American Life During the Last Eclipse

By Camille Orozco ’18

Memories of last week’s solar eclipse remain fresh in our minds, but the last time Americans got to witness such an event in the United States was in 1979! Although the moon still covered the sun 38 years ago, it cast a dark shadow across a very different America.

Just how different were the times in the United States in 1979? The Bamboo recently sought out social studies teacher Michael Letton to gain a better understanding of what America was like the last time a solar eclipse occurred here.

B: For you, what were the 70s like?

L: I was nine or ten years old, and I was living in a different world. As kids, your mom would just kick you out of the house and we’d play outside. You could go anywhere, get on a bus and go downtown, or ride our bikes. Your parents didn’t worry about you as a kid as much. If you wanted to know something you’d have to go the the library. You didn’t have internet. No one had a cell phone, so if you left the house you’d have to leave a note. There was no cable TV; you only had three channels. There was no VHS. If you wanted to see a movie, you’d have to see it in a theatre. There was a different perception of the world. No one was as connected as they are today. It was a real analog feel.

B: What were some big events you remember?

L: I barely remember Jimmy Carter beating Gerald Ford for the presidency, but I was very young. The biggest thing that affected me was in the 80s when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. I was in middle school and that was the thing that affected everybody. I remember going to see “Star Wars” as a little kid, and it terrified me. I was 4 or 5 years old and there was nothing more terrifying than seeing Darth Vader choke someone to death.

B:: What was the political climate?

L: The 80s were pretty conservative. Where I grew up, in Texas, the fact that my parents were conservative colored my view. But throughout all of this you have a distinct fear of nuclear war. You’re a child and scared about nuclear war. You watch movies about it, you do drills at school about it, and it’s on the news every night. It’s always in the back of your head that nuclear war was not only a danger but it was going to happen. It was going to happen because how could it not? You just hoped it wouldn’t happen in your lifetime. That was life from 1970-1991. Then when the Iron Curtain came down, it was a huge sigh of relief for everybody.

B:: When I asked for an interview you mentioned the Transit of Venus. What is that?

L: The Transit of Venus is when Venus comes between the Earth and the Sun. So a lot of scientists in the 18th century had figured out that the Transit of Venus was happening and they were going to different parts of the Earth to calculate how long it would last using triangulation. There was an astronomer and a surveyor, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, and they went to the Dutch East Indies, but they got delayed and had to measure the transit in Cape Town. They became good friends and went on to measure the line of Pennsylvania and Maryland, which became the Mason-Dixon line. That’s what I think about when I see the eclipse.

At the end of the last eclipse, ABC News anchor Frank Reynolds ended his live broadcast looking to the future, in hopes that “38 years from now … the shadow of the moon [may] fall on a world in peace.” Though our current political state makes this statement more ironic than predictive, let’s not let the present eclipse the future. The next Great American Eclipse will be in 2024. In those seven years we will have two presidential elections, four Olympic games, and seven Immaculate Heart High School graduations. Let’s use these next years proactively and in service of others as “women of great heart and right conscience.” Only then “may the shadow of the moon fall on a world in peace.”


image from dailyherald.com

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