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A New Year's Eclipse

New Year's Day in Omaha in 1889 was crisp but sunny. "The streets were thronged from 9 o'clock in the morning," said the Omaha Daily Bee on January 2. "The saloons were liberally patronized, as have also the contents of the capacious punch bowls, with which enterprising dealers love, on these festive occasions, to grace their boards. There was but little attention paid to devotional exercises, and still less to the formal observance of the much-abused custom of calling. . . . Business, of course, was suspended, and in homes where comfort and happiness rule there have been family dinners and family reunions . . . . The theatres had large matinee audiences, the cars, horse, cable and motor were filled, and in fact the prevailing disposition of everybody was to do something entirely different from that of every day life, as if impelled to it by the spirit of the day and the glorious sunshine with which it has been blessed by heaven."

The most memorable feature of New Year's Day in 1889, however, was a solar eclipse that occurred between three and four o'clock in the afternoon. Such an eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, and the moon fully or partially covers the sun as viewed from a location on earth. The Bee on December 23, 1888, had announced: "The new year will make its debut with an eclipse of the sun, which will be total on the Pacific slope, and partial in these parts. Very few of the present generation have seen a solar eclipse on New Year's day."

The Bee reported on January 2: "Here in Omaha about four-fifths of the sun was covered by the dark body of the moon about 4 o'clock, at which time the light was sickly and wan. That was all. The sun looked like a crescent through smoked glass, but in spite of the moon's bad behavior, what was left of his sunship was too powerful to be regarded by the naked eye."

The eclipse was also a major attraction in Lincoln. The Capital City Courier reported on January 5: "The eclipse on New Year's day was plainly visible in this section and proved an interesting spectacle for thousands of persons who delight in viewing the heavenly bodies. Many Lincolnites began to look for the great blot about three o'clock, but it was not until about four o'clock that the eclipse presented its most beautiful appearance. Seen through a piece of smoked glass afforded the best view and in this way the sun had more the appearance of a half moon than of the great luminary."

In McCook the eclipse was described by the McCook Tribune on January 4 as a "beautiful vision, and during the sun's partial and short obscuration many McCookites gazed upon the scene in genial admiration, as their language would indicate. During a certain stage in the proceedings the sight was truly sublime, even to the naked eye."

From Mabel Loomis Todd's, Total Eclipses of the Sun (Boston, 1900).

(December 2011)



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