Kentucky historian talks myths, legends, history of solar eclipses

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - It only lasts a few minutes but is a phenomenon that is both mysterious and intriguing.

"Solar eclipses were one of the most terrifying things that have ever happened in nature to people," said Ron Bryant, Kentucky historian.

A solar eclipse has often caused fear, been associated with myths, and the source of superstitions.

"The sun has always represented life and when something darkens it and it disappears there is prime evil terror," said Bryant.

Historian Ron Bryant says most every culture has a tale to tell about the day the sun disappeared. In ancient Greece, it was believed to be the work of angered Gods. In Vietnam, people thought an eclipse happened when the sun was devoured by a giant frog. In modern times, like early rural Kentucky, many didn't know what to think.

"For many Kentuckians, it was an absolute horror, because if you can imagine a farmer living out you know in the middle of nowhere, couldn't read or write, did not know this was going to happen and suddenly in the afternoon the sun starts to darken," said Bryant.

It happened August of 1869 all the talk was about the great eclipse. Shelbyville in Kentucky became the epicenter of activity, Shelby College there had at the time one of the best telescopes in the country.

"That was a major event like this one is going to be, in fact, even the railroad had special excursions into Kentucky to see the eclipse."

Bryant remembers hearing as a child tales from his grandmother about his ancestors living through the day the sky darkened and the temperature reportedly dropped 14 degrees.

"She said everybody was terrified; people were falling on their knees praying, thinking the end of time had come."

But, the end didn't come, and there have been many more solar eclipse events since. As for worrying about this one, Ron Bryant says live it, be part of history!

"No it's something to enjoy, it’s something to come out and look at and say my goodness what a great phenomenon this is," said Bryant.

Scientists have debunked modern day myths like food being cooked on eclipse days not being safe and warnings that pregnant women stay indoors for their health. There is no scientific evidence that a solar eclipse can affect human behavior, your health or the environment.



 
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