Tag Archives: Big Horn Basin

In the Dark of the Sun

Though Monday’s total solar eclipse will not be the first seen in Wyoming, it will be the first in nearly 100 years. Of the 5 other total solar eclipses visible in the US since Wyoming became a territory in 1869, 3 have passed through Wyoming: 1878, 1889, and 1918. These unique events were memorable for many Wyomingites.

This maps shows past and future eclipses visible in the United States since 1503. Wyoming is highlighted in yellow. (credit NASA https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/history-along-track)

1878

Eclipse viewing party with their telescopes at Battle Lake in 1878. Thomas Edison is standing 2nd from the right.
(Carbon County Museum Collection, WSA Sub Neg 5219)

The area near Rawlins drew scientists from around the country, including Thomas Edison, for the 1878 eclipse. (Unsubstantiated) legend has it that Edison was inspired to create the filament for the incandescent light bulb while camping that year. (Read more about the 1878 eclipse here)

Scanned by Scan2Net

In Cheyenne, the Weather Service observer recorded a 4 degree drop in temperature during the event (WSA H90-1, National Weather Service – Cheyenne Collection, 1878 Daily Observations)

1889

In 1889, the eclipse coincided with New Year’s Day festivities in many communities and viewing parties sprang up everywhere. In the larger towns, newspapers gave their residents some warning of the event. The Big Horn Sentinel wrote:

“If you have not prayed for a year, do not get scared and fall on your knees Tuesday afternoon when it begins to grow dark. It is not the day of judgement only an eclipse which will begin about two o’clock and become nearly total.” [1] 

But the event surprised many in rural communities. In in the Big Horn Basin near Hyattville, Gus Allen remembered a horse race being delayed by the eclipse. The race  between his brother and their horse wrangler was held at a track at Joe Adle’s ranch.

“I do not recall the day, or the month, but feel rather confident that it was in 1888[2] ; anyway, when the time came the world was there. At least all of our world was there. How vivid is the memory yet, of all the excitement among the gathering of frontiersmen. Everyone was so keyed up over the race that no one knew or had noticed that an eclipse was coming over the sun; but when all was in readiness and the two brother jockeys were getting their racers on the mark, it got so dark that everyone was appalled. The race was delayed, and we all gazed in awe at one another. I have no idea how long it lasted, but believe you me, it really got plenty dusky. Then it began to get light once more, and I can still hear those old roosters crowing, as all of Adle’s chickens had gone to roost. That must have been the shortest night those chickens had ever experienced in their lives. You can well imagine how shady it got that bright clear day, and how astonished we people were, being more familiar with cows than with astronomy.

After the sun got real bright once more, and we all had brightened up too, the two determined disciples of the turf once more lined up at the barrier and were off!…” [3]  

Many newspapers mention the use of smoked glass to view the eclipse. The Rawlins paper even reported young boys breaking windows with rocks to procure the glass. [4] (PLEASE NOTE: Smoked glass is NOT RECOMMENDED for safe viewing of eclipses. Find ideas for viewing safe viewing here)

Though the path of totality cut through only the Northeastern corner of the state, the eclipse was nearly complete in the rest of the state. Several papers mentioned  it was so dark that Venus (the morning star) was visible.

Scanned from a Xerox Multifunction Device

The Weather Service observer in Cheyenne recorded a 10 degree drop in temperature during the event (WSA H90-1, National Weather Service – Cheyenne Collection, 1889 Daily Observations)

1918 – The Last “Great American Eclipse”

On June 8, 1918, the total solar eclipse passed across the United States from coast to coast, as it will on Monday. One of the best places in Wyoming to view the eclipse was around Green River and Rock Springs. Two astronomical observatories were set up in the area by the Yerkes Observatory at the University of Chicago and the Carnegie Institution at Mt. Wilson, California. A small tornado narrowly missed the observatory in Green River on the 3rd, but thankfully it was operational on the 8th for the main event.[5] 

Cheyenne photographer Joseph Shimitz captured this image of the solar eclipse on June 8, 1918. The eclipse is not total at this instant. The clouds, which made for a striking photograph, created less than idea viewing conditions. Several people can be seen in the foreground at the very bottom of the frame.
(WSA Meyers Neg 6162)

On the day of the eclipse, the view from Rock Springs was clear, but at Green River the sun was obscured by cloud cover. This dampened spirits a bit, but they were soon revived when Dr. E.E. Barnard, who was in charge of the Yerkes observatory, observed a new star that night which he named “Nova Aquilae”, as reported by the Rock Springs Miner.[6]


1.  Big Horn Sentinel, December 29, 1888, page 3

2. Allen was only off by a year and New Year’s Day would have been a logical date for a community celebration. WPA Bio 9, Gus Allen, page 5-7

3. ibid.

4. Carbon County Journal January 5, 1889, page 3

5. Green River Star May 17, 1918 page 1, and  Cheyenne State Leader June 4, 1918, page 3

6. Rock Springs Miner June 14, 1918, page 1. Nova Aquilae 1918 is also known as V603 Aquilae. For more information about Dr. Barnard, the 1918 eclipse and Nova Aquilae, see The Immortal Fire Within: The Life and Work of Edward Emerson Barnard, by William Sheehan, page 405-407.

Further Reading:

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