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1932 Solar Eclipse Photographed by Sidney Native (and Troy Science Teacher) from an Airplane

By Judy Deeter

   Most of us who view an eclipse of the sun or moon look at it from some place here on earth.  We look to the sky above us hoping the to see the covering of the sun or moon. On August 31, 1932, a Miami Valley native, Dr. Clyde Fisher, saw it another way—riding in an airplane above the clouds.

 

   Dr. Fisher was an astronomer. His official title was Curator of Astronomy, American Museum of Natural History at the Hayden Planetarium, New York, New York. He was the author of several published studies about astronomy, was a scientific lecturer and had made a variety of scientific accomplishments during his career. The early years of his life, however, were spent in Shelby and Miami counties.

 

   Fisher was born May 22, 1878 to Harrison and Amanda (Rhinehart) Fisher in Orange Township, Shelby County, Ohio. His given name at birth was George Clyde Fisher. However, throughout his life, he was known as Clyde Fisher. As a boy, he attended school in Shelby County’s Orange Township. After finishing his education, he taught school for a short time and then attended Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. He eventually transferred to Miami University and graduated from there in 1905.

   In 1905, he moved to Troy, Ohio and became a science teacher at Troy High School. Historical records indicate that he incorporated the study of geology into the high school’s science curriculum. He taught at Troy High School for two years: 1905-1906 and 1906-1907. He also served as the school’s football coach during the 1905 season.

 

   In 1907 he moved to Florida. An old brochure outlining lectures given by Fisher tells of his career in the field of education. It says that he “taught astronomy, zoology and botany in Ohio, was principal and acting president of a school in Florida and gave summer courses in nature study at Universities of Florida and Tennessee, and at Cornell.”  He eventually attended Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore, Maryland. There, in 1913 he received his PhD.  After he received his doctorate degree, he became a member of the staff of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York.

   A highlight of Dr. Fisher’s life took place on August 31, 1932.  That day, he photographed a total eclipse of the sun as he rode in an airplane. After the flight, he wrote an essay describing the flight titled “An Eclipse Adventure,” which was published in the November-December 1932 edition of the Journal of the American Museum of Natural History. According to the essay, he had previously photographed a partial eclipse of the sun from an airplane on April 28, 1930 with Captain John O. Donaldson, World War I flying ace, as pilot. On that day, they flew up to an altitude of nearly 20,000 feet over the Newark, New Jersey airport on that flight. After the 1930 flight, Dr. Fisher wrote, “The success of this exploit with its attendant thrills furnished the impetus for more aviational (sic) astronomy.”

 

   When a total eclipse of the sun was expected in the summer of 1932, Dr. Fisher organized another trip to the sky.  

 

   Originally, he had asked his pilot friend Chief Long Lance, a Native American pilot to fly his plane. Unfortunately, Chief Long Lance died in March 1932.  Dr. Fisher then approached veteran pilot Casey Jones to fly the plane and Miss Paula Lind (of Germantown, Ohio) to be the flight’s co-pilot and also be a photographer. Lind is remembered as both a fine aviator and an actress.  Also on board for the trip was internationally known pianist, composer, and amateur astronomer Leopold Godowsky.

   In his essay “An Eclipse Adventure” Dr. Fisher described seeing the eclipse from high above the earth. He began his essay information about his flight to the Portland, Maine airport (probably flying in from New York City) and the Portland weather conditions. He wrote, “In the vicinity of Portland, where the proximity to the coast made the weather less certain, the sky was perfect during the entire eclipse. But by noon of the day of the eclipse we could see to the northwest from Portland some substantial and stubborn cumulus clouds. However, we were not alarmed for ourselves, for we were prepared to fly over any clouds at least up to 20,000 feet.” As the plane was flown north from Portland, it encountered some low hanging clouds—around 7,000 to 8,000 feet. Dr. Fisher further states, “Fortunately for our attempt to photograph the on-coming shadow of the moon, this immense blanket of clouds over which we flew for miles was level,--billowy, but all at the same level on top.  We climbed on up to an altitude of 16,000 feet from which height I thought I could see more than one hundred miles to the northwest whence the shadow (of the moon) would come.”

 

   Dr. Fisher tells of the cameras and lens used to capture the eclipse. He reported in his essay, “The thing we set out most determined to do was to photograph the on-coming shadow of the moon, since this had never been done before.  That we had the opportunity to crank the Akeley camera clear through the phenomenon under ideal conditions is all that we could ask.”

 

   Both Dr. Fisher and Paula Lind took still photographs of the eclipse. Dr. Fisher also made a movie of the eclipse.  

   Shelby County historian Rich Wallace wrote in his book VOICES OF THE PAST that Dr. Fisher “…made the first photographs of an eclipse of the sun from above the clouds.”

 

   Dr. Fisher also wrote an essay titled “The Eclipse From Above the Clouds.”  It was published in a newsletter named Amateur Astronomer (September-October 1932).  In it he said, “To observe a total eclipse of the sun from above the clouds, with no earth visible below, is an unforgettable privilege. This most impressive phenomenon, seen under these conditions makes one realize the inadequacy of words.”

   Wallace also wrote in his book, “Clyde Fisher was far from a dry, boring scientist. With his teaching background in Ohio, and his work with New York City’s children, he was able to make the planets and stars come alive. He (Dr. Fisher) once said, ‘You can’t make people interested in the stars if you don’t make it any more interesting than math of physics.’  He always thought that if children understood and enjoyed astronomy, then surely adults would as well.” Wallace also noted, “Dr. Fisher led expeditions to Siberia and the mountains of Peru to view eclipses in the 1930s, and again in 1936 and 1937.”

 

   In the 1930s, Dr. Fisher was intimately involved in planning of New York City’s Hayden planetarium. He wanted people to appreciate the starry sky above and the earth’s environment. His dream of a planetarium was made possible with a gift from the estate of New York banker Charles Hayden and a government loan. The planetarium opened in 1935 and was named in honor of Hayden.  In 1934, Dr. Fisher wrote an essay titled, “The Hayden Planetarium.”  (Published by the American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York.)  The essay begins with the words, “Why did not somebody teach me the constellations, and make me at home in the starry heavens which are always overhead and which I don’t half know to this day?”

 

   Dr. Fisher is known to have returned to the Maimi Valley and sometimes made public lectures. Occasionally, he visited with his brother Howard, who lived in Troy. In 1928, he is reported to have spoken to students both in Sidney and Troy.  

 

   It should be noted that Dr. Fisher was married twice. His second wife was a Chickasaw Indian princess named Te Ata, whom he married in 1933.  Te Ata was a well-known actor and story teller. The website www.teatavmovie.com says, “During the prime of her more than 60-year career, she performed in England and Scandinavia, at the White House for President Franklin Roosevelt, for the King and Queen of Great Britain and on stages across the United States.”  She presented a program to the Troy Altrurian Club in 1976. Wallace states in his book that “Te Ata became the most recognized spokeswoman for Indian lore in America.”  She also presented lectures across the United States through the Chautauqua program series.

 

   Dr. Fisher passed away in 1949 and is buried in Graceland Cemetery in Sidney. He was inducted into the Sidney City Schools Hall of Honor in 2002.  Wallace noted in his book, “Clyde Fisher passed away in New York City only eight years after his retirement as Director Emeritus of the Hayden Planetarium in 1941. He is still acknowledged as the ‘father of astronomy’ in this country.”

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