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KC coverage of 1918 eclipse focused not on festivals but on ‘eclipse blindness’

The Kansas City Star covered the 1918 solar eclipse.
The Kansas City Star covered the 1918 solar eclipse.

It could be that eclipses just weren’t as big a deal 99 years ago.

On June 8, 1918 — the last date that a total solar eclipse crossed the entire length of the continental United States, moving from Washington state through Florida — news coverage in The Kansas City Star was not about massive crowds and hoopla.

Our reporting mostly raised fears of “eclipse blindness.”

“Have smoked glasses ready,” the newspaper advised in a brief story that began with a warning from the Missouri State Medical Association:

In view of the fact there will be an eclipse of the sun this afternoon, all observers of that phenomenon should be urgently warned against looking at the sun without smoked glasses or developed photographic film, even when only a small rim of the sun is visible.

At the time of the eclipse in Europe in 1912 most of the cases of eclipse blindness occurred after the sun had begun to emerge from its eclipse. It is important that danger be generally known, since after the eclipse of 1912 in Europe, 3,500 cases of eclipse blindness were reported, many of which did not recover.

The total solar eclipse, which maps show cut across the southwest corner of Kansas, was seen as a 91 percent partial eclipse in Kansas City that began at 5:23 p.m. The news said it was set to reach totality, the moment at which the moon fully covers the face of the sun, at 6:28 p.m., although the story also included a correction.

“The time of the eclipse as announced yesterday was incorrect for the reason the man who gave the information did not take into consideration the fact Kansas City is operating under the daylight saving plan.”

We offer here the newspaper’s reporting of “the umbra” that Kansas City experienced nearly a century ago. Total darkness was experienced to the south, in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

You’ll see that some things remain the same. The Star used words like “totality” even back then.

Eric Adler: 816-234-4431, @eadler

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r

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