Sunday, July 17, 2011

Item From the Past: The Eclipse of July 20, 1963

I found this picture in a box of mostly '50s and early '60s black-and-white images at my mother's house last year.

I'm the one sitting on the stairs to the left, the smallest boy in the picture, wearing only shorts. It gets pretty hot in North Texas during the summer, after all. I was a little younger then, just two years old, because according to the information on the back of the print, the photo was taken by my father on July 20, 1963.

The date is significant because there was a solar eclipse visible from much of North America that day -- a partial eclipse from our vantage. According to my brother Jay, 11 at the time and holding a camera in the picture, it was a highly publicized event. Naturally I have no memory of it.

This NASA map shows that totality was visible mostly in Canada, but also in parts of Alaska and Maine. Curiously, the eclipse figures in "Seven Twenty Three," a third-season episode of Mad Men. When Don Draper's daughter and some other school kids are out looking at the eclipse through camera obscuras that a teacher, the fetching Miss Farrell, helps them make, it's a chance for Don to eye Miss Farrell more closely than the eclipse.

Fictional characters weren't the only ones using camera obscuras that day, it seems.

I've experienced a couple of partial solar eclipses that I do remember: one on March 7, 1970 and another on May 30, 1984. In 1970, I made my own camera obscura, which worked well enough even though the day was partly cloudy in San Antonio. Before I went inside, I had to see the thing with my own eyes, despite being warned ad nauseam against it. I glanced upward for an instant and my timing was perfect. I saw the bright disk of the Sun, the dark disk of the Moon, and clouds rolling past them, all in a fraction of a second. No harm done.

In 1984, North America experienced an annular eclipse. I worked part time as a proofreader for a publisher in Nashville in those days, and all of us in the proofreading ghetto noticed a distinct dimming of the daylight. We were in a single-story office building, so we spilled out into the parking lot for a few minutes. The sky was clear and this time I didn't look at the solar or lunar disks. But I didn't need to for the full experience. It was the strangest daylight I've ever seen, as if a dimmer switch had been turning down the Sun.

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At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record, the other boys in the picture are: Chuck Wilkes, next to Dees; John Wilkes, next to Jay; and Johnny White, lower right, looking into the camera. The top of the head at the bottom of the picture appears to belong to Jim Stribling. -JVS


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