Case Western Reserve University Archives

Eclipse Expedition to Maine in 1932

In anticipation of the total eclipse of the sun viewable in Cleveland, Ohio on 4/8/2024, Archives staff looked at the university's records to see what information there was regarding eclipses. There were a number of teaching tools such as glass lantern slides and a hand-crank model of an eclipse, transferred by the Physics Department; and pieces of an eclipse model in the papers of Professor Jason J. Nassau. An interesting folder of records was identified in the Case School of Applied Science Astronomy Department Records. Members of the faculty, some graduate students and alumni, as well as special guests made an expedition to Maine in 1932 to view the total solar eclipse on August 31. They conducted a joint expedition with the Perkins Observatory of Ohio Wesleyan University - having adjoining camps at Douglas Hill, Maine on the land of Neal W. Allen.

Jason Nassau was the head of the Astronomy Department and organizer for the expedition. Planning began in December, 1931. Since this was during the Great Depression, the school could not provide funds. However, Nassau explained in an article in the Case Tech (3/31/1932) that friends of the institution provided the resources to make the expedition possible. The Warner & Swasey Company loaned a 9-inch telescope in addition to offering the services of their shops. Alumnus Sheldon Towson, class of 1923, offered the mounting of the movie camera telescope, as well as his time. Nassau lists the various contributions in an article in the 10/1932 edition of Case Alumnus. In the article, entitled The Eclipse We Did Not See, he goes into detail describing the equipment and tasks of expedition members.

On August 1, faculty member Sidney (Sid) McCuskey arrived at Douglas Hill to start setting up camp. He kept an "Eclipse Diary" of what happened throughout the month of August in preparation for the event - from having an electrical line set up, to practicing using equipment at night to simulate the darkness that would happen during the eclipse.

According to Nassau, the principal instrument of the expedition was a 14-foot camera telescope. They planned to make 6 photos of the corona varying in exposure time, and 8 photos for each of the partial phases. A favorite phrase of his was, "This temperamental little instrument was handled with great care and a big hammer by Mr. B. C. Getchell." Other expedition members manned the astrographic telescope. Nassau called the motion picture telescope the "mystery" instrument of the expedition. Professor Dayton C. Miller of Case and Dr. Barrol of MIT photographed the shadow bands before and after totality. Nassau reported that 2 Weston photoelectric cells mounted in parallel were used to measure the horizontal illumination. His wife, Laura, recorded on a dictaphone her impressions of the eclipse. Radio work was conducted by McCuskey. This work was considered the most successful of the expedition because totality was obscured by clouds. Radio signals were transmitted from Douglas Hill to the Case campus in Cleveland. Professor John R. Martin monitored the equipment on campus.

In the year following the eclipse, there were a number of lectures made by expedition participants, as well as published articles. Interested readers can go to the university's digitized student newspapers and search for the word "eclipse" to read about some of the lectures and publications that came from this expedition. You can limit the search to the 1930s decade.


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