The Total Eclipse of the Sun
Consistent with the historian’s buoyant approach to Benton County history, his 1878 history does not report on blizzard or flood, drought or insects. But it does report on an awesome natural phenomenon that occurred August 7, 1869. On that day, in an area purportedly 156 miles in breadth, Benton County residents could witness a total eclipse of the sun.
Since the historian finds no Benton County records of the event, he turns to the report of astronomer E. Colbert who witnessed the eclipse from Des Moines with the aid of a telescope. The historian writes, “When the disk of the sun was almost covered and the light began to diminish sensibly, a chilliness crept into the air, not like the coolness of a Summer evening, but like the biting fingers of a Winter storm. This reduction in temperature was almost awful in its swift approach. Birds and domestic fowls sought their roosts, dogs and horses manifested much uneasiness and in some instances positive terror, and even cattle huddled together in fear at the swiftly approaching darkness.”
He goes on to describe the “exceedingly irregular” outline of the corona: “irregularity was not perceptible with the naked eye….To the unaided vision the narrower portions of the corona were visible and bright; but the tongue-like extensions faded out into nothingness, whereas the telescope gave a definite outline all around, except at the summit of the first-named protrusion….The instant that the last film of light had vanished, leaving the sun in utter darkness, and simultaneously with the out-flash of the corona, the line of protuberances in the south limb burst into view. Soon after the western edge of the moon had advanced sufficiently to uncover the protuberances on that side, and the four largest remained distinctly visible till the last glimmer of light was visible, when they vanished with the corona, leaving the world [Benton Co] in the deep darkness of total eclipse. …It was an interval of absolute silence and of total darkness; for the eyes of the observer had been contracted by the rays of the sun, and needed two or three seconds to dilate sufficiently to distinguish any object whatever. Nothing terrestrial could be seen, the darkness was too great; but by looking upward the stars could be noticed to creep out, one by one, until over a dozen could be discerned with the naked eye.”
Source: SHSI: History of Benton County, Chicago, 1878; on-line image: Martin Bernetti/AFP in “Total solar eclipse 2019,” Aljazeera, July 2, 2019.