VANCOUVER, Wash. -- As Fort Vancouver prepares to welcome eclipse watchers next Monday, one local historian is studying the historical site’s ties to eclipses of years past.
“There have been a number of eclipses that have affected this site,” said Mary Rose, who volunteers at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site and serves as a historian for Confluence, a local educational nonprofit.
As far as recorded history goes, Rose says that Native Americans along the Columbia River likely witnessed an eclipse in 1503. However, she wasn’t able to locate any native stories, tales or legends of the eclipse.
It wouldn’t be until 1860 when Fort Vancouver played a role in a solar eclipse. That year, scientists from Washington, D.C., traveled to present day Western Washington to see a total eclipse pass over the area.
Rose said organizers, who were worried about rough terrain in the area and a perceived lack of roads, asked Army leaders for help. As a result, troops at Fort Vancouver were called upon to provide mules to help carry the scientists and their large telescopes.
“We can supply all the mules, all the equipment, all the carriages you need. And oh, by the way, there are roads,” said Rose, paraphrasing communication between fort leaders and scientists at the time.
In 1869, Rose said a similar situation happened when an eclipse passed over Alaska. Again, scientists from the east coast traveled west to witness the eclipse in person. On the researchers’ journey to Alaska, troops at Fort Vancouver were once again called to provide help and transportation.
“It was quite a production at that time,” said Rose.
Monday’s eclipse, of course, will be without army troops or mules at Fort Vancouver. Rose is scheduled to give a presentation about the history of eclipses in the Northwest at 11:30 a.m. at the Fort Vancouver visitors center.
The center is typically closed on Mondays, but will be open to accommodate eclipse-viewers.