Yikes! There’s an Eclipse Outside! ~Tanya Hanson


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?

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18 thoughts on “Yikes! There’s an Eclipse Outside! ~Tanya Hanson”

  1. We had the full “ring of fire” eclipse here in Utah, Tanya. I peeked at it through the clouds for a couple of seconds, but mostly watched it on TV. Your way was great.
    Never heard of Davidson. Great story about the Chiklats.
    The Native American hero in my book THE GUARDIAN is named Black Sun because he was born during an eclipse.

  2. I missed this eclipse, but have seen them in the past with our homemade eclipse viewers. :o)

    This was such and interesting post, Tanya. I guess I never thought much about eclipses in history, and I’ve never heard of Davidson. Great story!


  3. Tanya, what an informative blog. I’ve never seen an eclipse except those seen on TV. I enjoyed your blog, and I’m interested in learning more about Davidson. Hugs, P

  4. I remember as a kid poking the pinhole in a cardboard box to watch the eclipse without burning out my retina.
    I think all I really did was have fun mutilating a box.

  5. Hi Elizabeth, how fun that you have an eclipse character! Years ago when the kids were little, there was a eclipse of the moon coming..so we pitched a tent in the backyard, invited all the kids’ buddies for a cookout and overnight…set up our decent little hobby telescope…AND the fog rolled in that night. So we were so thrilled when it didn’t for this one! Thanks for the post.

  6. hi Kirsten, it’s so amazing what you find when you Google something generic. I was pretty sure I’d find somebody historic with an eclipse story, and when I found out he did a lot of work here in California and established the first west coast observatory, I was sad not to have learned about him before now. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Hi Phyliss, Davidson was a very interesting guy, that’s for sure. I so respect those who went off exploring. I know it messed up the Native American cultures, but how fun to “see” something unspoiled. Thanks for the post. xoox

  8. Hi Kathleen, I don’t think I ever really watched an eclipse of the sun. A couple of times at night. I can;t believe how excited I was! Thanks for stopping by today.

  9. Hi Mary, it was unbelievable how easy the pinhole thing (just a piece of computer paper) was and how well it worked. Then we interlaced our fingers and that made a little eclipse shine whenever you made a square with your hands. The binocs were great too…that’s then in my pic. Very fun afternoon! I was sad when it was over.

  10. Hi Tanya, It’s been awhile! We, here in the high desert of Califoria, are blessed with no fog. No clouds, just sun. We saw not only the eclipse of the sun, but the moon, too. (Although that was just a little one).
    It is very spooky when the total eclipse happens and you get that half dark/half light look outside. I am sure people waaaay back were terrified by this because they had no way of knowing what was happening. As in, “what did we do wrong?”
    Great post.

  11. Hi Mary J, indeed, it must have been terrifying in the olden times. It was so exciting, seeing it even through my little peepholes. I didn’t want it to end. We got totally fogged in for the Venus thing, though. Oh well. Photography is wonderful, for sure. Thanks for the post today! Always good to see you here.

  12. Tanya, Thanks for such an interesting post. These wonderful history tidbits are one of the reasons I enjoy P&P so much.

    The first eclipse I remember seeing was a total lunar eclipse back about 1960. We lived out in the country in northern New York and didn’t have much in the way of light pollution. The weather cooperated and there was not a cloud in the sky, just glorious stars. Our whole family sat out on the lawn wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags watching it happen. What I remember most is the reddish color that was cast over everything. It was a wonderful experience. I have seen several other partial and total lunar eclipses since, but that first one was the most impressive. I don’t remember the red color in any of the others. It is understandable that early peoples would be frightened by such an unusual sight.

    We have seen a few solar eclipses. Since the children have grown, tend to watch them on TV rather than make something to watch them with. Most of the time, the weather hasn’t cooperated for either the solar or lunar eclipses.

    Thanks again for the post.

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