Total Solar Eclipse in South Carolina

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We were all amazed at the total solar eclipse that made its historic path over South Carolina this past Monday. Thanks to everyone who joined us from near and far to witness history in the making #OnThisSpot in Columbia, S.C.

There were a few pieces published at the end of last week that we want to highlight, just in case you missed them. The following article was published initially in The Columbia Star on August 17.

In the Path of Totality

By John Sherrer, director of cultural resources, Historic Columbia

Have you ever been in the path of something that you cannot escape? Have you ever been faced with an event that cannot be avoided? Such situations often elicit anxiety or even dread. What if you knew exactly when and where such an event was to occur? What would you do? How would you prepare?

Rather than with anxiety and dread, it has been with rapt anticipation that Columbians have readied themselves for an astronomical event noteworthy of history books. We, and the anticipated hundreds of thousands of visitors to the capital city, stand in path of totality. On Monday, August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will cast us in darkness. Day will become night, as this breathtaking phenomenon impacts the city like no other has in generations.

Stories of earlier solar eclipses, recorded by The State newspaper reveal the concerns, preparations and observations of our forebears while providing us with intriguing glimpses into the capital city they knew. For instance, the total solar eclipse of June 8, 1918 found Columbia lying far northeast from its path of totality. Leading up to the event, which would ultimately cast a modest shadow on the city, writers offered that, “The moon and sun in their glory cannot greatly eclipse Columbia.” Looking forward, on June 12, a correspondent concluded, “We ought to be able to pay some attention to the next eclipse, which is scheduled for 2017. The [First World] War should be over by that time, even according to . . . some of our own choicest pessimists.”

A little less than two decades earlier, on May 29, 1900, Columbians and other South Carolinians witnessed an eclipse of greater local impact, as they found themselves just outside of the path of totality for an event that engrossed most citizens but particularly “scientists, professors, students, ministers and ladies galore,” who traveled to the town of Little Mountain for a better view. Their journey involved rising early, making their respective ways to various electric streetcar stops and congregating at the train station where they boarded eight cars for the 30-mile trek.

They carried with them window panes and broken bottles caked in smoke from “lightwood splinter,” or fat wood to protect themselves from the eclipse’s harmful light. Following the event, in which animals were said to bed down for the night and birds ceased their songs, the 450-strong crowd returned to Columbia, many with “sooty nose or blackened cheek” from their protective “glasses” and several suffering from “barked shoes [and] torn dresses.” These inconveniences aside, their brush with the path of totality left many of them with an incomparable lifetime memory.

Soon, we, too, will experience an event of our lives. Unlike those of our predecessors’ our solar eclipse experience places us directly in the path of totality. But, while Columbia will be bathed in total darkness, albeit briefly, the sun and the moon will not truly eclipse the excitement and celebration citizens of and visitors to the capital city will enjoy during this once-in-a-lifetime event #OnThisSpot where #HistoryIsCool.

 

And this article was part of our #ThrowbackThursday collaboration with Cola Today.

Total Eclipses #OnThisSpot

The last total eclipse to cross the US was in 1918, but on the eastern seaboard, it only crossed through Orlando.

The last time the path of totality touched South Carolina was on May 28, 1900.

The very edge of the path skirted the City of Columbia creating a dusky haze for a few moments, according to eye witness accounts.

USC’s Garnet and Black noted that a total solar eclipse would be visible in Columbia on May 28, 1900 in their annual school calendar (they made it a holiday).

South Carolinian Oscar Montgomery Lieber (eldest son of Francis Lieber, who lived at South Carolina College and is the namesake of the admissions building) traveled to Labrador in 1860 on an “Eclipse Expedition” and recorded his findings in an attempt to have them published (it never was).

During the 1900 eclipse, some folks were not too impressed with the spectacle. John Coleman Feaster, a native of Fairfield County was a farmer who wrote in his diary on May 28, 1900: “We all saw the total eclipse of the Sun this AM, i.e. Gussie, Wife, Self, and Pen James. I plowed some corn and watermelons this A.M. Wife and Gussie gone to Pelt’s.” (But were they Bradford watermelons, tho?)

Apparently nonplussed by the potential for cosmic event, the State only mentioned the total eclipse once in their May 28, 1900 issue. The next day? Almost every page was devoted to the event.

Why should you get pumped over this eclipse? Solar eclipses aren’t uncommon. Usually, however, you have to travel out of your way to see them—swim to the middle of the ocean, freeze in Labrador, etc. Never again in our lifetimes will the path of totality cross through our backyards. So while people from Texas and Maine and Nevada are scrambling to find a Columbia hotel room, we can post up in our lawn chairs for an early happy hour next Monday.

 

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Experiencing the Eclipse in Columbia

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By James Quint, director of education, Historic Columbia

During its 230-year-history, many travelers ventured to Columbia in order to interact with politicians and businessmen in the budding state capital. Even more travelled here to work, to trade, or to sell their goods from the far corners of the state. Some come to learn at Columbia’s colleges and universities. Unquestionably, the most famous visitor of the 18th century was George Washington when he made his stop during his tour of the South in 1791.

On August 21, hundreds of thousands of guests will arrive in the Midlands, as it has been named the best place on the East Coast to watch the total solar eclipse with 2 minutes 36 seconds of totality. As our state prepares to welcome record crowds, city services, law enforcement, cultural organizations and a variety of other groups prepare for an influx not seen since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1987.

While Myrtle Beach and Charleston may be viewed as the tourist meccas of South Carolina, and to be fair there are many others, including Columbia, our city has an array of engaging activities to ensure a positive experience for those visiting during this historic weekend. Residents and visitors will look to the sky at 2:41 p.m. on to see the Great American Eclipse, which may be one of the most visually impressive events of their lifetime.

Undoubtedly visitors from all over the world will want to learn more about Columbia’s history and culture, which is why Historic Columbia has planned a series of events and tours to engage them in our rich past.

Our community’s longtime connections with the military will be explored during a Historic Water Balloon Battle Happy Hour on Friday, August 18 from 5:30 – 7 p.m. This popular annual event will explore military tactics in ways that will also cool participants in famously hot Columbia with more than 1,700 water balloons. Thousands of water balloons will be discharged in four battles tracing tactics used in the Revolutionary War, World War I and later 20th century conflicts.

Tours of Historic Columbia’s four historic house museums, the Robert Mills House & Gardens, Hampton-Preston Mansion & Gardens, Mann-Simons Site and the Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction, will be offered throughout the weekend.  Each site tells a compelling story of individuals and events who have shaped the capital city and beyond.

Walking tours of Main Street and the Vista will be offered simultaneously at 9 and 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings and are perfect options for folks to explore the area’s architecture, development and history.

More than 600 people will gather at the historic Robert Mills House & Gardens on Monday afternoon to watch the Eclipse. While this event is sold out, the gardens and grounds are open daily to the public and free to access during normal business hours – so be sure to come and visit on another day.

Just as city leaders and residents welcomed George Washington in 1791, we hope you’ll join us in welcoming the thousands who will arrive in the Midlands and encourage them to learn more about our city and county. Visit historiccolumbia.org to learn more about the events scheduled during Total Eclipse Weekend.

This article was originally published in The Columbia Star.

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Total Eclipse Merchandise Now Available!

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We are getting so excited about the historic total eclipse coming to Columbia in just two weeks! Whether you’re a seasoned celestial aficionado, or a newbie to historic astronomical phenomenon, we’ve got all your eclipse viewing needs covered at the Gift Shop at Robert Mills!

Historic Columbia also has an exciting lineup planned for the Total Eclipse Weekend, including an epic Happy Hour Water Balloon Battle and special tours of Main Street and the Vista! Click here to find out more or come on by the Gift Shop at Robert Mills today! #historyiscool

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Peter Parley’s Tales of an Eclipse, 1836

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They have been the subject of legends, seen as dark omens for kings, and in the lyrics of popular songs. Unless you have been living on the dark side of the moon, you know about the total eclipse coming on Monday, August 21. While looking through Historic Columbia’s museum collection for a particular book, I recently discovered a volume that caught my eye because of its small 4-by-5 inch size.

The book’s cover read: Peter Parley’s Tales About the Sun, Moon, and Stars. With numerous engravings. Philadelphia, Desilver, Thomas & Co. 1836. Curious, I carefully opened it. I was immediately taken by the detailed and artistic engravings scattered through its pages. Going back to the introduction I learned that this was one in a series of children’s books. Since the average fourth grader knows more about astronomy than I do, I kept reading.

Among other astronomical facts and observations that Parley, the pen-name of author and publisher Samuel Griswold Goodrich, described was a total eclipse he had viewed some 20 years before. He observed it all through a piece of smoked glass. He was especially interested in the changes in nature and behavior of the animals around him:

“The air grew chill as if it were evening; the whole face of nature was dark as the evening twilight; the birds ceased their songs and retired to rest. I well remember to have seen an old hen, apparently much disturbed, retire to her accustomed shelter, where she gathered her brood of twelve chickens under her wing, as if for the night.”

The plain language and conversational tone of the book was different than a modern reader might expect from one published in the first half of the 19th century. While written for children, it does not talk down to them.

Some books in our collection are inscribed either on the blank front or back pages. Frederick Foster signed this book with his name multiple times in 1844. He did so in a hand that looks like a young person learning cursive and making the letters his own. Unfortunately, there are no other clues to help know more about Frederick, so for now his story is lost to time.

Goodrich (Parley) did a great job explaining the mechanics of how an eclipse occurs, but he also wrote fondly about their fleeting magic. On August 21, for those brief minutes I will do my best to forget about the how’s and why’s of the eclipse and focus simply on its natural wonder. If only I had some chickens to watch, too.

To learn more about Historic Columbia’s Total Eclipse Weekend programs and our upcoming Happy Hour Water Balloon Battle, visit HistoricColumbia.org.

By Fielding Freed, director of historic house museums, Historic Columbia

This article was originally published in The Columbia Star.

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