“One Week, Eclipsed by Eclipses.” Last week’s Very Long Ago included a 1919 50 years ago news item about the solar eclipses of 1869. Last week’s teaser promised that you would soon find more information here about that eclipse. That information was then to be the recollection of several old-timers, in 1919, about the eclipse. As for me, I was determined to find more information in our Madison County newspapers about the other solar eclipses – and lunar eclipses, too – to share later with you as well.

I’ve spent most of an entire week, at a library computer, looking for – and finding – that information. Using the Madison County digital newspaper site, the research promised to be very easy: Just search for “eclipse”, year by year, from 1871 through 2003. I didn’t know, then, how many Eclipse farm products were advertised in our newspapers. I didn’t know, then, that scads of things were “eclipsed” by bigger, better and later ones. And I had forgotten Eclipse Lumber Company, which had a very long life here, and which advertised very heavily in the newspapers. I learned to skip over many newspaper “eclipse” items without reading them, and to focus only upon eclipses of the sun or moon, upon solar or lunar eclipses. Finally it dawned on me: Refine my search to look only for “eclipse”, with “sun”, “moon”, “solar” OR “lunar” on the same page. Great idea! Do you have any idea, how many irrelevant hits I still got? I was foiled by Sunday, whose “Sun” was picked up an incredible number of times. I soon abandoned that idea. The confusion it created was a greater headache than the shortening was worth.

I’m very glad I stuck with it, for the entire week it took. I will gladly share the results with you over time. Best of all, I found more–lots more–unexpected information about the 1869 solar eclipse. There is no perfect place to start. Any will do. I’ve chosen the one that follows. I like the entire item so well that I will present it entirely, without change, though only part of it is about the eclipse.


“A Letter Back Home.” Our first eclipse of 1869 item appeared in the April 30, 1913, Madisonian. The paper used a double caption for it, “PIONEER DAY RECOLLECTIONS” and “Tipton Man Writes of Residence Here in ‘69-’70. Refers to Eclipse”.

“Blair Wolf of Winterset, received a letter a few days ago from his friend and former neighbor, W. F. Horn. Mr. Horn was a resident of the Macumber neighborhood in ‘69 and ‘70, and extracts from his letter not only indicate that he has a warm spot in his affections for Madison County, but that he also remembers with deep gratitude, the kindly sympathy and assistance that was the rule in the days when pioneer farm life and its necessities made every neighbor a friend.

“The eclipse referred to by Mr. Horn occurred Saturday, August 7, 1869 and is fully described in the Madisonian, from which the following is taken: ‘Gradually, the moon crept over the surface of the sun and the face of nature became more and more changed, until the sun was entirely covered, when nature assumed a yellowish, dead appearance. Stars came out, chickens went to roost and birds flew wild through the air, shrieking in terror, small children turned cold, and trembling with fear hung to older persons for protection’.

“Mr. Horn’s letter in part reads: ‘I would like to visit my old neighborhood in the Macumber settlement, about two miles west of the Boling farm. I lived out there, way back in ‘69 and ‘70 and the golden chain of memory still binds me to many of the events and incidents of those times. I was a subscriber to the Madisonian, edited by H. T. B. Cummings at that time, and I call to mind an item in his paper in connection with the total eclipse of the sun in August, ‘69. I wish you would see the present proprietors and see if they won’t dig into their files, if they have preserved them so far back as that date, and if so, if they would republish the yarn and send me a copy. I had the misfortune to lose my stable by lightning in June, ‘69. I lost one of my horses, harness and all the grain I had and I can feel a throb of tenderness under my vest now, as memory calls up the many acts of kindness at the helping hands of kind friends and neighbors. More particularly the Macumber tribe. I’ll just give you a sample. When Henry Macumber went to go home after the fire, he said to me “Bill, bring your sacks up to my place and get whatever you need, oats or corn and by––you are welcome and I’ll loan you a harness till you can get a set.” Well, I went up next day to get the harness and found him out back of the farm plowing corn with a two horse walking plow, just then coming into use. He had just got a new set of harness home from town a few weeks before, but he was using his old harness. I said “Well, Henry, I am after that harness”[.] He said “Go help yourself.[“] I told him I surely did not want his new harness[.] He just took the lobe of my ear between his thumb and finger, and swung me around facing the barn, at the same time pointing his other fist toward the granary, said: “D–– it do you see that granary? Go git that harness in there and keep ‘em till I call for ‘em.[“] Well, I “got em” and I kept them under the bed when not on the horse. Uncle John Macumber, as every one called him, was one of the noblest hearted men God ever made, and I read a few years since, a nice tribute to his memory under his death notice in a Davenport paper. He had quite a large family of sons and one daughter by his second marriage. The boys were a little rough in expression some times, but like their father, in goodness of heart, there don’t live any better people. I could write a continued story of events and humorous incidents of my two years’ sojourn in that country as also some of the non humorous, a mixture of humor and tragedy, the letter also having a bit of strategy stirred in on several occasions. I’ll never forget a near tragedy in crossing Middle river at the ford on the rocky road three or four miles above Compton’s mill, where the only bridge on the river was in that day, but as my letter is already too lengthy, I’ll omit the account of the incident.

“ ‘Very Sincerely

“ ‘Your old friend,

“ ‘Will Horn’ “

Readers, I am delighted to present the Madisonian’s introduction, its quote from 1869, AND Will Horn’s excellent letter as Very Long Ago’s first item about “The 1869 Solar Eclipse”. I am especially pleased to have it appear at this time, as we look forward to the hospitality we will give to the many, many visitors and friends we will soon have during Covered Bridge Festival. I don’t know what next week’s 1869 eclipse story will bring. It is unlikely to top this one, but, rest assured, it will be good, and well worth reading.