Past Times

Past Times: All eyes on North Carolina for total eclipse

The British Astronomical Association sent expeditions to Portugal, Spain, Algeria, and Wadesboro, North Carolina.
The British Astronomical Association sent expeditions to Portugal, Spain, Algeria, and Wadesboro, North Carolina. UNC-Chapel Hill Photographic Laboratory Collection, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, UNC Wilson Library

The total solar eclipse of 1900 put North Carolina in the spotlight. The small Anson County town of Wadesboro was deemed the best spot for viewing the eclipse because the totality there was expected to last 91 seconds (compared to 60 seconds in Raleigh) and because the town “has had less cloudy weather for fifty years than any other town in the range of the eclipse.” The N&O reported on preparations for the eclipse.

Everything is in readiness here for observing the eclipse. Wadesboro is today the centre of the scientific men of the world, and the whole town has caught the inspiration of scientific investigation…. It is a body of distinguished and agreeable gentlemen who are here and the people have extended to them the well known Southern hospitality. The visitors are well pleased with the town and people who are showing them every possible attention.

Last night Professors Gore, Venable and Holmes, of the North Carolina University, arrived and will have a tent from which to observe the eclipse. Already parties had arrived from the Smithsonian Institute, Yerkes Observatory, Princeton University, from England, Holland and other countries.…

Prof. Edward W. Barnard was the advance agent form the Yerkes Observatory. He arrived two weeks ago to make full arrangements so that accurate photographs can be taken of the eclipse. The instruments are in position on Leak Avenue.…

The Smithsonian Institute party, who is the head of the party, has its preparations also on Leak Avenue. They have a 45 foot telescope and will take a reflected image of the sun during the eclipse.…

The N&O May 27, 1900

Monday, May 28, saw most favorable conditions for viewing the morning eclipse.

The people of the South yesterday witnessed what is unquestionably one of the most impressive of all natural phenomena – a total eclipse of the sun.

It was a sight that they will not again in a life-time, perhaps, have another opportunity to see. And certainly they will never see it under more favorable circumstances.

No eclipse in the world’s history ever occurred under finer seeing conditions. The sky was clear throughout the path of the totality, only a few cirrous clouds being reported anywhere. Cloudy weather existed on both the north and the south sides of the track, but save a slight haziness here and there, they never ventured upon the course of the black shadow.

Observers and instruments thickly dotted this path. Negatives and drawings were made in abundance, and the record of this eclipse will be one of the most complete ever secured.

At Wadesboro and Pinehurst some of the most distinguished astronomers in the world were assembled to view the eclipse and make record of it. And at places along the path of totality great numbers of people assembled to see it.

In this city, the hotels were crowded with people from far and near…

Many of them viewed the eclipse from the tops of tall buildings – the dome of the capitol having an especially large crowd upon it. Others went out to the A. and M. College, the Fair Grounds or the Federal cemetery – from all of which fine views of the whole heavens could be obtained. The streets were lined with people gazing through smoked glass as the darkening sun and groups were gathered in the parks and other public places.

But no matter where they were, to all alike the sight was wonderful and impressive.

The first contact occurred at 7:38 – the minute predicted by the astronomers. Beyond a dark nick in the southwestern edge of the moon, gradually growing larger little effect was noticed as the moon stole across the face of the sun. The light was not perceptibly dimmed, and birds and animals detected no change.

An hour after the first contact birds were still singing in the trees and animals went about as usual. Then the haziness increased, the western sky grew from a deep blue to black and an uneasiness came over all life. Horses raced along the streets as if anxious to return to their stalls, bird songs died away and crickets chirped in the grass. There was a chill in the air. Darker and darker grew the atmosphere and fowls went to roost.

Five minutes before the total eclipse strange, wavering lines of light raced across the sky and landscape – shadow bands the astronomers call them, resembling nothing so much as waves of darkness circling in upon you. It is a curious and beautiful light effect not yet fully understood.…

Lieutenant Round occupied the dome of the capitol during the eclipse and made card sketches of the totality. Mr. Round mounted his United States signal telescope and hoisted his signal flag early in the day.…

Later speaking of the eclipse Lieutenant Round said:

“The view from the top of the dome even in the terrible times of the war was at once quieting and inspiring. But today with its earthly and heavenly accompaniments, it was the most glorious sight this side of the new Jerusalem.…” The N&O May 29, 1900

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times,

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or