A few weeks ago, we didn’t dare get too excited about the impending eclipse. We live near the coast, but don’t believe the “sunny California” stuff. Our summers are so foggy we even have words for it: May Gray and June Gloom.
Nonetheless, we rejoiced when that glorious afternoon blazed with sun! We did the home-made viewing things: a pin hole in paper. Made checkerboards with our fingers, and held the binoculars with the small end catching the rays.
We had lift off!
So it got me thinking about eclipses in the past, and I discovered George Davidson.
George Davidson, who was born in 1825 in Nottingham, England, moved to the United States in 1832 and settled in Pennsylvania with his parents. Gifted in Science, he eventually earned doctorate in astronomy and joined the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey team. He helped triangulate the shape and area of the earth and studied the large-scale geography of the Pacific Coast. In 1867, he traveled north to Alaska at the time the government was negotiating its purchase from Russia.
America’s leaders were eager to learn more about this vast, unexplored territory. Davidson made initial surveys at Sitka, Chilkat Valley, Kodiak and the Unalaska islands. He planned a return trip in 1869.
By this time, though, the Chilkat tribe had been angered by, well, white man stuff, and Davidson was warned that his “welcome” party might be armed, not open-armed. Indeed, the initial get-together on August 6, 1869, was tense, even as he tried to convince the Chilkat that he meant them no harm.
He explained his interest in observing a total eclipse of the sun that he predicted would occur the following day. Tribal leaders mocked him.
But they left in peace for the time being.
Indeed, the next day the sky grew dark as the moon eclipsed the sun. Frightened at the real possibility that Davidson had the power to cause this frightening event –not just forecast it–the Chilkat people fled. Ever after, they left Davidson and his party alone.
After 50 years, he retired from the service. But he’d been busy in the meantime. He founded the Davidson Observatory in San Francisco –the Pacific Coast’s first observatory and took charge of the U.S. transit of Venus expedition in 1882 in New Mexico. He became a professor of geography at University of California-Berkeley, remaining a professor emeritus until his death in 1911.
And something way cool. He was a charter member of the Sierra Club –one of the first 182, and served on its board of directors for sixteen years until just before his death.
Several geographic features in Alaska and a “seamount” off the Pacific coast are named for him.
Anybody seen an eclipse?