Monday, May 9, 2016

The Day the Sky Turned Dark in New York City -- January 24, 1925

It was the third decade of the 20th century, about the middle of the roaring 20s.  Technology and industrialization, along with the Great World War of the prior decade, had helped to transform the United States into a major world power, and with that transformation New York City became the world's powerhouse.  

Calvin Coolidge, who had been the Vice President of the United States under Warren G. Harding, was now the President since Harding had suddenly died in office on August 2, 1923. At that time there was no way, unlike today after the passage of the 25th amendment to the Constitution in 1967, to nominate and confirm a Vice Presidential candidate to fill the vacancy created by Coolidge’s ascendancy to the Presidency.

During 1924, Coolidge ran for President on the Republican ticket, with Charles G. Dawes as his running mate against John W. Davis and Charles W. Bryan on the Democratic ticket.  In the November, 1924, election Coolidge and Dawes won the election, but in those days, since inauguration day was still March 4, of the following year, Coolidge would have no sitting Vice President until after the inauguration in March.

In New York City, John F. Hylan was the Mayor. New York City had just become the most populous city in the world, having overtaken London.

January, 1925, arrived and departed like a polar bear and New York City was the unwelcome recipient of almost 27 1/2 inches of snow, the most ever recorded for any January up to that time (this record was finally eclipsed in January, 2011, when the city recorded 36 inches of snow).  On January 20, 1925, New York City got hit with two blizzards in one day. On January 27 more snow fell and then the coup de grace; another giant storm on January 30 that affected the entire metropolitan area.

But, on January 24th of that year, on that cold and wintry Saturday morning the temperature was hovering around zero degrees, and David Franklyn Yerex, a professional photographer who had worked for a number of years for Underwood and Underwood, the world’s largest producer of stereoscopic cards, arose early and took his photographic equipment to Highbridge Park just north of the High Bridge on the Manhattan side before dawn and set up his camera to get a good view of the High Bridge and the Harlem River. David grew up with cold weather. He had been born in a small town in Ontario, Canada, in 1876.  But, despite all the adverse weather conditions, at precisely 9:11 am he took a picture that made him somewhat of a celebrity. He had taken a very rare picture of a total eclipse of the Sun at precisely the right time.

It was known for quite some time prior to the actual eclipse that this eclipse was going to come on January 24th, but in order for a viewer in New York City to get a view of the total eclipse the viewer had to be in the very narrow path where the eclipse was total.  In fact, had Mr. Yerex been south of approximately 96th St. he would have only seen a partial eclipse. Below is the map prepared by Consolidated Edison Companies based upon actual observations of where this particular eclipse was total and where it was only partial. You will note the somewhat diagonal dotted line (actually it is going almost directly east/west) through the northern part of Central Park, starting at about 95th St. at Riverside Drive and ending at about 106th St at the East River. Points south of this line were in partial eclipse for the event and points north of this line were in the path of the total eclipse.

Below is a local news article on the anticipated path of the area where the total eclipse would occur on that day.

You can see that New York City is on the southern fringe of the area covered by the total eclipse.  

The following beautiful and rare art photo of the Total Eclipse of the Sun was taken by David Yerex from Highbridge Park on Washington Heights, overlooking the Harlem River and the Bronx, New York City, January 24th, 1925 at about 9 A.M.

Image copyright 2016, Friends of the High Bridge, LTD.

It shows the historic High Bridge before the steel span over the Harlem River would be installed a few years later. Also, the street lights were turned on during the eclipse; and you can see the small tug going up the river; and smoke from a passing train still visible; also shown is the reflection of the eclipse in the water.  This is the only photograph of the “Great Event” which shows the marvelous streamers of the Corona that resemble an arrow shooting through the disk of the Moon.

A beautiful hand colored enlargement of this picture was hung in The American Museum of Natural History and has been highly endorsed by astronomers, artists, photographers and other capable critics who have proclaimed it to be a stunning picture of the eclipse.

To get an idea of how infrequently a celestial phenomenon such as this happens, the last previous total eclipse in New York City was in 1838, just as the Croton Aqueduct was starting to be constructed, and that eclipse was not a total solar eclipse, it was an annular solar eclipse. You would have to go back to the year 1478, before Columbus even discovered the New World, to find the last total solar eclipse to pass over what is now called New York City. And, if you are interested to know, the next total solar eclipse to pass over New York City will be in the year 2079.

David Yerex, would go on to take pictures of other future eclipses including the total solar eclipse of August 31, 1932 in New Hampshire, and the total solar eclipse of April 7, 1940 in Florida; and was honored by Life Magazine in 1940 with Life Magazine's Picture of the Week Award for the picture of the total eclipse of April 7, 1940, taken by him in Green Cove Springs, FL, just south of Jacksonville.

David Yerex led a colorful life. He lived in Providence, RI upon immigrating to the US in about 1893 and then met and married Annie McGregor Belmore after she immigrated from Nova Scotia to Boston in 1898. They moved to Boston where he was with the firm of E. Chickering. He was noted for his critically important photographs during this period of time. He divorced Annie and moved to New York City in the early 1910s, where he was employed by Underwood & Underwood. Underwood & Underwood was the world's largest producer of stereoview cards. It was during the 20s that the stereoview cards were losing market share and the firm was moving into photo images for the press, much like AP and UPI. He became naturalized as a citizen in 1917 and married a local girl named Helen of Irish descent. In 1920 he had moved to Washington Heights on 160th St. By the mid 1920s he had his own studio in the Bronx, not far from the High Bridge. Perhaps he walked the High Bridge from the Bronx with his equipment that cold wintry day to shoot the picture of the eclipse. During the 1930s he operated a photo studio providing portraits and other photographic services for the general public while he pursued his interest on the artistic side of the field. Around 1940 he moved back to Boston and lived there until his death. Very few of his known works still survive.

last modified 6/6/16


  1. Carl (Upper West Side)May 10, 2016 at 12:06 PM

    What a fascinating story. I wouldn't mind getting a copy of that picture. Do you have a high def image you can provide me?

    1. I have the actual photo. I don't know how well a digital HD image would come out. Please send me your email address so that we can try it out to see if it is clear enough. I don't think the one on the blog is all that great. I scanned that one.

  2. Now, that is a once in a millennium event