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I was fortunate enough to be able to visit family living in the path of totality for the solar eclipse on April 8. The day started out rainy, but the rain stopped around midday, with the sun making its first appearance from behind the clouds shortly before the beginning of the eclipse. The cloud cover increased continually through the first half of the eclipse, but with mere seconds before the start of totality, the sun broke free of the clouds, and we were able to see the entire total phase of the eclipse and the remainder of the partial phase unobstructed.

Cloud cover was not an issue in Norfolk for the total solar eclipse that passed over the city on May 28, 1900. Two of the city’s dailies, the Norfolk Dispatch and the Public Ledger carried extensive stories about the eclipse as visible from Norfolk, the prominent observers in the city, and the reactions of the people of Norfolk as they were able to observe a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical phenomenon.

Outside of the path of totality, the eclipse also received front-page mention in the Harrisonburg Evening News, but the reaction to the nearly 90 percent coverage of the sun there was decidedly unimpressed.

The federal government took advantage of a total solar eclipse being visible so close to Washington, DC. The Weather Bureau, then under the Department of Agriculture, and the Smithsonian Institution both sent observers to Norfolk and later published reports about the eclipse, Eclipse Meteorology and Allied Problems (1902) and The 1900 Solar Eclipse Expedition of the Astrophysical Observatory of the Smithsonian Institution (1904), both of which are available at the Library of Virginia as part of our federal documents collection and can be seen in the excerpts below.

Even President McKinley, his wife, and some cabinet members sailed down from D. C. to view the eclipse right off the coast in the U. S. S. Dolphin. The Public Ledger ended its own reporting of the phenomenon by stating “Norfolk is to be congratulated upon the good fortune of her geographical position on this notable occasion.”

Having seen a total solar eclipse, I now fully understand why people who are not a part of the scientific community travel around the world to view them. The next total solar eclipse that will be widely visible in the continental United States will occur on August 12, 2045, and the next total solar eclipse where the path of totality will travel through Virginia, once again passing over Norfolk, will occur on May 11, 2078.

Nathan Verilla

Reference Archivist

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