"Do the scientists really know? Will it happen today, will it?"
"Look, look; see for yourself!"
The children pressed to each other like so many roses, so many weeds, intermixed, peering out for a look at the hidden sun.'
-- From "All Summer in a Day" by Ray Bradbury
Anyone who has witnessed a total solar eclipse would recognize some similarities. A rare and brief but beautiful event involving shadows (of clouds/moon) and the sun. Few people on the planet have seen it and those fortunate few have a frustrating exulansis trying to convey the experience to others:
'Sometimes, at night, she heard them
stir, in remembrance, and she knew they
were dreaming and remembering gold or a
yellow crayon or a coin large enough to buy
the world with. She knew they thought they
remembered a warmness, like a blushing in
the face, in the body, in the arms and legs
and trembling hands. But then they always
awoke to the tatting drum, the endless
shaking down of clear bead necklaces upon
the roof, the walk, the gardens, the forests,
and their dreams were gone.
All day yesterday they had read in class
about the sun. About how like a lemon it
was, and how hot. And they had written
small stories or essays or poems about it:
think the sun is a flower,That blooms for just
That was Margot’s poem, read
in a quiet voice in the still classroom while
the rain was falling outside.'
No it's not like the photographs or the movies. And if you want to see one in person, you'll have to travel to see it or wait an average of 300 years for one to come to you. It's nothing like a total lunar eclipse and any partial solar eclipse you've ever seen was at least 10,000 times brighter and blander. So was this story inspired by a total solar eclipse?
-- Ray Bradbury published "All Summer in a Day" in March 1954, 3 months before June 30, 1954 when a total solar eclipse would have been visible from northern Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota a few hours drive from his native Waukegan, Illinois. The personal experience of my wife's grandmother seeing this one probably inspired her and the Green Bay astronomy club to take my wife to see one in 1979 which inspired her to take me to see one with me in Antigua 1998, Turkey 2006 and Kentucky 2017.
It was a short drive from Waukegan, but Ray Bradbury didn't drive. In fact he famously got into trouble the Waukegan police multiple times (as early as 1938?) for the crime of... walking. (and wisecracking, cue Robert Dinero's "I'm walkin' here!") This famously inspired his short story "The Pedestrian" and subsequent novel, "Fahrenheit 451."
But though Bradbury didn't drive himself, there is no reason to believe he confined himself to Waukegan (Martian Chrinicle's Green Town.) In fact when I went to UW-Oshkosh on the shore of Lake Winnebago a literary friend told me rumors that his beautiful début story "The Lake (1944)" was inspired by an occurrence on the beach at Oshkosh's Menominee park.
Good writers write from experience and Ray Bradbury was a good writer so there is a very good chance that he combined the anticipation of the rare total solar eclipse (an memories of an earlier one) with the nearly universal experience of being bullied or seeing some other outsider be bullied in a school. In my mind this story fits perfectly into a school memory where Peggy (Margot?) a 3rd grade refugee from the troubles in Belfast in 1974 found herself alone and misunderstood in our musty classroom/fallout shelter during what must have been for her, a long, dark and lonely winter.
It's shocking how well Bradbury understood and empathized with the outsider, the refugee, the immigrant. It almost makes me wonder if he wasn't a Waukeegan born "towney." Maybe Bradbury himself was an immigrant from somewhere very very far away.