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Eclipses consumed much differently in social media era

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Jim Bilsland eclipse photographer

Jim Bilsland, pictured in his Sioux City home Wednesday, displays a picture he took of a partial eclipse in 1974 that was published in the Sioux City Journal. 

SIOUX CITY | In 1974, a Sioux City man took a photo of a partial solar eclipse he observed just south of the city.

Jim Bilsland submitted the image to The Journal, and it ran the following day on Page 1 above the fold, on Dec. 14, 1974. Bilsland's newspaper photo may have been the only print image some Siouxlanders saw of the notable natural event. Perhaps they saw a glimpse on a TV account.

Compare that to Monday, when a total solar eclipse will occur in the United States. In the social media era, people will be sharing photos on Facebook and running them through Twitter, and it is not difficult to imagine the eclipse as the top trending topic.

This is, after all, the first eclipse of the social media era. For some people, witnessing a total eclipse of the sun is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and they'll want to share that.

Michael Zeiler, of, writes that "social media will have a huge impact on motivating eclipse visitors. The eclipse is exactly the type of event guaranteed to go viral on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social platforms."

One of the prime hashtags on Twitter appears to be #Eclipse2017, which pops up a sun-related graphic.

In a younger generation, Bilsland's daughter Tami Fairbanks, also of Sioux City, said she likely will be one of those who will share photos she aims to take of the eclipse near Grand Island, Nebraska. Fairbanks said she expects to upload any good photos on Facebook, which should be rife with eclipse shots.

Compare that instant sharing via digital devices to the time Bilsland put into getting his image into The Journal. He had occasionally taken photos of wrecks or fires that were run as Journal submissions, and thought he had a worthy image on that December day almost 43 years ago.

He had a camera along while working a shift for Muv-All Trailer, and stopped to set up a tripod for it, between Sergeant Bluff and Sloan, Iowa, just before 10 a.m. He used a 400 millimeter lens.

"I was just looking for things that were worthy of a picture. It seemed like a likely thing, if I could do it... It was fairly big news that (the eclipse) was coming. But at the end, it was hard to see, there were clouds everywhere," Bilsland said.

He liked what he got, and dropped the film from his camera to Journal offices.

The newspaper workers processed the images, and the next day ran one, with the cutline, "Clouds which hid Friday's partial eclipse of the sun from watchers in Sioux City as well as other parts of the nation cleared briefly near Salix...Bilsland was working in the Salix area when the eclipse, in which the shadow of the moon move across the face of the sun, became visible."

The photo was also put on the Associated Press wire for other newspapers to use.

The 2017 total eclipse will be the first since 1918 with a path that crosses the Pacific and Atlantic coasts in the U.S. This time, the path will go from Oregon to South Carolina.

The prime path, or the so-called path of totality, of the eclipse will cover roughly 70 miles wide. It will skirt south of Siouxland, running in a diagonal across Nebraska from west to southeast, clipping where southwest Iowa connects to Nebraska and northwest Missouri.

The path of totality will hit the extreme southwest corner of Iowa in Fremont County, near Waubonsie State Park and the town of Hamburg. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reports that at about 1:05 p.m. Monday, a small 582-acre area of Iowa will experience a 32-second glimpse of the total eclipse.

The time it will cross Nebraska is roughly 10 minutes, from 12:54 to 1:04 p.m.

“We are making sure a portion of that small public area is mowed for eclipse watchers and we were lucky enough to locate a telescope to use at the viewing," Matt Moles of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources State Parks Bureau said in a release.

Parking is very limited at the site, but the towns of Hamburg and Sidney plan to provide shuttle services for the event.

Bilsland, 76, said he has no plans to drive 200 miles to see the eclipse in Nebraska or Iowa. His anticipation isn't as high as in 1974.

"I might just take a brief look with a box with a pinhole. I'm not sure how welding helmets will work for (observing) these," Bilsland said.

"It is now just a passing thing."


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