44 Years After the Eclipse

This morning I was reading about all the trouble astronomers used to go through to watch the transit of the planet Venus across the sun, especially in the 1760s.  It reminded me of another rare astronomical event, a total solar eclipse, and how on this day, forty-four years ago, I tried to catch one.  For a year or two before March 7, 1970, I knew an eclipse was coming to the southeastern US, and it would be visible from Florida.  However, the sun would be 95 percent covered from Orlando’s point of view.  To see the effects of a total eclipse, the nearest place was Perry, a small town in north Florida about 200 miles away.

The Central Florida Museum (forerunner to today’s Orlando Science Center) offered a bus ride to Perry and back for $7 a ticket, so my mother and I went along.  We got to a field outside Perry a few minutes before the critical time, got out our equipment (mostly pinhole-camera boxes and layers of negative film), and waited.  Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate.  We happened to have an overcast sky that day, so clouds eclipsed the eclipse!  All we got to see was a dark shadow rapidly covering the sky, and then the sunlight coming in just as quickly from the same direction.  There hasn’t been a total solar eclipse near me since then.

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