I came across this photo of my great-grandparents while sorting through the trunk stuff. This is an incredibly cool photo, for more than one reason.
For one thing, it’s the only photo I’ve ever found that shows my great-great-uncle House’s wife, Edie, in the company of the other Jamesons. You’ll remember Malcolm, Mary, and Vida Jameson from the last two posts, when they were in D.C.; here, Vida is a teenager. You might also recall that in 1930 Malcolm and Mary and their kids were living in the same building on east 48th Street as House and Edie. Despite this, though the two brothers (Malcolm and House) with their respective spouses/families always seemed to be in different worlds. At times this was literally true—in the 1930s House and Edie were touring Australia and the US with a theatre company for months at a time, Then House’s radio and stage work in New York likely came with its own unique lifestyle, whereas in 1930 Malcolm was a salesman with the International Correspondence Schools. In some of the extended group family photos of the Jamesons in the 30s and 40s, House shows up, but never Edie. But here she is, with her brother-in-law and sister-in-law and niece (and some other unknown folks) on a rooftop in what looks to be New York City.
My guess is that House was taking the photo, which is why he doesn’t appear in it. I also can’t help but wonder if they’re all on the roof of their building on 48th Street. But—and this is the other cool thing about the photo—I figured out from looking at the photo closely (which meant scanning it, since it’s only three by four inches) that I could make a pretty good guess as to the exact day it was taken.
The unknown gal on the far left was the big clue. That thing she was holding up to her eyes face. And then there’s the guy in the back with the sunglasses, and if you look very closely you can see that Mary is holding sunglasses, too. They were up on the roof to look at something. The sky? An eclipse?
I started searching around and found this NASA sight listing major solar eclipses visible from New York, and I found a date that seemed right, going by the clothing and the family history: August 31, 1932.
From all I’ve been able to find, this eclipse was a big event, especially on the East Coast, where the visibility was ideal. From New York City, 95% of the totality would be visible; 99% in Boston.
And an awful lot of science was going to be involved, studying the electromagnetic spectrum and all kinds of fun astrophysical stuff that I can’t begin to understand. Though I have to imagine that Malcolm would have been fascinated, since by the end of the decade he would publish his first science fiction story.
My search for eclipse info also turned up photos of other people was watching the eclipse that day. The governor of Massachusetts was watching, and so were Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera on another urban rooftop in Detroit. And parts of New England were advertising their high-eclipse-visibility conditions in order to attract tourists.
I even found viewers like the ones the woman on the left was holding up, both online and in footage of the event that day on YouTube:
I can’t know for sure if this photo I have was really taken on August 31st, 1932, or if that is really Edie, though it matches other photos I have of her at this time. And I suppose it’s possible that the kid with the sunglasses behind Vida is my grandpa Mac, though it doesn’t really look like him. (And where Mac was at the time is another mystery.) And I probably can’t ever know why my great-grandparents went to live in New York City.
All the same, sometimes an eclipse can give you a glimpse into the unknown.