Eclipse '79 lacked the hype of 2017
The buzz surrounding the 2017 solar eclipse has seemingly become inescapable in the Crook County area the past few months.
Meetings have been held by government leaders, emergency response personnel and the local business community, and numerous eclipse viewing events have sprung up, drawing tens of thousands to the area from all over the world.
One could argue that the expected surge in vehicle traffic and weeklong interruption of day-to-day life mirrors the hubbub leading up to Y2K. Consider that people have questioned if cell phone and internet service will be compromised. Residents wonder how long it will take to get to work or if they can get there at all. Local leaders are telling people to get groceries, gasoline, medication and other necessities one to two weeks in advance.
A lot has changed in 38 years — the last time a solar eclipse crossed through Oregon. If coverage in the Central Oregonian is any indication, the buzz leading up to the Feb. 26, 1979, solar eclipse was nearly nonexistent.
Coverage in the Wednesday, Feb. 21 edition was limited to announcement that schools would be closed until noon. The closure would enable families to head up to Shaniko or The Dalles, both located in the path of totality.
The Monday, Feb. 26 edition, which came out a few hours after 8:15 a.m., when the eclipse occurred, featured on relatively small front page photo of a crescent sun, with a caption saying, "the moon blotted from the sky 95 percent of the sun's surface leaving Prineville in twilight."
No additional coverage followed in that paper nor any other thereafter. Also in the story, it was erroneously reported that the next solar eclipse in Central Oregon was not expected until 2068.
While the lack of buzz in Prineville could be attributed to the fact that the path of totality was roughly 60 miles north, it fails to explain the lack of interest overall between the 1979 event and the upcoming 2017 eclipse.
Steve Lent, historian at Bowman Museum, remembers going up to Shaniko to check out the 1979 eclipse, and noted that the event wasn't that big of a deal.
"There were a few people parked along the highway," he said, "but there wasn't hardly anybody there." He went on to point out that television coverage of the eclipse was limited to about a 10-20 second segment that essentially told viewers, "It was here and now it's gone."
Lent has talked to people recently about the two eclipses, saying he is mystified by the substantial buzz surrounding this particular event versus the one 38 years earlier.
"Why is it such a big deal now?" he wonders. "I don't know if it is because of the internet and communication being so much higher-level than it was back then."
Although the 1979 eclipse did not draw anywhere near the same interest the upcoming event has, it does elicit memories from some locals who were around to see it. For example, Tammi Carlin remembers that she was in eighth grade during the event, and her dad brought home welding goggles from work so they could watch it in the back yard.
"I was 13 and remember watching via a huge box viewer that I made at home based on the small milk carton school viewers," Robert Small recalls. "I remember the shadows getting real wavy, quite a dizzying effect."
Les Bueckert worked at Ochoco Lumber at the time and remembers the sawmill shutting down for eclipse.
"I remember everything getting deathly quiet," he remarked.
Prineville resident Kitsi Bass was 6 years old at the time of the eclipse and while she struggled to understand what was going on, she still has a clear memory of the event.
"I remember thinking it was weird that it was dark outside and my mom trying to explain to me about the eclipse," she said. "I didn't really understand the whole thing. I just wanted it to be light outside again."