Next week’s eclipse is being hyped to the heavens, and rightly so. A swath of total darkness will cross the entire United States. It will be eery. It also got me thinking about my previous experiences with eclipses – some good, and some not so good.
I’ve never been in a total eclipse, but I’ve been through several partial eclipses. I remember making paper plate viewers in school, but other than that, I have no real memories of the eclipse or eclipses themselves as a child. I don’t even remember when these occurred. According to Wikipedia there were two eclipses visible from North America in the early 1970s. It must have been one of these.
Given the path and date, I’m going to guess it was the March 7, 1970 eclipse that I remember. There was another in 1979 when I would have been a senior in high school, but I don’t remember anything about it.
One of the most striking eclipse events I experienced was in 1984. This was an annular eclipse rather than a total eclipse, but its path of greatest darkness passed right over Greenville.
It was a beautiful clear spring day and I was working at a law firm in downtown Greenville. The peak of the eclipse would occur conveniently during my lunch break. My friend Dwight Moffitt met me for lunch and we joined a gathering crowd on what was then called Coffee Street Plaza.
It did get dark during that eclipse. However, it wasn’t the darkness of a cloud passing over or the darkness of twilight. There was a totally different feel to the darkness, and even though I understood the science behind the event, it was still somewhat unsettling.
The next eclipse I remember was in 1991 while we were on sabbatical in Tucson, Arizona. It would be a partial eclipse for our location.
Tucson is ground zero for astronomical science, with Kitt Peak and other major observatories nearby. The University of Arizona had a large lens and mirror manufacturing facility under the football stadium, of all places. Of course there would be major events on campus for this event. Laura and I joined the throngs at the University.
There were lots of methods for viewing the eclipse available, from elaborate camera obscuras to telescopes to just about anything else. However, for me the most striking thing was how light was filtering through the leaves. Of course I didn’t have a blog back then, but I did write the following in a journal I was keeping at the time:
…Even nature had conspired to show itself off, casting distorted crescent-sun images on any flat surface through any aperture formed by crossed leaves, a cupped hand, etc. Shadows began to look other-worldly, presenting the most striking effect of the event….The crescent sun had almost become an icon – projected in a thousand places by nature and revered in awe by humans.
While not as intense as the 1984 eclipse, it was still cool. The side-effects of the crescent shadows were more impressive than the main event.
But not all eclipse experiences were positive. In 1994 another annular eclipse came through our area. We were not in the path of peak darkness, so it would be a partial eclipse in Greenville.
I was teaching fourth grade at Brushy Creek Elementary School at the time. That morning I sent an e-mail to all of the teachers with details of the eclipse and for them to contact me if they wanted suggestions for safe viewing and activities with their classes.
As soon as I sent out the e-mail I got a response from the principal asking if this was true. Was there really an eclipse happening today? I said there was. She immediately sent a reply to all teachers stating that all outdoor activities, including recess and P.E., were cancelled for the day, and that students should remain indoors at all times. If students had to walk between buildings they should do so quickly and place books over their heads.
My response was…WTF???? Were there deadly eclipse rays of which I was unaware??
The overreaction by the principal was bad enough, but the actions of the other teachers were just as bad. All day I saw teachers quickly herding students between buildings with books over their heads, and not just when the eclipse was taking place. It was the most scientifically ignorant day I think I’ve ever spent in education. I can’t imagine the fear and misinformation that these students were picking up. I had a free period during the eclipse, so at least I got to view it.
I can understand wanting to be cautious because of liability, but this was just plain stupid. To add insult to injury, the next day the Greenville news had a front page story featuring master science teacher Garrison Hall from Taylors Elementary constructing eclipse viewing boxes for his students. I have never forgiven that principal for such an ignorant reaction.
Greenville School district has postponed the first day of school until the day after the eclipse. That should avoid liability as well as the embarrassment of ignorant administrators. From all of the hype surrounding this event, I think the general populace is better educated, and that no one fears those deadly eclipse rays.
Regardless of the weather, it will be a neat experience. I’ll be busy with cameras, but I hope to just take a few seconds to savor the unearthly feeling of darkness in the middle of the day.