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The Great Eclipse of 1878

Written by Dick Perue

Thousands of folks are expected to crowd into Wyoming and carefully turn their special sunglass-protected eyes to the sky about 11 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 21 to witness a total eclipse of the sun that will cross the U.S. from shore to shore.

However, today’s eclipse madness is nothing new to the Cowboy State. In 1878, crowds from all across the country gathered in a path of totality that spanned from Montana to Texas. In addition to the tourists who traveled specifically to experience the celestial event, many of the scientific luminaries of the day also made the journey to Rawlins, led by noted astronomer Henry Draper and including inventor Thomas Edison.

Following is how the “Laramie Weekly Sentinel” reported the coming of the great eclipse in its July 20, 1878, edition:

The Great Eclipse

The eclipse of the sun, which is to occur on the 29th, one week from next Monday, is, to us in this region, an event of more than usual interest.

It is bringing a large number of scientific men here from all over the world for the purpose of witnessing the eclipse and making new discoveries and observations. The moon’s shadow will sweep over a belt of country averaging about 110 miles wide, extending from the province of Irkoutsk in Siberia through Behring Straits and Alaska, leaving Salt Lake a little to the southwest, over Denver and Colorado Springs, through Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, ending just beyond the island of San Domingo. Outside the belt of totality, the phenomenon will be visible as a partial eclipse from every part of North America, except where bad weather interferes with the observation.

The eclipse will be total here for about a minute. It will commence at a quarter past two in the afternoon and end at half past three. During the period of totality, the darkness will be almost complete, so that one can scarcely see figures or hands on a watch, or recognize a person across the street. Stars of the third magnitude will be visible. It will be of the nature of deep twilight. This interesting phenomenon will be witnessed by scientific parties, from Denver, the summit of Pike’s Peak, from Rawlins and Creston in this Territory, and from various other points. The Denver Times publishes an interesting article on the subject, profusely illustrated.

Another article reports:

West. Personal.

During the few moments the train stopped here last evening, we had an introduction to Professor Edison, the great inventor. Mr. Edison is quite a young man. He wears no beard, which gives him boyish appearance. The most remarkable indication of greatness is that, like the editor, he has a very large nose, which, an exchange says, is indicative of "his disposition to pry into things."

Mr. Edison is a very social, genial gentleman. Neither his greatness nor the annoyance incident to it has spoiled him. He met here his old chum, Johnny Allyn, of Wyoming station. He and John were office boys together in their younger days, and Edison seemed as pleased to meet him as if they had been brothers. He goes up to Rawlins to view and make some experiments in connection with the eclipse.

The Draper expedition and Edison’s fishing trip to Battle Lake in the Sierra Madres near Encampment provide great viewing for future Postcards, unless this writer forgets to write while out fishing.