|Path of the Eclipse Isaac Witnessed|
On New Years Day, 1889, a total solar eclipse moved across the United States. Total loss of direct sunlight occurred in the upper northwest portion of the continental United States, but a partial eclipse was visible across the western states and central Canada, with lesser impact as far away as Hawaii and the rest of the U.S.
Isaac B. Werner described the event in his journal. Almanacs of that era had forecast the eclipse, but some of his neighbors had not received their 1889 almanacs and were taken by surprise.
Isaac wrote: "Jan. 1, 1889 @ 14 degrees calm and pleasant by noon quite warm and @ 72 degrees in sun, only few degrees from summer heat. ...about half past 2 o'clock eclipse commenced ... by 1/2 past 3 Sun about 2/3 hid. I went up to Beck's after my mail -- Many persons noticed about peculiar Sun shine quite dim for clear day, but did not know of eclipse as but few are provided yet with new almanacs, the latter get short for distribution among drug stores."
On August 21, 2017, Americans will have the opportunity to experience a solar eclipse. Those watching from Central Kansas, where Isaac had his claims, will share the dimness he experienced. However, many Americans will experience the awesomeness of a total eclipse.
|Path of the August 21, 2017 Eclipse|
Isaac's response to the New Year's Day 1889 partial eclipse indicates the noteworthiness of it by the simple fact that he mentioned it in his journal, for it would have been uncharacteristic for Isaac to have elaborated something minor. However, essayist Annie Dillard could have told Isaac, as she tells the rest of us in her essay Reflection: Total Eclipse, "A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane."
Poets have tried to describe the experience, as Emily Dickinson did in 1877. "...Eclipse was all we could see at the Window/And Awe--was all we could feel..." I searched for the words of other poets, but those I found were lame in comparison to Dillard's essay:
"I saw, early in the morning, the sun diminish against a backdrop of sky. I saw a circular piece of that sky appear, suddenly detached, blackened, and backlighted; from nowhere it came and overlapped the sun. It did not look like the moon. It was enormous and black. If I had not read that it was the moon, I could have seen the sight a hundred times and never thought of the moon once. (If, however, I had not read that it was the moon -- if, like most of the world's people throughout time, I had simply glanced up and seen this thing -- then I doubtless would not have speculated much, but would have, like Emperor Lois of Bavaria in 840, simply died of fright on the spot.)"
|Total Solar Eclipse|
No wonder countless Americans who could easily view a partial eclipse from their own front yards are instead choosing to travel to locations along the path of the total eclipse as it crosses our continent, for the first time the path will traverse coast to coast in nearly a century.
Mabel Loomis Todd (1856-1932), (the wife of an astronomer and observatory director, who served as his assistant, edited his scientific papers, and shared many of his research trips), published her own account of a total eclipse, describing the early changes in light and the response of birds and animals to the changing scene. Although her initial descriptions are more academic, the emotional experience of the actual eclipse transforms her language.
"Darker and darker grows the landscape. ...Then, with frightful velocity, the actual shadow of the Moon is often seen approaching, a tangible darkness advancing almost like a wall, swift as imagination, silent as doom. The immensity of nature never comes quite so near, as then, and strong must be the nerves not to quiver as this blue-black shadow rushes upon the spectator with incredible speed. A vast, palpable presence seems overwhelming the world. The blue sky changes to gray or dull purple, speedily becoming more dusky, and a death-like trance seizes upon everything earthly. Birds, with terrified cries, fly bewildered for a moment, and then silently seek their night quarters. Bats emerge stealthily. Sensitive flowers, the scarlet pimpernel, the African mimosa, close their delicate petals, and a sense of hushed expectancy deepens with the darkness. ...Often the very air seems to hold its breath for sympathy; at other times a lull suddenly awakens into a strange wind, blowing with unnatural effect.
Then out upon the darkness grewsome [sic] but sublime, flashes the glory of the incomparable corona, a silvery, soft, unearthly light, with radiant streamers, stretching at times millions of uncomprehended miles into space, while the rosy, flaming protuberances skirt the black rim of the Moon in ethereal splendor. It becomes curiously cold, dew frequently forms, and the chill is perhaps mental as well as physical.
Suddenly, instantaneous as a lightning flash, an arrow of actual sunlight strikes the landscape, and Earth comes to life again, while corona and protuberances melt into the returning brilliance, and occasionally the receding lunar shadow is glimpsed as it flies away with the tremendous speed of its approach." Quoted from her book, "Total Eclipses of the Sun." (Consistent with the habits of her time, the author is identified only as "Mrs. Todd," her personal identity subsumed into her husband's name and reputation.)
|Partial solar eclipse|
On August 21, 2017 the path of the eclipse will give most Americans the opportunity to look to the sky, our safety glasses firmly in place. From the descriptions of a poet, an essayist, and an assistant-astrologist, the experience may be not merely interesting but highly emotional. As Annie Dillard expressed the impact of the solar eclipse on her: "It had been like the death of someone, irrational, that sliding down the mountain pass and into the region of dread. It was like slipping into fever, or falling down that hole in sleep from which you wake yourself whimpering." The images we may see on television and in print, taken through a telescope, may be beautiful, but what we may experience by viewing it ourselves cannot, apparently, be translated to photographs. Now, if only the day will not be overcast!
Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge
Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge