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How Did Oklahomans Experience The Solar Eclipse 99 Years Ago?

Newspapers.com - The Wichita Beacon, 03 June 1918.

The first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in nearly a century will cross the United States on Monday. The last time that happened was 99 years ago, and Oklahoma was right in the middle of the path of total darkness.

In 1918, America was focused on the war to end all wars. But on June 8th of that year, World War I would share the headlines with news of a total eclipse that would extend across the country and right through the heart of Oklahoma. Day turned to night for only about a minute then, but it was still the talk and toast of places along the path of totality, including the town of Guthrie.

Nathan Turner, Regional Director of Museums and Historic Sites for the Oklahoma Historical Society, says the full eclipse was a big deal because it wouldn't happen for another 18 years and Oklahoma would miss out then.

Turner found a number of articles from Guthrie and Oklahoma City newspapers chronicling the event and warning people not to look at the full eclipse because it will burn their eyes.

One such article was from the Guthrie Daily Leader, dated June 6, 1918 and titled "Smoke Up," a reference to a method of looking at the sun by burning glass to darken it. That practice wouldn't be recommended today.

...prepare your glasses to see the great eclipse, it will be here at 5:30 on the evening of June 8th—that’s next Saturday...'that orbed maiden with white fire laden who mortals call the moon’ will cross the face of the sun, and the moon’s shadow will mow a swath across the United States, from the mouth of the Columbia River through the states of Washington to Florida. Guthrie is directly in the path of the shadow. Many auto parties will come together to see this wonderful phenomena. It cannot be seen in Oklahoma City.

(Turner interjects that he's not sure if the last statement is true, but that’s what they printed.)

This total eclipse at this point will be on for 69 seconds; at Perry it will be total for 58 seconds.

Turner also recounted a portion of an Oklahoma City Times article about the 1918 solar eclipse that includes a section asking “Does Guthrie Own It?,” a send-up to the relocation of the state Capitol several years earlier from Guthrie to Oklahoma City.

The total eclipse has opened the old sore between Guthrie and Oklahoma City. The war is on to the hilt. Listen to this colloquy between friends who buried the hatchet many moons ago. "I'm glad that Charlie Haskell is not the governor of Oklahoma," said a Guthrie man as a flung himself lazily into a chair and placed his feet comfortably on a desk in a downtown office building this morning. "We might have advertised this eclipse as an exclusive Guthrie event and when we woke up this morning found that Charlie had swiped the thing and carried it to Oklahoma City. I'm thankful that he's not governor, and also that the shadow is way up in the air so that none of you fellows can pull it down here. At this distance, it seems as though we have the eclipse safely locked away."

An Oklahoma City man responded to that print swipe with some good-natured ribbing of his own:

"I don’t know much about that. We have not tried to interfere with your little eclipse and won’t if you stop your bragging about it. So far as I’m concerned, as it is the only thing you have had in several years that is worth a durn, I’m willing to let you get away with it, but we don’t like to hear this boasting."

This time around Oklahoma isn’t in the path of total darkness, although some of you will be making the trek to either the St. Louis or Kansas City areas to get a closer look. Safe travels to you, and mark your calendars, the moon’s shadow will make its daytime return over the corner of southeastern Oklahoma in April of 2024.

And if we’re lucky enough to be around in August 2045, another total eclipse of the sun will travel across Oklahoma and will include both Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Kelly Burley served as KOSU Director from September 2007 to May 2019. In 2007, Burley returned to public radio after more than four years as Associate State Director for AARP Oklahoma. Burley first joined KOSU in 1990, first as a reporter, then news director and eventually program director. During that time, he won three Edward R. Murrow awards from the Radio Television News Directors Association, the National Journalism Award from the Scripps Howard Foundation, and two national awards from Public Radio News Directors, Inc. Kelly lives in Stillwater with his wife, Lisa. He has two grown children, Clint and Kara.
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