Plaistow’s Total Solar Eclipse of 1932

Lantern slide showing total eclipse of Aug. 31, 1932 taken in Fryeburg Maine by L.A. Parsons of Johns Hopkins University

This exhibit was contributed by PHS member Peter Bealo and includes an interesting first-hand rememberance of the solar eclipse Peter received from PHS member Paul Holmes.

A total solar eclipse, where the moon fully blocks the sun from view for up to 7 minutes, occurs somewhere on the earth almost once per year. Because of the size and distance of the moon, the area that actually sees a total eclipse is generally a ribbon <100 miles wide by several thousand miles long. People see the moon partly covering the sun for up to 1500 miles on either side of this ribbon. If you view from near the edge of this “ribbon” the sun gets fully covered for just a few seconds. Once the sun is covered, viewers are treated to the view of the sun’s “corona”, the big faint, ethereal outer atmosphere of the sun. Seeing the moons shadow rush at you followed by the sky getting dark enough to see stars and planets and the blackened sun being surrounded by the glowing crown of its corona is a very spiritual experience, one I have been lucky enough to see twice, so far, once in Baja Mexico in 1991 and once in Aruba in 1998.

Click on photo to enlarge

One of several sets of Eclipse Glasses produced for the 1932 eclipse.

I vaguely knew that there had been an eclipse in 1932, but it wasn’t until I was poking around  a big flea market in Freeport Maine that I learned Plaistow may have seen this eclipse. There I found a set of “eclipse glasses” made by a local printing company out of an envelope with a cutout containing dark-grey plastic and a map of where totality would be seen in New England. These glasses supposedly made it safe to view the part of the eclipse where the sun was still partly uncovered by the moon.

Since then I’ve collected several more pieces concerning this eclipse and, with the help of the Plaistow Historical Society, received a personal remembrance of the eclipse from a member who viewed it as a 10 year old child. Take a step back in time to a magical event as vividly described by Paul Holmes:

15 April 2008

Dear Peter,

Speaking about total eclipses of the sun!! Back in 1932, I remember quite well for I was only ten years old and my Dad was all fired up about the coming big event.

We family of three kids, me the middle boy between two girls lived in the brown bungalow, No. 7 Sweet Hill Road (still there).

Dad was an eager learner, about the mysteries of the heavens.

Well he broke up some old window glass down cellar, set up a candle and smoked up 5 pieces of glass explaining to me why he was doing that and the importance of the smoked glass to protect our eyes from the sun and to never look at the sun with bare unprotected eyes.

On that special afternoon we piled into our 1932 Dodge touring
sedan, a 4 door canvas topped new car of the year! We went over to Newton Jct. via Crane Crossing Rd, to a small hill beyond the center of the Jct. which said road banked on a wide curve heading east which gave us a grand view of the south western skies, with no trees to block the view of the sun.

As the moon began to pass over the sun Dad instructed us how to cover one eye and look through the smoked glass with the other eye. This event is still quite vivid in my mind!! It began to get dark and we could see the sun being slowly covered by the moon. We noted there were no birds flying by and no chirps or song birds singing.

As the sun became totally covered Dad told us to not use the smoked glass and noted the very edge of the sun around the moon like a light ring plainly visible.

It slowly began to light as the moon journeyed across the sun. Roosters in the neighborhood began to crow, like early morning call to the chickens!! We went back to using the smoked glass. Birds began to sing like the morning robins out early for the worms before sunrise.

It was quite an event and as you, I hope you have noted how I have retained that moment of striking events after all these years.

If you would like to call me about this I would be happy to answer any further questions you may have.

Sincerely yours,

Paul E. Holmes

One of several maps produced and distributed. You can see how Plaistow is just on the edge of the eclipse path

Paul’s remembrances about the activity of wildlife mirrors my own 59 years later. In La Paz, we observed the eclipse from the beach, with a hillside about 1/4 mile inland. Before and during the early phases of the eclipse we could see vultures circling on thermals and updrafts over this hillside. As it began to get dark, the birds returned to their nests for the “evening”. After totality the vultures returned again to the air and local roosters crowed to announce the “new” day. As the eclipse progressed we all noted how the temperature dropped an estimated 10 degrees, and how the little “pinhole” images of the sun projected onto the ground through tree leaves were no longer round; they took on the crescent shape of the partly-obscured sun. One aspect of the eclipse we had a chance to see that Paul did not was the moon’s shadow seeming to rush at us from over the ocean. While totally silent and without any wind, the shadow overrunning us felt like a train coming, I actually took a step back as it enveloped us.

Since the 1932 eclipse, only one other total solar eclipse was visible in Plaistow; 1959. This eclipse occurred when the sun had risen just a few minutes earlier, so would have been difficult to see. If anyone remembers seeing this event, please contact me. The next total solar eclipses visible close to Plaistow will occur in 2024 (Berlin NH, Quebec and N. Maine), 2079 (view from Plaistow) and in 2200.

Peter Bealo
Sweet Hill Observatory
Plaistow, NH
member – Plaistow Historical Society
member – Antique Telescope Society