I remember Monday, February 26th, 1979 like it was yesterday! The night before, my father lectured me on the importance of not looking directly at the sun during the next day’s solar eclipse. In fact, the next morning, the day of the solar eclipse, I wondered if his hour long preparatory remarks had been a dream. As a 5 year old, I couldn’t really grasp why I wasn’t supposed to look at the sun. As you can imagine, my understanding of astrophysics and the movement of celestial bodies was limited.
The Solar Eclipse of 1979
The morning of the solar eclipse, I walked from our house to the nearby hospital with my two sisters and brother that were living at home at the time. I’m the youngest of seven kids and the oldest three had left for college by that time. The hospital was the location of the unofficial watch party.
As we walked there, the eclipse hadn’t started yet so the sky looked like any other sky. Upon arrival at the hospital, there was a contraption that allowed the sun to peer through a pin hole and project the sun at the back of a cardboard box. Very strange.
I’ll never forget, as we’re waiting for the eclipse to occur, an older nurse was standing outside saying, “I better enjoy this one because the next one isn’t until 2017 and I won’t be around for that!” Her comments struck me as odd for two reasons. First, 2017 seemed so far off. 38 years to be exact. Second, I couldn’t believe how calm she was in knowing that she would be dead before the next solar eclipse. How could she be so cavalier about her mortality?! I feel like I knew you couldn’t stave off death, even at that age. But I couldn’t believe she was so accepting of her fate.
The eclipse started and the image of a crescent sun at the back of the cardboard box was less than satisfying. I did notice another nurse using X-ray film as eye protection as she looked to the heavens. I then heard someone else say that really wasn’t adequate eye protection from the suns UV rays. Funny how X-ray film is no longer used in hospitals. They’ve been replaced with digital images on a computer screen. So even if X-ray films are indeed appropriate retinal protection, you can’t find those films just like you can’t find a Kodak camera anymore.
Disappointed by the solar eclipse reflected on the back of that cardboard box, we headed home. But as we walked along Bob Street, a street that is literally 20 yards long, I saw hundreds of little crescents on the ground. As the sun’s rays came through the tree leaves overhead, the effects of the moon in front of the sun were evident.
What an amazing phenomenon. Totally mind blowing and will always be imprinted in my mind’s eye. And even better, I was able to experience the solar eclipse without looking directly at the sun and saving my sight for another day!