News and Tribune

August 28, 2013

NEW ALBANY BICENTENNIAL: Edwin Hubble’s year at NAHS

By AMANDA BEAM
newsroom@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY — Basketball coaches didn’t usually wear capes, even in 1913. But Edwin Hubble wasn’t your ordinary Midwestern coach. Fresh from the University in England, the future father of cosmology began a one year stint teaching mathematics, physics and Spanish at New Albany High School. Alongside his educational pursuits, the 23-year-old concentrated on a different kind of flying orb during his time in the city when he also became the varsity boys’ basketball coach.

Before he came to NAHS, Hubble led a pretty gifted life. Born in Marshfield, Mo., in 1889, the young boy and his family moved to Wheaton, Ill., years later where he excelled in sports, especially track. His grades weren’t so bad either. After receiving an academic scholarship to the University of Chicago, the well-known athlete again participated in several sports at the collegiate level. At this time, he also got his first real taste of astronomy and physics.

“Befriended by hall of famers, Nobel laureates, and legendary coaches, the compelling combination of athleticism, handsome looks, charm, good-natured personality, and moderate academic success had molded Edwin Hubble into what must have been the pride of the physics department,” said writer Vaughn Winslow in a biography piece about the astronomer in a 1996 issue of “Legends of the Winter: Indiana Basketball History.”

Surprisingly Hubble walked away from science for a few years after his undergraduate work. Upon becoming a Rhodes Scholar, the graduate spent three years at the University of Oxford in England studying law at his father’s insistence. England suited the Midwesterner. Rather quickly Hubble picked up some British quirks including wearing capes, sporting a cane and smoking a pipe. Some people even attested that his accent evolved to sound like a proper Oxford chap.

Fate would soon intervene in Hubble’s European lifestyle. In early 1913, Hubble’s father John died in Louisville where he had been working as a fire and plate glass insurance salesman. A few months later, Hubble came to the Louisville area to comfort his mother and siblings.

Accounts of the grand astronomer’s time in the region are few and far between. Known to be filled with pride and, at times, contempt, Hubble never spoke of his time at NAHS. When he did address his return to the states, he maintained he practiced law in Louisville, even though records indicate that he most likely never passed the bar.

“For reasons that have never been resolved by Hubble researchers, Hubble in future years always made reference to ‘practicing law’ instead of teaching and coaching during the months he lived in the Louisville area,” Winslow said. “It is no secret among Hubble scholars that he was quite an egotist, especially in his later years. Perhaps he wanted to lend more significance to or call attention to his Oxford law degree.”

From all accounts, students adored Hubble during his tenure at NAHS. As a basketball coach, he led his team in an undefeated regular season. Only after a semifinal defeat in the state championship to Clinton did their tremendous run end.  

Several histories taken from local residents who studied under Hubble also show the girls were quite fond of the young instructor. As a graduate of the NAHS class of 1916, Paul Seabrook described this affect in the October, 1982 Filson Club History Quarterly.

“In his knickers and cape, he took the hearts of all the girls,” Seabrook said. “Senior girls were just gaga… (and) wanted to take Spanish.”

So admired was Hubble that the students dedicated the 1914 Blotter yearbook to the intriguing coach.

“To Edwin P. Hubble, Our beloved teacher of Spanish and Physics who has been a loyal friend to us in our senior year, ever willing to cheer and help us both in school and on the field, we the class of 1914 lovingly dedicate this book,” read the inscription.

Despite working in New Albany, Hubble never lived in the city. Instead he relied on taking the Daisy trains over during his work days and most likely walking to campus.

When Hubble’s father was laid to rest, so then were all the law aspirations his father forced on his son. After the year at NAHS, Hubble returned to the University of Chicago and continued his doctoral work. In time, the beloved coach would go on to redefine the science of astronomy.

Looking beyond the visible night skies, the large Hooker telescope in California helped Hubble prove that nebulae outside of the Milky Way were actually separate galaxies. But perhaps the biggest contribution the anglophile gave to science was a formula that computed the rate at which galaxies were growing apart from one another, thus proving the universe was expanding. For all his efforts, the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched in 1990, was christened with his name.

While Hubble became one of the greatest astronomers in history, a few authors still express regret that he never spoke about all the success he had at NAHS.

“New Albanians, and Hoosiers alike, should look with pride that Edwin Hubble graced their basketball heritage, yet should feel disdain that he never wanted to admit it,” Winslow said.