Steamboat was the place to be for the total solar eclipse of 1918 |

Steamboat was the place to be for the total solar eclipse of 1918

A Steamboat Pilot article, published in February 1918, boasted about the city being in the direct path of a total solar eclipse.
Steamboat Pilot/Archives

Several scientists and astronomers from around the world deeply regretted they didn’t choose Steamboat Springs as the place to watch the total solar eclipse of June 8, 1918.

But world-famous scientist Elihu Thomson was not among them.

He was the scientist who did his homework and played his cards just right.

Thanks to his research and prep work, the scientist from Lynn, Massachusetts, chose to watch the eclipse in Steamboat and became one of the few people in the science world who didn’t have his view spoiled by clouds, The Routt County Sentinel reported.

Thomson, who local newspaper reports claimed had the second most patents in the electric industry behind Thomas Edison, chose the Yampa Valley as his viewing point after he carefully studied the percentage of clear afternoons here compared to other parts of the country in the path of the total eclipse.

And this was well before he had Google or Siri to help him decide where to go.

“Dr. Thomson was greatly delighted with his observations here, and expressed surprise that many others had not also come here on the same errand,” The Routt County Sentinel reported.

While workers here emerged from the mines to stand in the shadow of the moon, scientists in places as close as Denver and Wyoming had years of preparation ruined by the weather.

“A special observatory had been erected at Green River, Wyo., and preparations had been in progress for years at the Chamberlain observatory in Denver and at a number of other places from Washington to Florida, but at none of these points were the weather conditions so favorable as in Steamboat Springs,” The Routt County Sentinel reported.

A map made by NASA shows the area in Routt County that was able to witness the total solar eclipse of 1918.

As another rare total solar eclipse approaches the United States this month, we dug through our archives to learn more about what it was like for lucky Routt County residents, and that one scientist, to be in the path of totality nearly a century ago.

With no photos to accompany the article, we have to let the writers at the Sentinel describe for us what it looked like.

“As the eclipse became total, a majestic darkness swept over the country. The mountains on the surface of the moon caused a string of brilliant points irregular in size and spacing, while the soft light of the sun’s corona surrounded it on all sides. The giant planet (Jupiter) and a number of stars became plainly visible.”

Steamboat residents spent 92 seconds in the full shadow of the moon, while Hahn’s Peak residents just 25 miles to the north only got 66 seconds of totality.

The Routt County Republican proclaimed nobody in the area dared to miss the eclipse.

“The total eclipse of the sun was viewed by all of our citizens last Saturday at the minute that had been foretold years before,” the paper reported. “Work was suspended for about half an hour just before and after the total eclipse.”

The buildup and anticipation of the eclipse in the reports that preceded it were almost as good as the coverage of the event itself.

Newspapers printed headlines saying that the sun would stop working for a little bit June 8.

They also warned that roosters would start to crow at an odd time when the sun temporarily disappeared.

“The totality of the eclipse as seen in Steamboat will endure for ninety-three seconds, but the moon will be partially interposed between the earth and the sun for nearly an hour, during part of which time the traditional going to roost of fowls and the crowing of roosters incident to the dawn will occur,” the Steamboat Pilot advised.

Steamboat won’t get as good a view of the total eclipse coming up on Aug. 21.

This time, Routt County will only see a partial one.

But weather permitting, places as close as Casper, Wyoming, will have bragging rights this time about being in the path of totality.

And a tip for eclipse viewers still trying to decide where to watch it from.

Do your homework, just as Dr. Thomson did.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email <ahref=””> or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.

For tax deductible donations, click here.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User


See more