Living in the Future

The paths of the last and next coast-to-coast total solar eclipses in the U.S.

If someone asked you to picture the world in the year 2116, 99 years from now, what would you see? Would you see flying cars and colonies on Mars? The future usually doesn’t turn out quite the way we imagine it might. And the world of today probably looks nothing like the Americans of 1918 pictured it. So when the Topeka State Journal published an article on June 8, 1918, about the total solar eclipse that would occur over Kansas that day, with a headline saying “Next Total Eclipse Here Will Be in 2017,” who knows what kinds of images the good folks of Kansas conjured up in their minds.

The June 8, 1918, Topeka State Journal headline about the last coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the U.S.

The Topeka State Journal might have been the one and only newspaper to mention “2017” in a headline that day and NationalEclipse.com has been sharing it online as an example that illustrates that the people who saw the last coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the U.S. might have been thinking about us in the distant future, at least abstractly. It’s an intriguing concept and we thought it would be fun to try to find other mentions of the year 2017 in the contemporary newspaper articles that reported on the 1918 eclipse. There aren’t many, but the few we found are interesting.

But before we take a look at some of those articles, one note of caution. Many of the newspaper stories about eclipses past note how observers used “smoked glass” to view an eclipse. Fortunately, we know a lot more about eye safety today than we did 100 years ago. And we have the technology available to manufacture materials that we know will block 100 percent of the Sun’s harmful infrared and ultraviolet light and all but a tiny fraction of its visible light, allowing us to safely observe an eclipse without damaging our eyes. Always use special eclipse safety glasses when any part of the Sun’s disc is showing and never use items like “smoked glass” or anything else that hasn’t been certified safe for direct solar viewing.

Indeed, the story published by the Alliance Herald on June 13, several days after the 1918 eclipse, notes that the 92 percent partial eclipse in Alliance, Nebraska, was such a big event that observers had a difficult time holding on to their smoked glass. But this article is especially noteworthy because the year 2017 is mentioned by a newspaper located in a town that’s within the 2017 path of totality. It’s a short article, but the Herald reports that “the event was interesting from every standpoint; this eclipse will not occur again for 99 years, the next eclipse occurring in 2017.” In fact, several more total eclipses would be visible in the U.S. during the intervening years, so the newspaper must have been referring to the relatively rare coast-to-coast nature of the 1918 and 2017 eclipses. We wonder if the editors knew that the path of totality would cross right over their own town in 2017.

An article from the Alliance Herald on June 13, 1918. Note that it’s never safe to use homemade items such as “smoked glass” to view an eclipse.

The short blurb about the 1918 eclipse printed on June 14 by the Holt County Sentinel of Oregon, Missouri, reminds us that there was a world war raging in Europe when the eclipse passed overhead in the U.S. Apparently nobody noticed the incorrect date reference, May 8 instead of June 8, before going to print and again we see that observers were using unsafe “smoked glass” to view the 88 percent partial eclipse at their location. Oregon, Missouri, is also within the path of the 2017 eclipse and again we wonder if the locals were aware of this. We also wonder if the newspaper was being playful or if someone just didn’t do the math when they suggested that “those who did not see the eclipse will have another opportunity in the year 2017.”

The Holt County Sentinel, June 14, 1918.

The Arizona Republican published an article on May 30 previewing the 73 percent partial eclipse expected in Phoenix, commenting on the rarity of the coast-to-coast path by saying that “not for 99 years—until 2017—will a similar opportunity come to the United States.” The paper also roughly estimates that it will be an additional 360 years before another total solar eclipse will cross over the states along the 1918 path of totality, apparently not realizing that parts of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and Kansas would all be within the path of the 2017 eclipse.

The Arizona Republican, May 30, 1918.
The Arizona Republican printed a nice map of the 1918 path of totality.

Back east, the New York Sun published reports from the path of totality as well as a local account of the 60 percent partial eclipse in the Big Apple. Not only does the Sun take note of the 2017 eclipse—even mentioning August!—but the paper also cites some of the other upcoming total eclipses in the U.S., in 1923, 1925, 1970, and 1979.

New York Sun - June 9. 1918
The New York Sun mentioned the August 2017 eclipse in its June 9, 1918, edition.
New York Sun - June 9, 1918
Also mentioned by the Sun in 1918 are the upcoming 1923, 1925, 1970, and 1979 eclipses in the U.S.

Finally, we noticed one other reference to the 2017 National Eclipse printed in newspapers around the country in the days following the 1918 event. In his syndicated “On the Spur of the Moment” column of funny facts and amusing anecdotes, humorist Roy K. Moulton says “the next eclipse of the sun visible hereabouts is scheduled for August 2017. Judging by the performance this month, it won’t be worth waiting for.” Perhaps Moulton was clouded out and disappointed with what he saw on June 8. Either that, or what he’s saying is somehow supposed to be funny and we’re just not getting the 1918 humor.

A reference to a disappointing eclipse viewing or a 1918 attempt at humor?

NationalEclipse.com grants permission to reprint this article on the condition that the text is not altered in any way and a clickable link to NationalEclipse.com is conspicuously provided.

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