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Eclipse 2024: How were eclipses viewed in the 19th Century?

todayFebruary 8, 2024 9

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MUMFORD, N.Y. (WROC) — As of Thursday, we’re now just two months away from the total solar eclipse. Of course, this isn’t the first eclipse to ever happen or that’s been anticipated ahead of time. According to Mary Challman, the Senior Director of the Genesee Country Village & Museum, eclipses have been predicted since as early as the 1800s and they’ve been as big of events as our upcoming one.

“The Great American Eclipse that happened in the western states. So all the way from Washington through Colorado and down to Texas. And that drew huge crowds and was a huge event,” said Challman.

Happening in 1878, that eclipse went off without a hitch. In true Rochester fashion though, the one that was at least partially visible in 1860, it was cloudy here.

“There was one here in Rochester in 1860 that hopefully won’t turn out like ours this year. It was a little too cloudy. There was a whole scientific expedition sent up north of here and they missed it, because they couldn’t see the eclipse,” said Challman.

While the 1860 scientific expedition may have been a flop, the 19th century was rife with scientific observations during the 1878 Great American Eclipse with history being made in many forms.

“With this 1878 eclipse, it was right at the advent of celestial photography. And so people were bringing out their tintype [and] daguerreotype cameras to try and capture this like majesty of the eclipse to varying degrees of success. It was considered like a scientific revelation when someone actually captured a photograph of the eclipse,” said Challman.

Another major milestone was through Maria Mitchell, one of the first female professors of Astronomy, who led a team of women out to make observations during the eclipse as well.

“[It was] this huge push for scientific observation. And it was really this cool moment of just an expanded, like just growth mindset where science was advancing and the U.S. was growing…it was this really sort of explosive event that happened that was like internationally recognized,” said Challman.

Despite many scientific advances that happened during this time, the way many viewed the eclipse was not the safest. At least by our modern-day standards.

“People would do what’s called a smoked glass. So you would put a piece of glass over a candle and let a little bit of the soot get on top of the glass, and then you could theoretically safely observe the eclipse. But for a lot of people, they were just using the naked eye. or squinting or, you know, something like that,” said Challman.

Eclipse Safety: How to protect your eyes

Today of course eclipse glasses are readily available and should, outside of a rated solar filter on a camera or telescope, be the only way you view the eclipse. If you have an interest in seeing this eclipse through the lens of the 19th century, the GCV&M is hosting a viewing party but tickets are going fast.

“The event that we’re gonna have here, you’re gonna actually get to experience not only the modern eclipse, you’ll get to see it through a 19th-century lens where you’ll get to learn about some of the really exciting and dynamic histories of scientists and astronomers,” said Challman. “You’ll get to participate in the drawing of the corona. You’ll get to see our print office make some replicate some newspapers from the 19th century that we’re writing and publishing about eclipses of the time.”

More information and ticket information can be found on the Genesee Country Village & Museum website.

​ MUMFORD, N.Y. (WROC) — As of Thursday, we’re now just two months away from the total solar eclipse. Of course, this isn’t the first eclipse to ever happen or that’s been anticipated ahead of time. According to Mary Challman, the Senior Director of the Genesee Country Village & Museum, eclipses have been predicted since as early as the 1800s and they’ve been as big of events as our upcoming one.

“The Great American Eclipse that happened in the western states. So all the way from Washington through Colorado and down to Texas. And that drew huge crowds and was a huge event,” said Challman.

Happening in 1878, that eclipse went off without a hitch. In true Rochester fashion though, the one that was at least partially visible in 1860, it was cloudy here.

“There was one here in Rochester in 1860 that hopefully won’t turn out like ours this year. It was a little too cloudy. There was a whole scientific expedition sent up north of here and they missed it, because they couldn’t see the eclipse,” said Challman.

While the 1860 scientific expedition may have been a flop, the 19th century was rife with scientific observations during the 1878 Great American Eclipse with history being made in many forms.

“With this 1878 eclipse, it was right at the advent of celestial photography. And so people were bringing out their tintype [and] daguerreotype cameras to try and capture this like majesty of the eclipse to varying degrees of success. It was considered like a scientific revelation when someone actually captured a photograph of the eclipse,” said Challman.

Another major milestone was through Maria Mitchell, one of the first female professors of Astronomy, who led a team of women out to make observations during the eclipse as well.

“[It was] this huge push for scientific observation. And it was really this cool moment of just an expanded, like just growth mindset where science was advancing and the U.S. was growing…it was this really sort of explosive event that happened that was like internationally recognized,” said Challman.

Despite many scientific advances that happened during this time, the way many viewed the eclipse was not the safest. At least by our modern-day standards.

“People would do what’s called a smoked glass. So you would put a piece of glass over a candle and let a little bit of the soot get on top of the glass, and then you could theoretically safely observe the eclipse. But for a lot of people, they were just using the naked eye. or squinting or, you know, something like that,” said Challman.
Eclipse Safety: How to protect your eyes
Today of course eclipse glasses are readily available and should, outside of a rated solar filter on a camera or telescope, be the only way you view the eclipse. If you have an interest in seeing this eclipse through the lens of the 19th century, the GCV&M is hosting a viewing party but tickets are going fast.

“The event that we’re gonna have here, you’re gonna actually get to experience not only the modern eclipse, you’ll get to see it through a 19th-century lens where you’ll get to learn about some of the really exciting and dynamic histories of scientists and astronomers,” said Challman. “You’ll get to participate in the drawing of the corona. You’ll get to see our print office make some replicate some newspapers from the 19th century that we’re writing and publishing about eclipses of the time.”

More information and ticket information can be found on the Genesee Country Village & Museum website. Read More Eclipse LocalRochesterFirst  

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