Remembering the 1979 Eclipse

The last time Corvallis saw a total solar eclipse was February 26, 1979. That eclipse arced from Oregon to Greenland, with the longest period of totality being in Alberta. This time around the arc goes from Oregon to South Carolina, with its longest period of totality being near the southern tip of Illinois.

For some people, this will be their second time witnessing this celestial phenomenon. One of those people is Pat C., who remembers the first time vividly.

“I just sat on the lawn on acid, watching the ripples on the side of the house and seeing the little moon shapes the sunlight made on the grass. That was really cool.  When it got dark, the ripples turned into ghosts, but they were, like, friendly ghosts; they didn’t freak me out. I was okay with them being there, and—when it was getting brighter again—that was so great. It was a great time,” she says.

In 1979, Tony P. was 18 years old and enjoying himself immensely on account of having his girlfriend, Maggie M., visiting from far away to see the eclipse. Tony, Maggie, and his parents all got in a car and drove to the banks of the Columbia River to enjoy the show.

Maggie M. remembers it well.

“…When we saw the sunlight start to ripple on the small hill in front of us (the wind actually bending the sunlight—how weird is that?) we knew to turn to see the Diamond Ring effect, which is the last ray of sunlight shining through a mountain notch on the moon. Then we were in darkness—but not total darkness as you could turn 360 degrees and see sunlight in the horizon,” she said.

As Tony remembers that day, the spectacle is almost eclipsed by the memory of his first love.

 “As we stood on the bluff overlooking the river, watching the bit in the sun, we could tell that the slight overcast was going to interfere in the spectacle, but there was nothing that could disguise the fact that there was a bite taken out of the sun.  It was a stunning reminder that the things we saw in the sky were bodies which moved through space, and Earth was one of them.  It stirred me deep inside and, being in the middle of my first romance, I expressed this by grabbing my girlfriend and kissing her emphatically several times,” said Tony.

He recently got in touch with that girlfriend. She’ll be coming out to meet Tony’s wife, his grown children, and to watch the eclipse with them.

In February of 1979, Alan Berg was Mayor of Corvallis and Vic Atiyeh was Governor of Oregon. Gasoline cost 86 cents a gallon, a pair of Jox trainers cost 15 dollars, and a month’s rent was 280 dollars. A lot has changed, but a lot will stay the same.

Maggie M. says, “I will be seeing the eclipse again with the same fellah. How lucky is that?”

By John M. Burt