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Texas Matters: The Great American Eclipse of 1878

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As we prepare to witness the April 8th total solar eclipse in Texas we can look back at the last time an eclipse crossed the swath of Texas. In 1878 the sun’s shadow traveled across the American frontier. It was a watershed event for American science.

On April 8, the moon will move directly in front of the sun and its shadow will be cast down onto the earth, giving us the glorious spectacle of a total solar eclipse. On that day, near the noon hour, the path of totality in the United States will begin in Eagle Pass and cross into the Hill Country, waltz over to Waco, then Dallas and out into Arkansas and beyond.

It’s a rare event but not a singular one. Today, eclipses happen every so often, but some are more dramatic than others—and that could be said of the Great American Eclipse of 1878.

This eclipse crossed the American Wild West frontier, including Texas, and it was seen as an opportunity to celebrate the expansive land-grab of Manifest Destiny and the post-Civil War re-united U.S. But it was also an opportunity to show off to the rest of the world America’s growing expertise in science.

David Baron wrote about it in his book “American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World.”

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi