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THE only total eclipse of the sun visible in New England during the present century occurred on Monday, the sixteenth of June, 1806. The day was unusually beautiful, scarcely a cloud being discernible in any part of the New England sky. The air was dry and serene, and so still that the very gentle breeze which came from the northwest was hardly distinguishable. Nature gave every opportunity for observation.

The eclipse came on at six minutes past ten and went off at ten minutes before one. During the period of five minutes, at about . half past eleven, it was total, the moon during that time being surrounded by an illuminated white ring, from which issued minute and vivid corruscations

There had been a slight frost on the preceding night, and the morning was quite cool for the season. When the eclipse came on the temperature was sixty-three degrees above zero at Salem, Mass., and the heat decreased until the time when the disk of the sun was entirely covered. The thermometer then stood at fifty-five and one-half degrees above zero, a diminution of seven and one-half degrees. In some places sufficient dew fell on the grass to wet one's shoes. The change in the temperature was so sudden and so great that many people, who were in a state of perspiration from their morning's labor, became chilled, and some died from its effects.

The better educated classes of course expected that a certain degree of darkness would come over the land, but it was found to be much more intense than any one had supposed it would be. When the eclipse came on the sky was of the brightest azure, but as the moon covered the sun's disk the color became darker, and soon grew dusky. One star after another came into view, until Venus shone brightly in the west. Sirius in the southeast, and Aldebaran sparkled in the zenith. Mars, Mercury and Procyon also came, and the larger stars in Orion and Ursa Major were plainly visible to the naked eye. Venus was seen for more than half an hour.

As the sun began to be covered everything around assumed the appearance of twilight for ten or fifteen degrees above the horizon. From that time the scene was sublime. Night seemed to be settling over the land at noon-day. As the darkness increased a feeling of awe came over the people, and though it inspired neither dread nor anxiety among the great majority of the people, as the dark day did, even the most educated persons could not repress the feeling of gloom and solemnity that comes over mankind generally when anything of this nature occurs. The wonderful workings of the universe compel our notice and veneration. What display could be more sublime than this exhibition of the grandeur of nature, arranged on such a stupendous scale that the inhabitants of a hemisphere could gaze at it with perfect ease and freedom!

The darkness became so intense that the seconds on the dial of a clock could not be seen without the aid of a candle, except by very sharp eyes, and then with much difficulty. The effect of the darkness upon animals was about the same as if night were coming on, except that they seemed to be somewhat surprised and perplexed. Cattle in the pastures ceased feeding, and started for the bars. Fowls retired to their roosts, and bees returned to their hives. When the darkness began to disappear, and light to come again, the cocks jumped down from their roosting places and crowed as lustily as when they awoke that morning.

Ramsey, in 1715. wrote the following lines on an approaching solar eclipse, which are as applicable to this one of 1806 as to that. He sees


"Black night usurp the throne of day,"


and prophesies that


"... thoughtless fools will view the water-pail

To see which of the planets will prevail;

For then they think the sun and moon make war:

Thus nurses' tales ofttimes the judgment mar."


He concludes that


"When this strange darkness overshades the plains,

Twill give an odd surprise t'unwained swains;

Plain honest hinds, who do not know the cause,

Nor know of orbs, the motions or their laws,

Will from the half-plowed furrows homeward bend

In dire confusion, judging that the end

Of time approacheth; thus possessed with fear

They'll think the general conflagration near.

The traveller, benighted on the road,

Will turn devout, and supplicate his God.

Cocks with their careful mates and younger fry,

As if 'twere evening, to their roosts will fly.

The horned cattle will forget to feed,

And come home lowing from the grassy mead,

Each bird of day will to his nest repair,

And leave to bats and owls the dusky air;

The lark and little robins' softer lay

Will not be heard till the return of day.

Not long shall last this strange uncommon gloom.

When light dispels the plowman's fear of doom,

With merry heart he'll lift his ravished sight

Up to the heavens, and welcome back the light,

How just's the motions of these whirling spheres,

Which ne'er can err while time is met by years!

How vast is little man's capricious soul,

That knows how orbs through wilds of aether roll!

How great's the power of that omnific hand,

Who gave them motion by his wise command,

That they should not, while time had being, stand!"


Source: Historic Storms of New England by Sidney Perley, 1891

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