On Monday, there will be a solar eclipse. The following are memories of the 1932 as I have recorded in the Northland Journal over the last 15 years. Many of the people interviewed for this article have since passed.
Memories of the Eclipse of 1932
by Scott Wheeler
Although only eight years old in 1932, the year people living in the Northeast Kingdom could view the total eclipse of the sun, Olive (Urie) Griffin of West Glover remembers hearing about the eclipse that would eventually darken the sky on August 31 of that year.
Mrs. Griffin and her husband, Ray, said the eclipse was big news in the days leading up to it. There was talk about it on the radio, and people were anxiously talking about it amongst each other.
“We put smoke on our glasses by holding them over the woodstove,” Mrs. Griffin said. “Then we went out on the back porch and watched the eclipse. We were in awe of it all.” She told how the people of the region had been educated about various ways to watch the eclipse while at the same time protecting their eyes from harmful rays. She suspects smoking one’s glasses was one of the methods.
The eclipse wasn’t such a big event at Mr. Griffin’s home in Barton, but that didn’t stop him from being enthralled with it. Ten years old at the time, he said he remembers the family was busy getting the hay crop in when the eclipse began. “When it started getting dark we just quickly glanced up at it. I don’t remember smoking our glasses or anything like that.”
So many decades later, Mr. Griffin told how during the minute or two the height of the eclipse lasted, those who were putting hay in the barn stopped everything and stood on the high drive which led into the barn and watched the eclipse.
“It was very exciting for me,” he said. “When it began to get dark it was almost like the end of the world was coming.”
The eclipse was big news in the region, Chet Carpenter of Newport said. He was 12 years old and living in Derby in 1932.
Carpenter recalled how a group of astronomers set up their equipment on what was the Kingsbery Farm Golf Course, located off of what is now Route 111 in Derby.
“They set up on the golf course because there weren’t any trees to get in the way,” he said. However, he said there was little they could do when the clouds rolled in that day and obscured their view of the eclipse.
Carpenter has no problem remembering where he was when the eclipse began. “We were reaping the grain up on the hill,” he said. “When it started we stopped the team and watched the eclipse. We just watched it without anything to protect our eyes. Guess we were dumb or didn’t know better. It didn’t last very long. It was pitch dark for just a short time.” His eyes suffered no ill effects from watching the eclipse without eye protection. (NOTE- watching the eclipse with unprotected eyes is not recommended).
At 98 years old Ruth Austin of Newport was a senior at Newport High in 1932. She was at home on Spring Street in Newport during the celestial event.
“My parents were all excited about it,” Mrs. Austin said. “They were far more excited than I was.”
She attributed her lack of excitement to the fact that she was a teenager and didn’t have time for something of so little importance as a solar eclipse. However, she said she appeased her parents and went outside to watch the phenomena, and she is glad she did.
“It became dark outside, but it was only dark for a couple minutes,” Mrs. Austin said. Thinking back to the eclipse, she wishes she had paid more attention to it, especially since she’d never live to see another one.
Memories of the eclipse from Helene Swift of Derby from the November 2010 issue of the Journal: “I remember we went to my grandmother’s camp in Fitch Bay [Quebec],” Helene Swift said. “We went out in the boat and up to Whetstone Island [on Lake Memphremagog] and we watched the eclipse. It got dark. I remember they gave out these dark blue colored glasses so we could look at the eclipse. I can remember watching the moon pass over the sun. It lasted a few minutes.”
The following interviews were recorded by this writer in 2002.
Harold Nunn of Hardwick:
“I was in my grandmother’s yard at the time of the eclipse,” Harold Nunn recalled. He also remembered anybody, including himself, wanting to watch it to look through a piece of glass made smoky over an oil lamp. Nunn speculated this was done in an attempt to block out harmful solar rays while at the same time allow them a view of the eclipse.
Although the eclipse was promoted as a tourist attraction, he said at least in Hardwick it didn’t seem to attract any real number of people. “I wouldn’t doubt there were a few of the curious, but there was no big influx of people.”
At the height of the eclipse he said the sky was very dark.
Lewis Rodriquez of Hardwick:
Rodriquez recalled he was one of a large group of people gathered atop Cannon Hill that day to watch the phenomena. “There was quite a crowd up there,” he said. “Everybody thought they had to be up there.”
He, too, recalled the sky being momentarily dark at the pinnacle of the eclipse.
Thinking back to August 31, 1932, Roland Devost of Norton remembered exactly where he was and what he was doing when the sky turned dark. He was harvesting a field of grain in Norton.
The eclipse wasn’t a surprise to most people, Devost said. Although there wasn’t any television to inform the public as the day of the eclipse neared, he said the newspapers kept people updated.
When it started to get dark, the birds started flying to get into their night cover,” he laughed as he told how confused the birds must have been when, only a few minutes later, the sky again grew light.
Ruby Jenness of Morgan:
Unlike many others of the time, Ruby (Petelle) Jenness said the eclipse took her family by total surprise. Not only didn’t they have a TV, but they didn’t have a radio or regularly buy a newspaper. She said she was 11 years old and living in Holland when the sky darkened.
Her family wasn’t the only ones surprised by the sudden darkness. The darkness sent the family’s chickens, which were given free run around the family’s property, into a tizzy. “They streaked to the chicken house squawking all the way,” Jenness laughed. Once the eclipse was over, and the sunlight reappeared, the chickens came out of their chicken house, and Jenness’ parents breathed a sigh of relief that the world wasn’t coming to an end after all.
The following article is from an August 1932 issue of the Orleans County Monitor.
Astronomers to Set Up Instruments in Derby
Vleck Observatory Scientists to Observe the Eclipse
From Point On Kingsbery Farm Golf Course
On Tuesday of last week Prof. John A. Miller of Swarthmore College contracted with Kingsbery Farms, Derby, to care for his expedition party of astronomers and attendants numbering about 30 people.
The astronomers are going to make Kingsbery Farms the working ground for their preparation for the eclipse. They will come August 3 and will remain until after the eclipse of August 31st. [This site was located just outside of the village of Derby along Route 111 (aka Morgan Road.]
For over a year, ever since last summer, the Kingsbery Farm management has been working on getting this attraction for the community. Dr. Slocum of Vleck Observatory, Middletown, Conn., made a scouting trip into Orleans County, following the eclipse line into Canada as well as through Maine and New Hampshire. Of course there have been many towns competing for this expedition, and it is real good fortune that this community is to have it.
It will mean that the territory will be visited by motorists from a radius of 150 miles including Vermont, New Hampshire, and Quebec. It requires about a month’s preparation for Dr. Miller and his assistants to get ready for the 90 seconds of the total eclipse.
A 60-foot tower for the holding of the telescope and camera lenses will be erected on a segregated part of the golf course between the ninth and first fairways. Around this tower will be built the working laboratories, dark rooms, and mechanical shops incident to the preparation. The materials and builders have been arranged for and work will start immediately. The instruments are all set on cement foundations to a depth of eight feet in the ground to get away from any road tremors or explosions from surrounding quarries.
With the farms completely booked with their clientele, the management is making preparations for rooming the party in the farm cottage and Hermitage and in the available room in Derby Village. The community will cooperate in making the expeditioners welcome. It will mean a real impetus to the trade and business of this section and will mark the section for the next 50 years as the place where the 1932 eclipse was “shot.”
The following article appeared in the Orleans County Monitor in the days following the August 31, 1932 solar eclipse.
Eclipse Thrills and Disappoints
Clouds Cover Spectacle at Some Places and Gives View at Others
The eclipse of the sun on Wednesday afternoon of last week both thrilled and disappointed thousands of local and visiting persons, depending upon their exact location. Low hanging clouds in splotches made the final totality period of the eclipse visible and invisible to groups of persons only a very short distance apart. In Barton Village for instance some sections saw the totality period complete without obstruction while others saw none of it. The same was true in Orleans.
In general, those who journeyed to such places as Sheffield Heights and Brownington Heights were disappointed while those who stayed at home in the villages saw the most beautiful sight of all—the few seconds of totality when the corona flashed out.
Of the eclipse in other places the Express and Standard of Newport says:
“The totality shadow raced through skies half filled with big, slow moving clouds that kept onlookers on the anxious seat fearing the sight of a life time would be blotted out. This was just what occurred in many places including the location of the Swarthmore expeditioners. A vision of the eclipse was gained at intervals but when the totality came, low hanging clouds acted like a curtain and disappointment came to hundreds gathered there.
Using special equipment they hoped to obtain pictures of the solar corona at many diameters larger than it has been pictured before.
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