Crossed Lovers

David and Mabel Todd's passions got in the way of their marriage.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009
David Peck Todd, Astronomer

After his 1907 expedition to the Andes to photograph Mars, Amherst College astronomer David Peck Todd became obsessed with the planet and the Martians whose canals he was convinced he saw there. In 1909, he planned a trip in a balloon to an altitude sufficient to intercept the "Hertzian waves" he was sure were being transmitted from the red planet. In 1917, he was forced into early retirement. He continued to try to contact Mars until he was institutionalized in 1922, a victim of paresis, the final stage of syphilis. He died in 1939.

Todd's wife, Mabel, who traveled with him on a number of his expeditions, gained fame in her own right. She's believed to have had a lifelong love affair with a married neighbor, Austin Dickinson, Emily Dickinson's brother. He was twice Mabel's age and a mentor of her husband's.

When Emily Dickinson died in 1886, her family chose Mabel Loomis Todd to edit the collection of poems that had been discovered, and she was largely responsible for their preservation and publication.

For more on David Todd and his telescope, see Steve Sauter's Keys to the Cosmos.

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