The following recollection (related by Joe McFarland) is that given by C.A. Young of Princeton to New York's Church of the Strangers
on Jan 16, 1883. It tells the story of his experience at the total eclipse of August 7, 1869, and shows us how universal the human reactions
to a total eclipse are!
This eclipse (which passed over Alaska and the continental United States) was also noteworthy, in that the astronomer and explorer George Davidson
made a sort of peace with the Chilkat Native tribe in Alaska, by telling them what was about to happen... on the day before it did. This obviously impressed
them enough to allow Davidson and his party to continue their explorations in peace!
Ladies and Gentlemen: I think - indeed, I feel very sure - that there is no natural phenomenon more interesting, more beautiful than an eclipse - especially a total
eclipse - of the Sun. There are some others that may, perhaps, claim to outrank it in some respects - a tornado, or an earthquake, for instance - but at such times
as those the element of personal terror is present and an observer is in no condition to note and admire the phenomena of nature taking place around him. In the
case of a total eclipse of the sun there is nothing of that sort. All things conspire to make it an occasion of extreme interest and to reach the sensibility of
a man. The slow but predicted and exactly timed attack of the moon upon the Sun, the swift and inexorable passage of the dark disc of the moon across the disc
of the Sun, the gradual darkening, the unnatural tints that discolor the landscape, the coming of the shadow, the fright of the birds and beasts and their
sudden flight, and then, all at once, the instant blackening of the sky and the outburst of stars and the corona radiating out from behind the Moon as a sort of
silvery star in a sky perfectly calm and unchangeable, and the ruby gems that stud the disc of the Moon; and then, after it is over, the sudden flash of light
from the Sun - all these things, I say, taken together, constitute something which one who has seen it could never possibly forget. An impression is made that is
never lost. And then, besides that, I may add the great scientific interest of the event. If at such times we have the opportunity of reaching problems that we
cannot touch at any other time or in any other way. When the sun is thus covered up and the illumination of our own atmosphere hidden from us so that we can
study the surroundings of the Sun and the space about it, we have the means of investigating the Sun's upper atmosphere, the question of bodies circulating around
the Sun and nearer to it than any other planets with which we are acquainted, and these are opportunities that we do not get at any other time.
Pardon me if I refer to an experience of my own at this time of the eclipse of August 07 1869. It was a bright, clear summer afternoon following a rainy day before.
So that we were proportionately exultant on account of having been saved from defeat by the sudden outcoming of the clear sky. I say it was a bright, clear summer
afternoon when our party observed that eclipse. My station was at Burlington, Ia. - a little outside of the city. Eastward was the prairie, westward the Iowa plains.
Just about 3 o'clock, at the predicted time almost to a second, three mountains on the edge of the moon struck the Sun's disc, and we all noticed it at the same
moment. The less than half hour the Sun's disc was half covered and the landscape began to take on the appearance of a dark, cloudy day, although the shadows were
still bright and distinct. A little later it seemed as if a thunder storm was about to come upon us. The air became stiller, and the birds and beasts showed signs
of fear and discomfort. A little later everything assumed unnatural tint, from the fact that, from the light of the outer portions of the Sun's disc is different
in color from the central portions, and when the Sun's disc was covered up and there was nothing but the outer strip and the outlying corona, a sort of purplish
light, something like the electric light in the evening, changed things very seriously, and very curiously. Every little shadow formed by the leaves of the trees,
instead of being a round, circular spot as usual, was a little crescent moon on the ground. A little later somebody called attention to the gathering blackness in
the west, and before we knew it fairly burst upon us, rushing upon us with a speed of about 2,000 miles an hour - twice as fast as a cannon ball from the mouth of
a gun travels - and darkness came upon us with a flash, and the stars were visible instantly, with the corona shining with the pearly light I have mentioned. Our
eyes, of course, very soon became accustomed to this, so that when the light broke out about two minutes later the contrast was as impressive as when the darkness
came upon us. I remember the fact specially from this. It was my business to observe with the spectroscope, and my instrument was so placed that my back was toward
the Sun, and just as the shadow came upon us I applied my eye to the instrument and did not take it off until I had finished the examination on one side of the
Sun's disc. My assistant took notes for me, as I told him what I saw and what he should set down in his note-book, and then I told him to bring now the other side
of the Sun, or the edge of the Moon - for there were both Sun and Moon, one covering the other. I told him to bring the other edge of the disc to the slit of the
spectroscope. I turned and looked over my shoulder. It was the only glimpse which I had of it. I don't remember to this day anything that happened within the
fifteen minutes preceding. My notes are in the book, and I know I saw such and such things, but I don't remember it at all. The impression was such as to
completely overwhelm and blot out every thing that had happened for some time before. I think that something like that is the experience of every one who for the
first time sees this event.