The front page of the Morning Sentinel of Monday, July 22, 1963, shows the moment seconds before the total solar eclipse two days earlier, taken by Sentinel photographer Ben Maxwell from a “point between Skowhegan and Lakewood.” It was the last total solar eclipse viewable in Maine. The area will also be a popular spot to watch the next eclipse, coming on Monday, April 8.

“A hush fell as the sky suddenly grew dark and stars appeared.”

That’s how the story in the Morning Sentinel described the moment at 5:41 p.m. on Saturday, July 20, 1963, when the moon slipped over the sun, taking away the daylight in what was the last total solar eclipse that could be viewed from Maine.

Just as it will be Monday, when our state once again will see a total solar eclipse, it was a big deal — perhaps even bigger, as in 1963 Maine was the only state in the U.S. within in the path of totality.

Then, as now, the eclipse was a highly anticipated event, with lots of enthusiasm and concern over the tens of thousands of people who were expected to visit Maine for a look at a rare astronomical phenomenon.

An editorial in the July 19, 1963, Morning Sentinel noted that the eclipse would be “exploited” as perhaps none other in history had been, with state officials putting in a monthslong effort to attract tourists. Motels and inns were “booked solid,” the editorial noted, and special events were being held in communities throughout the state.

Dexter had canceled its Independence Day events in favor of an eclipse celebration, while Ellsworth built its bicentennial festival around the eclipse, and expected that cots may be needed to house visitors in the town hall, schools and library.


Three girls from New York enjoy the 1963 total solar eclipse from a field off Route 201 in Bingham, in this clipping from the Monday, July 22, 1963, Morning Sentinel. Bingham will also be a good spot to view the eclipse coming Monday.

The salesmanship worked. At one point on the day of the eclipse, 1,470 cars per hour were moving through the Kittery turnpike entrance, the Morning Sentinel reported at the time.

The editorial noted that the eclipse was a scientific opportunity, too — not only a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the moon pass over the sun, but also a just-as-rare shot at studying the sun’s corona, which is invisible when any part of sun is peeking through.

Editorial in the July 19, 1963, Morning Sentinel

“Throughout Somerset County scientific groups as well as amateurs were setting up vantage points on high elevations facing the west in order to get the best possible view of the phenomenon,” the July 19 editorial said.

NASA scientists hunkered down in the Somerset County town of Caratunk for the eclipse, the Morning Sentinel reported on July 22, “taking more than 40 photographs, covering six trillion miles of space in the 62 seconds of totality.”

In Orono, the director of the Harvard College Observatory and 600 other members of the Astronomical League held their convention in conjunction with the eclipse. But they would be disappointed.

While 85 observers on a special eclipse flight over Bangor got a “wholly unobstructed view of the celestial phenomenon,” soaring above the clouds to get a clear line of sight, many others in Maine were not so lucky, as rainstorms engulfed much of the state, often at just the wrong moment.


“As the combined shadows of the moon and the storm spread over the city, a cold wind blew dust and paper about Augusta’s nearly deserted streets,” the Kennebec Journal reported on July 22, 1963. “About 5:25 p.m. street lights came on. About ten minutes later a light rain began falling. By the time of totality it became a downpour, killing all hope of seeing the eclipse.”

People prepare to watch the 1963 total solar eclipse in this clipping from the July 22, 1963, Morning Sentinel.

In Manchester, some people reportedly got a brief glimpse of the eclipse between clouds. In Winthrop, the storm “came five minutes too soon.”

The Kennebec Journal report out of Gardiner was concise: “No soap.”

On the plus side, the influx of visitors was not a problem for the 1963 eclipse. While heavy traffic was reported throughout Maine, there were no significant accidents or problems on the roads.

People throughout the state apparently also got the message about wearing protective glasses when viewing the eclipse.

There was only one case of possible eye damage, the Sentinel reported, and that was in Portland.

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