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We peeked at a solar eclipse

web1_RickHouser.jpgBy Rick Houser –

When I was growing up it seemed events we heard about or were going to be affected by were talked about in advance by all  types of media and we all intently listened as we were informed. The daily newspapers would print a series of articles telling us in details what they felt we should know. The television stations would have spots on the nightly news of pointers to watch for or listen to. As informed as we are today in this age of instant information, it seems I felt more informed then than I am now.
One such event that comes to mind was in the late summer of maybe 1962 or 1963, a total Solar Eclipse. This is a phenomenon that really is rare and based on the nightly news and the Cincinnati Enquirer was so rare that missing it would cause you to be shamed by the entire human race.
So once I heard of the eclipse I went to my friends’ house and asked Herb and Charlie Marshall if they had heard about this amazing event. Both said that of course they had heard of it and didn’t want to miss it and be outcast from society. Of course I in no way wanted to be the one person on earth to miss a total Solar Eclipse.
As the day of the event drew closer and more details were released, we learned that there were precautions that needed to be taken in order to watch this event or a person could risk going blind. The Marshall Brothers were very smart but also inventive and resourceful and understood Science and Astronomy. The last two items were definitely not my strengths but I was curious about seeing the eclipse for sure. I figured the three of us working together would succeed and in no way miss this event.
We were told that to observe the eclipse we needed tinted glass. We each had a pair of sun glasses and hoped that would suffice. We were wrong as the very next day the newspapers said sunglasses alone wouldn’t work. They stated that for the average person, window pane glass being smoked over a fire and several layers of glass would lesson our chances of any sight impairment, so we went to the dump on our farm and after rummaging around for a couple of hours we found what we felt was an adequate amount of window glass.
Since we were not allowed to be around fire or possess matches the next step was a bit more difficult. We took the glass and matches to our club house and built a small fire and by Herb’s instructions we mixed in green leaves to cause the fire to smoke heavily. Charlie would look at the smoked glass and decide if it was enough smoke or not. As for me I got to hold the glass over the smoke and as my eyes watered and my nose ran while I coughed, I did my part very well.
Timing is everything in life and the eclipse was to take place on a late Saturday afternoon. This was great for us as the week’s work had been completed and we had all the time we needed. On that afternoon Herb and Charlie rode their bikes over to my house with the smoked glass. They had been reading the articles and listening to the news and had become experts on how this was to be done.
Herb instructed us to find enough flat rocks that would allow us to place the smoked glass in an elevated position. We did that and then each of us had our opinion on how they were to be stacked. As the time grew closer we became less concerned. It had been decided that I would get my parents’ camera and we could take a picture of the sun when the earth was in total darkness around 4 pm.
One last detail was just which direction we were to look to see the eclipse.  Since we were all pretty smart we decided aiming our view toward the west was the best bet. Mom let me have the camera and was thrilled we were doing something scientific and my Dad pulled up a lawn chair under a nearby tree and just watched the live entertainment in his yard.  About 3:30 the sun began to darken on one edge so we took our places after we put on our sun glasses and also brought into play a mirror so we would be looking at the reflection instead of directly at the eclipse which would increase our safety.
All seemed to be going smooth until we inserted the smoked panes of glass. We, in being overly cautious, had smoked the glass to the point that we couldn’t see through it. Still wanting to observe the eclipse, we began to remove a pane at a time hoping that our view would become much clearer but to no avail. I’m not sure if it was Charlie or Herb but someone suggested that I try to aim the camera at the sun (and not look) so we could preserve it in a picture. Seemed like  it was worth a try.
As we fumbled and stumbled, the sky took on an almost cloudy look but to our disappointment the earth didn’t turn to night but just dim. I noticed that the cattle were coming in from the pasture and headed to the barn just as they did at sunset, and I informed the guys that the sun must be totally covered.
Knowing that history was slipping away from us we looked at each other and we made our decision. With only sun glasses on we took a quick glimpse straight at the sun. Yep, we looked. To this day I’m not sure if we were foolish or brave but we got a quick look at a Solar Eclipse, and I did point the camera and took a picture. The sun didn’t stay dark for long but as the moon moved away it was obvious that day was returning. I looked over at the barn and as the sky light got stronger the cattle headed back to the pasture. I’m sure they were a little bit confused but hey, so were we.
We did see the solar eclipse, and we looked, and didn’t lose our vision for which we were all grateful. The day ended with Dad asking us to clean up the mess we had made in the yard.
As for the picture I took? I got the sun on the camera. However when the picture was developed the sun was so tiny that if a person didn’t know it was there, they wouldn’t see it. The bottom line is that the three of us saw a total eclipse and my parents were there to witness that we did. Best of all, we weren’t shunned from the human race
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at houser734@yahoo.com.

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