By Brie Blasi
Sweetwater County Historical Museum 

Green River and the eclipse of 1918

 

August 16, 2017



Green River may not be in the “path of totality” for the 2017 total solar eclipse. Ninety-nine years ago, however, Green River became the temporary home of the world’s leading astronomers who came here for the best view of the 1918 total solar eclipse. During that eclipse, both Rock Springs and Green River were in the exact path of the eclipse, which was visible here June 8 at 5:17 p.m. Months earlier, various railroads began advertising eclipse excursions and the newspapers were touting the eclipse as a once-in-a-lifetime, not-to-be-missed event, just as hotels and other hospitality industries are doing for this year’s eclipse. In a year when more than 5,000 boys from Sweetwater County had been called up to serve in World War I, the eclipse surely offered some welcome distraction.

By May of 1918, crews were busy building an observatory between Castle Rock and the Teakettle and Sugar Bowl rock formations in what today is called Wild Horse Canyon. Dr. E.B. Frost led a team of several professors and students from the Yerkes Observatory at the University of Chicago to observe, record, and study the 1918 total solar eclipse. They even used a modified movie camera belonging to one of the professors, Dr. Isham, to film the eclipse.


Another crew of astronomers from the Carnegie Institution in California set up equipment just west of Castle Rock. Longtime Green River resident Carl Morck says the metal rod that can be seen sticking out sideways from one of the smaller rocks in front of Castle Rock is a leftover piece from this 1918 equipment. A third party from Salt Lake City, comprised partially of students from the University of Utah and the now defunct All Hallows college arrived the morning of the eclipse and hastily set up some equipment between the two other observatories.

Green Riverites were probably among some of the best informed citizens along the path of the 1918 eclipse since professor E.E. Bernard offered a free lecture illustrated by lantern slides at the Congregational Church. His lecture explained exactly what an eclipse was, all about the sun in relation to stars and other celestial bodies, what the scientists would be studying, and what kind of equipment they would be using. For those who couldn’t attend, a lengthy article in the Green River Star filled the rest of the citizenry in.

On June 7, the day before the eclipse, the paper warned that experiencing the eclipse could be terrifying. Besides the “weird” darkness at mid-day, they advised those without special astronomical observing equipment to watch for chickens going to roost, to lookout for visible stars and planets, and to place a white sheet on the ground to better observe the “shadow bands or ripples of light and shade.” There were no warnings about ocular damage that can be incurred by looking directly at a solar eclipse, but another entry reminded readers to “get that smoked glass ready.” Smoked glass would most likely not stand up to the standards NASA advises today for viewing materials to look at an eclipse.


Although “much anxiety was felt by all at the presence of clouds during the early afternoon,” viewers had clear skies at 5:17 p.m. The newspaper reported that as the sun began to disappear behind the dark disc, “a sort of uneasiness…took hold…and all voices blended in a confused murmur.” Birdsong ceased, the temperature dropped several degrees, and chickens did indeed go to roost, according to the reporter.

But when the uneasiness had passed, most agreed that Green River had “the time of its life.” We may not be in the path of totality for the 2017 total eclipse on Aug. 21, but let’s hope Green River still has a great time during this rare event.

 

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