Erie's 1994 solar eclipse was 'spectacular'
HomeHome > Blog > Erie's 1994 solar eclipse was 'spectacular'

Erie's 1994 solar eclipse was 'spectacular'

Mar 18, 2023

One in a yearlong series of articles from the Erie Times-News previewing the solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, whose path of totality will include Erie.

Erie hasn't experienced a total eclipse of the sun in at least 150 years, but residents and visitors witnessed the next-best thing on May 10, 1994, from 1:18 to 1:24 p.m.

That's when the moon blocked 94% of the sun's light, leaving just a ring of fire in the sky.

More:Total solar eclipse in April 2024 could end up Erie County's biggest one-day tourism event

The eclipse didn't spark the wave of tourism-based excitement that the total eclipse that will arrive April 8 has already generated. Area hotels weren't filled with eclipse watchers. Special events weren't planned a year in advance.

But the ring eclipse did bring astronomers to Erie from as far away at Baltimore, and forced then-Edinboro University of Pennsylvania to limit reservations to its Cooper Hall observation roof.

"That proved about as effective as reserved seating at Woodstock," an Edinboro spokesperson told the Erie Times-News a day after the eclipse.

The 1994 eclipse's path of annularity went directly over Erie, as well as Cleveland and Buffalo. It was not a total eclipse because the moon was too small, due to orbital geometry, to hide the entire disk of the sun, said Tom Whiting, a Gannon University astronomy professor at the time.

But that didn't stop more than 500 Oil City High School students from gathering outside to see the eclipse.

"It was spectacular," Tim Spuck, an Oil City science teacher, said on the day of the eclipse. "It was one of the most fantastic things I've ever seen."

People started arriving at 7 a.m. at Seventh Day Adventist Church, near Route 97 in Millcreek Township, to watch the eclipse, including Steven and Arlene Eaves, who had driven from York with their $3,000 telescope.

"We traveled seven hours but it was worth it," Arlene Eaves said just after the eclipse reached its peak.

Since staring directly at an eclipse can damage a person's eyes, those who gathered at the church found other ways to track the eclipse's progress.

Someone noticed that small holes in the leaves of nearby trees acted like pinhole cameras, projecting the eclipse's image on the ground. Soon crowds were gathering around the trees behind the church, observing the eclipse on pieces of paper they laid on the ground, the Erie Times-News reported.

At its peak, the eclipse caused a twilight-like aura to fall upon the region and some light-activated street lamps flickered on momentarily.

Whiting, who died in 2018, described the eclipse's peak as being like early dusk, but without the red and orange glow.

If the skies are clear for the April 8 eclipse, people can expect it to get darker than it was in 1994. Some stars and planets will be visible, and a 360-degree "sunset" could appear, according to NASA.

But if you want to observe the eclipse from a popular viewing point, such as an observatory, reserve your seat early. They are expected to even more quickly than they did in 1994.

But you don't have to wait until April to witness another eclipse in Erie. An annular eclipse will occur on Oct. 14, when about 30% of the sun will be blocked by the moon.

Contact David Bruce at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ETNBruce.