Totality, Then and Now

We are less than 24 hours away from a total solar eclipse in the United States. If sales of protective eyewear are any indication, interest in witnessing this rather unique event is very high. I have my eclipse glasses, and plan to drive in to work early just so I can be out of the car and ready to witness the event, which will only be a near total eclipse (98%) here in Seattle.

The last total solar eclipse to traverse the continental United States was on June 8th, 1918. My grandmother was a teenager then living in Kansas, so I got to thinking about whether she would have been able to have seen the eclipse and how it was reported in the newspaper in her time. When she learned the next event of this magnitude was nearly one hundred years in the future, I wonder if she mused about whether she would have children or grandchildren who would witness the event? I will never know the answer to that question, but can research how the event was covered in 1918. Using Chronicling America, my favorite historical newspaper site, I was able to locate an article in The Topeka State Journal. Amid the many columns devoted to updates from the front about the war effort overseas was this article, quoted below:

IN ECLIPSE TODAY.
Kansas in Path of Event Rarely Seen in America.
Next Total Eclipse Here Will Be in 2017.

  Ninety percent of the normal sunlight in Kansas will be shut off this afternoon between hours of 5:22 and 6:22 o’clock, when the moon will pass between the sun and the earth. In some parts of the country the eclipse will be total.

  The total eclipse of the sun takes place when the lunar shadow actually reaches the earth. While the moon passes eastward, approaching gradually the point where it is exactly between us and the sun, steadily the darkness deepens as more and more sunlight is withdrawn. Then quite suddenly the darkness of late twilight comes on, when the moon reaches just the point where the moon first shuts off completely the light of the sun. At that instant, the solar corona flashes out and the total eclipse begins.

Shadow Passes Rapidly.

  The observer is then within the umbra and totality only lasts so long as he remains within it. As an average, the umbra will require less than three minutes to pass by any one place, but the extreme length of a total solar eclipse is nearly eight minutes.

  Those who will be lucky enough to make the journey to any of the towns over which the shadow of the eclipse will appear will do well to get as near the center of the favored zone as possible. It will not be necessary to take a telescope, but a smoked or dark glass can be used to advantage to watch the progress of the moon in its preliminary phase, the glass should be discarded as soon as the totality arrives.

100 Years Until Next Eclipse in U.S.

  Not until 2017 will another total solar eclipse be visible over so large an area of this country, and it is rare that an eclipse track anywhere in the world offers so great a choice of accessible sites for observing the eclipse.1

[Article continues.]
Total Solar Eclipse, 1918
This image of the path of the total solar eclipse of June 8, 1918 was published in the El Paso Herald (El Paso, Texas).

Sources:
Image: “Sun to be in total eclipse in this section June 8th in afternoon,” El Paso (Texas) Herald, 4 May 1918, p. 21, cols. 2-8; digital image, Library of Congress, Chronicling America Historic American Newspapers (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov, accessed 20 Aug 2017).

1 “In Eclipse Today,” Topeka State Journal (Topeka, Kans.), 8 June 1918, p. 1, col. 2; digital image, Library of Congress, Chronicling America Historic American Newspapers  (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov, accessed 20 Aug 2017).

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