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Once in a lifetime? A 104-year-old recalls Vermont's solar eclipse of 1932

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Next week's total solar eclipse is being billed as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Well, Vermont Public's Nina Keck tracked down a 104-year-old man who remembers the last time it happened in Vermont in 1932.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CLOSING)

NINA KECK, BYLINE: Hello. I'm Nina from...

MARJORIE VAN ALSTYNE: I know. Yeah.

KECK: ...Vermont Public.

FLOYD VAN ALSTYNE: And I'm Floyd.

KECK: Nice to meet you.

F VAN ALSTYNE: Where abouts do you live, in Rutland?

KECK: No, I live in Chittenden.

Floyd Van Alstyne still lives in the same East Barnard farmhouse that he bought in 1945, two weeks after getting home from World War II.

F VAN ALSTYNE: Two-hundred-and-fifty-something acres, and I paid $3,600 for it. No electricity, outhouse and all that.

KECK: What kind of a farm was it?

F VAN ALSTYNE: I milked here one time. I went that - I milked about 40 cows here.

KECK: Van Alstyne also raised beef cattle, worked in the timber trade, drove trucks and bulldozers, helped build Vermont's interstate and cleared deadwood from a devastating hurricane in 1938.

F VAN ALSTYNE: I loved that. I loved to work.

KECK: What do you remember about the 1932 solar eclipse?

F VAN ALSTYNE: I can remember we were having a hard time finding something we could put over our eyes. And I do remember now that they had some covered glasses in the car. That's all we had. We didn't have it, you know - the other stuff that they have now that you can use.

KECK: It was in the middle of the depression, he reminds me. And while he learned about the eclipse in his one-room schoolhouse, he doesn't recall too much hoopla surrounding it.

F VAN ALSTYNE: I don't know. We didn't think much about general things in those days like they do now. Or we thought about minding their own business, I guess.

KECK: Vermont newspapers, however, were full of stories about the eclipse in 1932. Readers were informed that some trains would stop during the mid-afternoon darkness. Motorists were warned not to drive and watch the eclipse at the same time. The Rutland Herald even provided instructions for making your own protective viewer by taking a piece of window glass and moving it in and out of a candle flame to blacken it with soot. Young Floyd Van Alstyne could have used that tip all those years ago.

F VAN ALSTYNE: All I can say that it was pretty near dark. It wasn't dark, dark, but it was the dark like early, early morning or evening, you know?

KECK: Marjorie Van Alstyne, Floyd's wife of 76 years, was too young to remember Vermont's last total solar eclipse, but she's excited to watch the next one. The couple's five kids will likely be watching as well. All of them live nearby. Floyd says he, too, plans to watch the big event.

F VAN ALSTYNE: We'll look at it like everybody else, but I won't make a big deal of it. (Laughter) I've seen too much.

KECK: After all, he's seen one before.

For NPR News, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vt.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nina has been reporting for VPR since 1996, primarily focusing on the Rutland area. An experienced journalist, Nina covered international and national news for seven years with the Voice of America, working in Washington, D.C., and Germany. While in Germany, she also worked as a stringer for Marketplace. Nina has been honored with two national Edward R. Murrow Awards: In 2006, she won for her investigative reporting on VPR and in 2009 she won for her use of sound. She began her career at Wisconsin Public Radio.

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