Peek at Fermilab's beginnings, thanks to Mickey Dolenz

Pop star, physics buff Mickey Dolenz shares footage of Fermilab's construction

  • Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, a particle physics enthusiast, shot some footage of Fermilab while it was under construction in 1970. He has donated his footage to the lab's archives.

    Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, a particle physics enthusiast, shot some footage of Fermilab while it was under construction in 1970. He has donated his footage to the lab's archives. Daily Herald File Photo

  • The original magnets in the Main Ring at Fermilab, when it was being built in 1970.

    The original magnets in the Main Ring at Fermilab, when it was being built in 1970. Courtesy of Fermilab

Posted11/28/2018 2:08 PM

It's been 50 years since the government put in motion the construction plans and manpower to build the high-energy physics lab known at that time as National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia. The Fermi name was added later, and we've called it Fermilab for decades now.

But here's a sentence I never thought I'd ever write in my lifetime: It took a 16 mm "home movie" film from one of the Monkees to remind me of what it took to build Fermilab.


You read that correctly. A Monkee, as in one of those zany pop musicians and TV stars from the late 1960s.

It was drummer Micky Dolenz, a self-proclaimed physics nut, who was given permission to visit the construction site along Kirk Road in 1970 and shoot some film on his video camera.

And now, all these years later, he has donated that film to the Fermilab archives. It's available for anyone to see via YouTube on Fermi's Symmetry website.

A beaming Dolenz, wearing a "Science is the Poetry of Reality" shirt, introduces the film on the website, accompanying a story by Lauren Biron about how this fairly odd couple of Dolenz and Fermilab came to be.

Turns out, in between delivering hit songs with his Monkee bandmates and doing a popular TV show, Dolenz had a passion for high-energy physics. After getting permission to visit the construction site, he wandered all over the place and surrounding grounds with his camera.

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He got back in touch with the folks at Fermi a couple of years ago to let them know he intended to find that film in his archives and donate it to the lab.

Dolenz must have learned a few tricks from the directors filming "The Monkees" TV show, because he came up with some interesting angles and tight shots of key parts of the lab.

Those who glance at the film, which is about 10 minutes, will see workers looking over draft plans; construction workers moving the huge concrete sections of what would be the tunnel for the lab's Main Ring; a plaque honoring the residents of the village of Weston, where the lab was ultimately built; and a close look at the hallways and computer boards inside parts of the lab.

Fermilab archivist Valerie Higgins, who worked with Dolenz to get this film posted, made it clear this was a unique occurrence for the lab -- and not just because a former teen idol made it happen.


"This is definitely very exciting," Higgins says on the Fermi website. "We don't have much footage of Fermilab from that time, and what we do have is mostly pretty cut-and-dried footage of construction."

Higgins cites the Dolenz film as one that shows the daily life of the lab and some "playfulness" in which the former Monkee's personality comes through.

More blessings:

An interesting "box" is set up on Walnut Street in St. Charles, between Third and Fourth streets.

This "Blessing Box" operates like one of those Little Free Library stations in which people put in books for people to take for free or return. But this box has items in it for people in need -- socks, deodorant, toothpaste, canned goods with pull tabs, etc.

We have Julia Kenyon and Natalie Buratczuk, both freshmen at St. Charles North High School, to thank for this box.

The girls erected it for their Girl Scout Troop Silver Award project when they were in eighth grade at Haines and Thompson middle schools.

It is located in front of the TriCity Health Partnership clinic at 318 Walnut St. for a good reason. Clinical director Terri Buratczuk is Natalie's mother and was aware of the project from the start and suggested the clinic would be a good spot to place it.

"Keller Williams Realty donated the box, and Lowe's donated all of the supplies the girls would need to erect it," Terri said. "The girls really worked hard to let the area neighborhoods, schools and churches know about the box and that donations were welcome."

The Ferson Creek Elementary Girl Scouts also helped with the project.

The note on the box pretty much says it all. "Take what you need, leave what you can."

Fitbit gets a workout:

Based on our first experience at J.C. Penney's during a Black Friday sale, it appears long lines at checkout during the holidays are not a lost art.

I believe Penney's has the technology for mobile terminals to help keep the lines moving, but I didn't notice any in action that night.

But this note is about a technology that does benefit its users when they take part in the shopping rush at this time of year.

Many of us are enamored with a Fitbit or Apple Watch on our wrists to monitor a daily goal of 10,000 steps. But I was afraid we might be facing an "anti-walking" holiday reality -- that everyone would just shop online.

After all, we used to walk around indoor malls and other retail areas at this time of year to make purchases and check off Christmas lists. We weren't really thinking about how many steps we were generating.

Now that we have a way to monitor steps, it seems like an added incentive to get out and hit the brick-and-mortar stores for shopping. We're piling up steps in the process.

For many, there isn't much desire to embark on shopping excursions beyond clicking buttons online. But it sure seems like plenty of folks haven't given up on the notion of joining the holiday bustle inside of actual stores -- and giving the technology on their wrists a workout.

It's a dog's party:

Dog owners can be sure their pets get in on the holiday fun -- and help the Underground Teen Center in St. Charles at the same time.

The Doggie Howliday Pawty is being held in place of the center's annual ornament sale this year. It's set for 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, at the Baker Community Center. Advanced registration and a $10 fee is required, with signup available on the park district website.

Photos with Santa Claus and an Ugly Sweater and Cutest Outfit contests are scheduled.

The park district is asking that all dogs at the Howliday Pawty be on a non-retractable leash up to a maximum of six feet; have current vaccinations; visible tags; and be accompanied by at least one person 16 years or older.

Might be snowy shuffle:

I'm suspecting that TriCity Family Service's annual Snowflake Shuffle 5K run and walk fundraiser will actually have some snow involved when participants gather tomorrow morning at Gunnar Anderson park near the Kane County Government Center.

We'll be out there testing our walking or running shoes or snow boots, whichever makes the most sense.

But those who haven't registered can still sign up as walk-ups Saturday morning. The shuffle starts at 9 a.m. Dec. 1.

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