By Charles Bethea
Illustration by Tom Bachtell
On Christmas Day, 1988, someone gave Donald Trump a star in the sky. “The buyer is listed as Donald J. Trump,” Elaine Stolpe said recently from her office at the International Star Registry, in Glenview, Illinois. “But I don’t think it’s from him. It’s probably a gift from people who worked for him. 725 Fifth Avenue—do you know if that’s his address?”
The star, situated hundreds of light-years from Earth, is one of four named either Donald John Trump or Donald J. Trump, registered between 1988 and 2007. There is also a star called the Donald, which was registered on Christmas Day in 2000 by an unspecified person. “It could be anybody,” Stolpe said.
She continued with the astronomy lesson: “The first Donald John Trump star is in the constellation of Perseus”—the Greek mythological hero who beheaded Medusa—“in the northern circumpolar region. So it’s viewable most of the year, which I’m sure Mr. Trump would appreciate.” She kept scrolling through her computer. “All of his stars actually appear to be pretty far north and viewable most of the year. One of them is in Ursa Major, also known as the Big Bear. A manly star, you could say.
“I also found a star named Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Cassiopeia, the constellation named for a vain queen in Greek mythology,” Stolpe said. “It’s interesting that Trump is in the hero constellation, and Hillary is in the queen. The only other Presidential candidates I’ve seen in our database are Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio. Graham is in Cygnus, the swan—also a northern constellation. Rubio is in Leo Minor, the little lion.” Rubio’s star name was bought by Del Webb, a construction company, back in 1993, Stolpe said. She began to Google: “It looks like Rubio does a lot of speaking to the retirees at their Sun City developments.” Scanning her records, Stolpe said, “The Rubio and Clinton stars are the brightest of the political ones.”
Stolpe, who is fifty-four and the mother of two, is the International Star Registry’s director of sales and communications; one of her eleven siblings, Rocky, is the owner. Their parents, John and Phyllis Mosele, created the company, in 1979. “They were very out-of-the-box thinkers,” she said. Before that, they ran a sewer-contracting business. “I studied the liberal arts and then went to beauty school”—cosmetology, not cosmology. “But it just wasn’t the field for me.”
By some accounts, there are a septillion stars in the visible universe. In the past thirty-seven years, the International Star Registry has named and copyrighted around two million of them. “People name stars for babies, weddings, memorials,” Stolpe said. “Then we record them all, so that a hundred years from now the great-grandchildren can look up the family name in our book and find the star in the sky. People love getting stars. But there are always naysayers. It’s not something astronomers work with.” (The International Astronomical Union is the only scientific organization authorized to officially name astronomical bodies, such as stars.) The company’s “custom star kit” costs fifty-four dollars. You receive a certificate of registration (a copy is kept in a bank vault in Switzerland) and a chart showing the location of your star. Your star’s name is published in the company’s astronomical compendium “Your Place in the Cosmos,” which customers can buy for $39.95. Nine volumes have been published so far.
The International Star Registry’s Web site describes naming a star for someone as “the ultimate gift of encouragement.” That’s not to be mistaken for ownership, however: “People ask us if they’re buying the star, and we say, ‘No, you’re naming it.’ ” Customers come from all over planet Earth. Most are “regular people,” Stolpe said, but celebrities also want to see their names in the heavens. “We just named a star for Kirk Douglas, for his ninety-ninth birthday,” she said.
“We have a whole bunch of framing options,” Stolpe went on. “Kirk Douglas got our most fancy kit—the certificate and the sky chart were framed in our best heirloom frames. It cost four hundred and eighty-nine dollars. At the time of Donald Trump’s first star, in the late eighties, I think we only had one frame option. But if it was for Donald I’m sure it was framed.”
Stolpe sees a parallel between political and astronomical stars. “The stars in the sky, when we look at them, there’s no sense of depth,” she said. “A big one that’s really far away seems about the same as a smaller one that’s closer. It takes a long time to figure out what you’re looking at.” ?
Charles Bethea is a freelance journalist based in Atlanta and a regular contributor to newyorker.com.
Read more at: NEW YORKER MAGAZINE STAR-MAKING