Come Study a Truly Astronomical Event and Its Effects with the Colonial Scientist
Fort Mifflin — April 8, 2024
11am – 5:30 pm
The total solar eclipse of June 24, 1778 was the first to be carefully observed in the newly founded United States. David Rittenhouse, witnessed the eclipse from Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson also tried to see this eclipse but was frustrated by clouds in Virginia. He later wrote Rittenhouse remarking on the eclipse. “We were much disappointed in Virginia generally on the day of the great eclipse, which proved to be cloudy. In Williamsburg, where it was total, I understand only the beginning was seen. At this place which is in Lat. 38 degrees-8′ and Longitude West from Williamsburg, it was not seen at all till the moon had advanced nearly one third over the sun’s disc.”
Two years later during the eclipse of October 27, 1780, an eclipse expedition was sent from Harvard University to Penobscot Bay in Maine and negotiated safe passage with the British forces occupying that area. Because of an error in his tables of the apparent motions of the Sun and Moon, this expedition missed moment of totality.
During the 18th Century, Total Solar eclipses in 16 different years (1707, 1714, 1725, 1729, 1736, 1743, 1747, 1750, 1754, 1758, 1765, 1772, 1776, 1783, 1790, and 1794) were observed within the British Empire. These events sparked not only a strong advancement in the understanding of how our Solar System worked but great upheavals in the social and religious fabric of the western world.
A total solar eclipse happens when the moon lies exactly between the Sun and the Earth, casting its shadow on a small patch of the Earth’s surface. Those who make their way to the “path of totality” will see the moon gradually slide in front of the sun, reducing it to a thin crescent and then finally blotting the sun out altogether. For a few brief but spectacular minutes, the sun’s wispy outer atmosphere, known as the corona, becomes visible, while the landscape down below turns nearly as dark as night. On April 8, 2024, this will happen along a path that goes through Erie Pennsylvania. While we at Fort Mifflin are not in that path, we are agonizingly close and expect to see an 85% total eclipse of the Sun.
If you can be in the Path of Totality, that is wonderful. For the rest of us, we will be setting up an 18th Century observation post atop the walls at Fort Mifflin. In addition to the opportunity to observe this phenomenon in the sky, we anticipate another phenomenon to occur within the depths of our casemates and buildings during and immediately following the eclipse.
Many people believe that the aligning of the sun and the moon heightens our emotions and behaviors. Similarly, our team of 18th C Scientist will explore whether this affects the fort’s spirits as well. Are Fort Mifflin’s ghosts more active following an eclipse. If we have the right tools, we should be able to observation and study this as well. We will turn the tools of science, namely objective inquiry and observation, toward monitoring ghost activity immediately following the eclipse.
This promises to be a once in a lifetime event (unless you’re a ghost and then who knows…)