On a Monday, in late May, 1900, a corner of Virginia, under clear skies, experienced not the partial eclipse we’ll experience here in the Commonwealth, but a total eclipse of the sun.
Norfolk was one of the few major population sites in the United States situated in the path of totality. The eclipse path moved from the Gulf of Mexico into southeast America and then into the Atlantic Ocean.
We have selected images from the Newspaper Project’s digital archive, Virginia Chronicle, previewing a story of a celestial nature that previously had not been described in such detail by newspapers.
And consider that in-depth reporting of the eclipse belonged almost solely to the newspaper medium – before the advent of radio, television, and Instagram. It is difficult to conceive, given our 21st century media landscape, that newspapers served as the primary source, and for many, the sole source, of information; hence the graphs, charts, and the heady mix of scientific facts and romantic conjecture.
The first front page coverage appeared on the preceding Thursday. It notes that teams of scientists and dozens of members of the Geographical Society, as well as President William McKinley, will arrive to observe the phenomenon.
Of the papers in the Tidewater region, only the Virginian-Pilot published illustrations like the following from Friday’s edition:
Operating on the same principle that if you drain the Atlantic Ocean you’ll find the lost city of Atlantis, there was hope that the planet Vulcan would reveal itself during the solar eclipse. Alas, it remained undiscovered. For the curious, Wikipedia outlines the 19th century origins of the pursuit for the mystery planet.
More detail for the curious shows up, page 2, on Saturday:
The Sunday edition featured the zodiac framed graphic shown at the top of this page, plus, in the interior pages, some advertisements working an eclipse theme:
Finally on Monday, May 28, 1900, the day of the eclipse, the Virginian-Pilot publishes–nothing. It was a daily newspaper but it did not publish on Monday, which was customary for many dailies of the time. And, as a morning paper, the early morning timing of the eclipse would pose difficulties. Not to mention the absence of a notable deliverable for this event given the limits of news photography. However, the newspaper did offer a photo of a camera to be used to capture the splendor of a full solar eclipse. From the Sunday edition:
Something to consider as thousands bring their i-Phones to bear on our skies Monday afternoon.