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Totality over Talkeetna: The Story of the Alaskan Solar Eclipse

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Since Time Immemorial, Alaskans have been fortunate to live in a place of incredible experiences. The aurora dances overhead during the winter; the sun swings loops above the horizon in the summer if you go far enough north. And that’s nothing to say of the wildlife, the scenery, the culture and cuisine… Yeah, yeah, Alaska’s a special place – we all know it, we all love it for that!

But have you ever heard about the solar eclipse that passed directly over Alaska?

(I don’t write about it often on this site, but I’m a big astronomy nerd, and even wrote a book about astrotourism for Lonely Planet! Of course I had to share the story of Alaska’s most famous eclipse, just a few days before the 2024 total solar eclipse.)

Alaskan Solar Eclipse Hero

On July 20, 1963, a solar eclipse passed over North America; the path of totality – when the moon completely blocks the sun – cut across Alaska and all of Canada. Talkeetna was one of two main communities in the path of totality; the other was Bethel in western Alaska.

“It was advertised in all the media that Talkeetna, Alaska – of all places – was one of the prime places to view the solar eclipse,” Roberta Sheldon, a long-time Talkeetna resident, recalled in 2002. Sheldon estimated up to 400 visitors came to town, though other estimates range to over a thousand.

Photos taken by Christine M. McClain, who was at the time a stringer for Newsweek Magazine.
Her collected photos and notes are part of Archives and Special Collections at the UAA/APU Consortium Library.

Photographs that documented the nice Alaskan summer day show eclipse-viewers in suits and sundresses; many arrived aboard the Alaska Railroad to view totality and set up viewing equipment right on the tracks. According to the Fairbanks Daily New-Miner, the American Astronomical Society even scheduled its annual meeting in Fairbanks that summer, to allow astronomers to easily access Talkeetna on the day.

The eclipse reached its peak at 10:02am Alaska Time, but attendees celebrated well after the celestial event was officially over. “Did they ever have a carousing time in this town,” attendee Emmila Denny recalled during the same 2002 conversation with Sheldon.

For the 2024 total solar eclipse that cuts across several states in the Lower 48, only parts of Southeast Alaska will experience even a partial eclipse – the maximum the sun will be obscured by the moon is just under 5%, in Ketchikan.

And as for Alaska, the next time totality will pass overhead will be an eclipse on March 30, 2033. Talkeetna won’t be in the path this time; instead, the communities of Nome, Kotzebue, and Utqiaġvik will be the place to see it… and we won’t be riding the Alaska Railroad to get there!

Historic images courtesy of the Christine M. McClain papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage. The featured image was taken on a trip to Chile.

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

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