I wouldn’t have thought my grandpa had much in common with the hard-drinking, abusive protagonists of “Mad Men,” but it seems like we cross their paths a lot here on Hope Street.
And today, my grandpa’s calendar makes note of an event referenced in the third-season “Mad Men” episode “Seven Twenty Three.”
I didn’t know it until I checked Wikipedia, but this particular solar eclipse seems to have captured the fancy of quite a few creative types.
The eclipse of Saturday, July 20, 1963, is a key plot point in the Stephen King novels Dolores Claiborne and Gerald’s Game, and is also described in John Updike’s novel Couples.
Charles Schulz devoted a week’s worth of “Peanuts” strips to it, as well. (The scrawled note at the bottom of the July 20 calendar entry seems to say something about “C brown.” But I don’t interpret that as a “Peanuts” reference. I don’t think Joe Shlabotnik’s biggest fan ever made it onto the family calendar.)
I don’t have any record of the eclipse providing artistic inspiration to my grandfather. I know of no photographs or paintings of his that depict it, aside from the nifty doodle on his calendar.
I would imagine he tried to take a look at it, though, using whatever the approved and recommended methods are to view an eclipse. With his interests in space and science, it would have been natural for him to check it out.
Isn’t looking through developed film one way to view an eclipse? God knows my grandpa had plenty of that around the house.
(This picture, which regrettably is not my grandfather’s, shows the lengths one American family went to to approach the challenge. And this picture shows how a couple of enterprising American businesses found a promotional opportunity in it.)
According to contemporary sources, only five solar eclipses were expected to be visible from North America between 1963 and 2025. So, while I’d never heard of this event before, I can understand why it would be big news to those who were around at the time.
The day dawned cloudy, threatening to dash the hopes of countless amateur astronomers. It seems like people got a pretty good look anyway, though. An estimated 200,000 people flocked to Maine that weekend, Maine being one of only two places in the U.S. expected to see a full eclipse.
News reports at the time quoted Surgeon General Luther Terry telling Americans to “watch it on television” to avoid damaging their eyes.
Today, anyone with YouTube can see the eclipse. If you want to put a box over your head for the sake of historical verisimilitude, knock yourself out: