A Maine postcard from 1963 showing the path of that year’s total eclipse across the Pine Tree State. Hopkins Observatory, Williams College

On the afternoon of Monday, April 8, the sun will be blotted out entirely across a swath of western and northern Maine as the state experiences its third total eclipse in the past century.

Given the precarious nature of Maine’s weather, it’s an open question whether anyone in the Pine Tree State will see the rare astronomical event.

But history offers hope: Total eclipses in both 1932 and 1963 were visible in at least some places in Maine, despite iffy conditions.

And what they saw astounded many.

“To me, aside from the beautiful corona, the most impressive part was the play of the moving shadows over the hills and mountains around a wide horizon and the wonderful sunset and storm effects on the clouds just before and during totality,” Henrietta Vickery of Auburn wrote in her “Out-Doors” column in the Lewiston Daily Sun soon after the 1932 eclipse.

This year’s eclipse will offer a wide but thinly populated slice of Maine the same experience.


The centerline of this year’s eclipse runs between Jackman and Houlton, with Keough — an area in the unorganized territory of North Franklin — slated to have the longest period in the semi-dark, a tad more than 3 minutes and 27 seconds.

But Keough, which is 15 miles east of Quebec’s Lac Megantic, is quite remote, even for Maine. Jackman, which is far more accessible, will offer just one second less of eclipse time compared to Keough.

What everyone within the path will see, assuming the weather is accommodating, is something rare – and the accounts of what people saw in the past make it clear that it’s a phenomenon worth watching.

A U.S. Naval Observatory photo taken from a field team stationed in Limerick, Maine, during the 1932 eclipse. U.S. Naval Observatory


The centerline of the eclipse in Maine ran roughly from Lovell to Kennebunk, with Lewiston, Auburn and Augusta being within the central eclipse area.

A Lewiston Evening Journal reporter noted the ooohs and aaahs from several people gathered atop Mount David in Lewiston as the moon began to slide in front of the sun on Aug. 31, 1932.


“The black disk crept completely over the sun, as though someone had shut down a lid which did not quite keep the light from burning through a crevice, (and) a single star gleamed,” he wrote.

“The east glowed with the color of dawn,” he added, as if “the sun were about to rise” instead of being overhead.

And “streams of light” filled the sky as if the northern lights were at play, he said.

Near Montello Heights in Lewiston, the Journal said, a mass of ducks began quacking as “weird light enveloped the sky.”

A parrot in Auburn’s Danville Junction began screaming over and over, going silent only when its owner put a blanket over its cage, the Journal said.

The view of the 1932 eclipse in Fryeburg, where scientists sought to document the event. This is a photo that George French took. Maine State Archives

But at Martindale County Club in Auburn, the crowd stood hushed as the darkness moved toward them across the Oxford hills to the west.


When the greenish shadow reached them, though, there were “ejaculations of amazement” at the astonishing sight, the paper said.

The Brunswick Record said people saw “the queerest green light” as the shadows deepened. “It was much darker than one would think,” it said.

About 150 people connected to the Stanton Bird Club gathered at the Wood Farm at the end of East Avenue in Lewiston to view the big event through smoky glass panes, old negatives and other light-blocking materials to protect their eyes as they gazed into the blue sky above.

“When the moon took the first bite out of the sun, there was a general exclamation,” the club reported. “Interest grew tense as the sun’s disc became a crescent and the light of day became weirdly beautiful.”

“The intense shadows were noted,” it said, as well as “the smoky haziness of the encircling hills.”

An eclipse viewer from the 1932 event that includes film to make it safe for watching the moon pass before the sun. It also has a map of the path the eclipse would follow that year. Hopkins Observatory, Williams College

“Cows in a distant pasture were seen to leave the grass they were cropping and go toward their barn. When the twilight effect came on, a tree toad down in the valley lifted up his voice.


The crowd, “with eager, upturned faces” watched “the miracle of a sun that disappeared for less than half a minute, of a corona indescribably, unbelievably beautiful,” the club’s report said.

“It was twilight. It was evening, with one great planet, Jupiter, glowing in a sky of mystery.

“There was a reverent hush, as there would be when the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork.

“And then the marvel of the corona passed.

“What a wonder it had been. Never will those who saw it forget the amazement of the moment,” said the report, which was published in the Lewiston Evening Journal.

Not every amazing thing was welcome, though.


As the eclipse reached its height, a swarm of mosquitoes were reported to have descended on the Lone Pine Filling Station in Turner, the first time that summer anyone had seen mosquitoes in that area of the Auburn-Turner road.

An advertising flyer issued before the 1932 eclipse that shows the path of the event that summer. Hopkins Observatory, Williams College


George Pottle of Lewiston, who graduated from Bowdoin College in 1932, fell off a roof in Brunswick while setting up scientific equipment to monitor the eclipse. He never recovered from his injuries and died in 1935. Lewiston Evening Journal

As with most things, eclipses of the past didn’t work out well for everyone.

George Pottle, a 23-year-old Bowdoin College graduate from Lewiston, fell victim to the 1932 eclipse.

Along with a friend from Lewiston and a professor, Pottle erected a spectrograph on the roof of an observatory at the Brunswick college with which they planned to take photographs of the eclipse the next day.

The job completed, Pottle stepped back to view his handiwork and lost his footing, falling 20 feet off the roof onto a pile of bricks.


It shattered his backbone so badly that doctors initially feared he would swiftly die. Instead, he lingered for two-and-a-half years, during which Pottle spent most of his time in bed trying to read via an apparatus that held books above his head.


What made the July 20, 1963, total eclipse special for the Pine Tree State is that the path of the event included only a tiny strip in remote Alaska and a 53-mile-long stretch across Maine.

The path in Maine included a swath whose centerline ran roughly from Jackman to Bangor to Bar Harbor.

Lewiston and Auburn were a little outside the total eclipse areas, as they will be this year, but it didn’t matter much because thick clouds disappointed viewers in the Twin Cities. All they saw was a general dimming of the light.

Rosaire Nolin, a Lewiston resident who lived on Applesass Hill, had hoped to take photographs but found the clouds made it impossible to take even one. He told the Lewiston Daily Sun that many people had headed up the hill to watch the event, but departed when they realized they wouldn’t see it.


An eclipse series from Fryeburg in 1932. Lewiston Evening Journal

Elsewhere in Maine, the viewing wasn’t much better – though some spots had clear skies.

A United Press International reporter stood with about 5,000 people atop Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island. They got, he said, “a breathtaking view.”

“At the moment of totality, where the sun had been, there was only a cold, gray, white light. Stars were perfectly visible in the sky.”

“Observers on the mountaintop were almost speechless,” he wrote.

The Bangor Daily News said a couple of carloads of tourists started off at their cloud-covered cottage in Searsport but jumped in their cars to search for the sun. When the eclipse reached its peak, or totality, they were at Ellingwoods Corner, 20 miles from the start of their odyssey, with clear skies above.

But in Bangor, Orono, Dexter and many other locales where thousands had gathered to watch, clouds got in the way.

Maybe this year’s eclipse will prove sunnier.

There won’t be another total eclipse in Maine until 2079. Even if you come from a line of long-lived folks, there’s no telling if it will be raining that day.

So see this year’s eclipse if you can.

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