For most of those who saw the total eclipse as it cast a 70-mile wide shadow swath across America on Aug. 21, it was their first experience with the celestial spectacle. But for Edie Ballard, a 95-year-old Ashland resident, it was her second, book-ending much of her life and nearly all of the continental U.S.
After bustling around her neat kitchen as she readied to speak with a visitor last week, Ballard settled into a chair in the sunroom, poured two cups of tea, and without prompting, vividly described these two parts of her life with a permanent smile.
Ballard grew up in New England and followed her father, a school superintendent, to New Hampshire during the school year, and spent her summers in Maine.
“My family built a cottage one block from the Atlantic Ocean in a little grove of trees in 1924,” Ballard said. “They called it 'Sea Grove.'”
The eclipse in Maine was on Aug. 31, 1932, when Ballard was 10 years old. She said it received as much publicity as this eclipse. People prepared to view it months ahead of time.
However, the difference between the two for Ballard was the amount of time it seemed the eclipse lasted.
“I remembered that the twilight, seemed to me, a long time,” Ballard said. “We had time to look all around and see what the water was doing, and what the land was doing, but the one in Corvallis was only two minutes.” (According to a NASA website, the maximum duration of the Maine 1932 eclipse was one minute, 45 seconds.)
Ballard’s daughter and grandson took her to Corvallis to see the recent eclipse with some friends.
Ballard said she expected the eclipse, this time to last just as long as the first eclipse she saw, but learned afterwards that total coverage times vary.
“I never expected to see another one,” Ballard said. “Well, I never expected to live this long.”
“It’s a matter of good fortune, luck, to have been able to see two eclipses,” Ballard said. She admitted she is not expecting to see the next eclipse in 2024 (which will travel up from Texas to Maine), but if she’s able to, she will travel to see total coverage.
"It's not something you expect to see more than once in a lifetime," Ballard said. "I'm grateful that my family helped me get this old body of mine to the right place at the right time. It was a tremendous gift."
She spoke of the twilight, the surprising lack of people who had come to Corvallis, the diamond ring shape of the corona and the eerie temperature drop.
“It’s hard to describe anything that’s so spectacular and wonderful,” Ballard said. “I looked up and saw Venus right above my head, bright as it could be.”
Ballard told her grandson’s story of the eclipse with laughter. She recalled him telling her that during the peak of the eclipse, a car went by with its headlights on.
“Can you imagine anyone in a car during a moment like that completely uninterested in what was going on?” Ballard chuckled. “Probably the only eclipse he will ever see in his lifetime and no interest whatsoever.”
“It’s so unusual and so precious because you know, it’s not going to happen tomorrow,” Ballard said.
—Email Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.firstname.lastname@example.org.