If you crack open a Farmers’ Almanac in any given year, you will see that solar eclipses occur at an average rate of two or three per year somewhere on the planet. While that figure might make solar eclipses sound relatively commonplace, each event is viewable from only a small sliver of the Earth, making any one person’s likelihood of being in the path of an eclipse rather small.
If you want to view an eclipse of the Sun during your lifetime, chances are you’ll need to travel at least a few hundred miles, and maybe farther, to see it. Many people, called eclipse chasers, do just that, traveling as often as possible, sometimes to remote locations on the opposite side of the globe, to see solar eclipses.
One such eclipse chaser was the famous inventor Thomas Edison.
In 1869, when he was only 31 years old, Edison went to Wyoming to observe the total eclipse that passed through the northernmost section of the United States on August 7. He was fortunate to find the only vacant room in the only hotel in the eclipse path.
His first exposure to the West occurred late that night when he was paid a visit by an admiring stranger. Edison told the story years later:
“After I retired and was asleep a thundering knock on the door awakened me. Upon opening the door, a tall, handsome man with flowing hair, dressed in Western style, entered the room. His eyes were bloodshot and he was somewhat inebriated. He introduced himself as ‘Texas Jack,’ and he said he wanted to see Edison as he had read about me in the newspapers.”
The tipsy stranger proceeded to show the famous scientist his prowess with a revolver by shooting the weather vane off the depot across the street from the hotel.
After some pleading, Edison was able to get the man to leave, but he never forgot his first night in Wyoming.
Edison decided to watch the eclipse from a farm, setting up near a barn. But at the moment when the eclipse hit total and the sky darkened, Edison was suddenly overrun by dozens of chickens! They thought night had suddenly come and were all racing back to the barn to roost.
This is one of the world’s great chicken stories.