Eclipses And Their Effect On People

Wall Street, down near the southern tip of Manhattan, was not within the band of totality in 1925, and yet it may well have been affected. Analysts who study trends in stock market prices have suggested from time to time that surges and falls in share prices may be linked with eclipses. Apparently there is often a crash in prices within a few days of a lunar eclipse and within six weeks of a solar eclipse. It would be difficult to imagine any causal connection that could produce such a relationship and because there are several eclipses every year such coincidences may be simply a matter of chance.

Despite this there is a link with Wall Street, in one way or another. Philip L. Carret was a legendary investor and the founder of one of the first mutual funds. He watched the 1925 eclipse from Westerly in Rhode Island, from where he would also have been able to see the Navy dirigible buzzing around Block Island. Henceforth he became an eclipse fanatic, traveling around the world to see 20 total solar eclipses in all. Carret watched his final one in Barbados just a few months before his death in 1998 at the age of 101.

Not everyone is so keen. William Lyon Phelps, a professor of English atYale from 1896 to 1933, was an astronomy enthusiast. In 1925 he was severely ill and so unable to witness the eclipse, to his perennial regret. (He made up for it by traveling to Canada to catch the eclipse on the last day of August 1932.) Phelps was staggered by the apathy he found in many others, writing as follows in his autobiography. "There are educated people who care nothing for eclipses. Some otherwise intelligent friends of mine left New York the day before that eclipse, when they could easily have waited. And another friend told me that as he and his brother (a Harvard graduate) were in exactly the right position to see it, his brother, one minute before the eclipse, said, 'Well, this is my regular time for going to the bathroom,' and went indoors. Hundreds of busy men travel six thousand miles on the mere chance of seeing what this university graduate thought quite unimportant."

Philip Carret would not have missed a chance like that. In 1979 he had an opportunity to see another total solar eclipse in the United States, this one linked to the one with which he started his odyssey in 1925. We noted in Figure 2-2 how the saros cycle pushes eclipses progressively towards the west and alters their latitudes a little. If you count three saros periods each of 18 years and 11 days after January 24, 1925, you derive a date of February 26, 1979, and the expectation of an echo of the New York City winter eclipse displaced right across the United States. And that's just what happened. On that date the track met the coast straddling the junction of Washington and Oregon, then passed over Idaho, most of Montana, and a corner of North Dakota before sweeping over the center of Canada, Hudson's Bay, Baffin Island, and Greenland.

There were a few other eclipses in North America during the twentieth century, but not many. In February 1943 one ended at sunset in Alaska. Another in July 1945 began at sunrise in Idaho, then crossed Montana and Canada, a similar path to that in 1979 mentioned above. In June 1954 another began at sunrise in Nebraska, zipping over Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Lake Superior, and then into Canada again. We will meet a few others of interest in the next chapter.

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