National Geographic : 2017 Aug
| EXPLORE | SPACE To see the total eclipse of 1937, an American expedi- tion set up camp on barren Canton Island. The team’s presence, alongside a rival viewing party, provoked a tug-of-war for the Pacific island, which the Christian Science Monitor described as ideal “for somebody who doesn’t care about shade or drinking water, and who likes solitude.” “ The weather is absolutely perfect,” announced an NBC broadcaster from an uninhabited Pacific atoll on June 8, 1937. Minutes later the moon blocked the sun—beginning what reports called the longest total eclipse in 1,238 years. Isolated Canton Island was the best place to observe the eclipse’s seven- minute arc across the sky, and a National Geographic–U.S. Navy expedition had hauled 22,000 pounds of equipment from Washington, D.C., to Honolulu and then 1,900 miles into the Pacific Ocean to be there. The 13-person team of scientists and photographers marked their mission’s success with a large concrete monument embedded with two American flags. Nearby, a scientific expedition sponsored by Britain displayed the Union Jack. The friendly rivalry soon became a diplomatic issue. Canton had no shade or permanent drinking water, but it was ECLIPSED BY WAR By Nina Strochlic PHOTOS: RICHARD H. STEWART (TOP); F. K . RICHTMYER (ABOVE); NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE (BOTH) perfectly situated for refueling planes between Hawaii and Australia. In Au- gust, Britain sent two officials to set up a base and asked the United States to remove its marker. Instead, President Franklin Roosevelt claimed the island and dispatched three Hawaiian “colo- nists” to live there. As World War II loomed, Japan viewed Britain’s tolerance of the encroachment “as evidence of Anglo-American co- operation,” according to media reports. Sure enough, the U.S. and U.K. did agree to control the island jointly and to pre- vent the Japanese from using it. The U.S. military built an airstrip and installed over a thousand men. Though the Jap- anese occasionally staged submarine and bomber attacks, Canton survived the war largely unscathed. The U.S. finally left the island in 1976. Three years later Canton joined the Republic of Kiribati and was renamed Kanton. A few years ago only two dozen people remained. Soon the island might return to its uninhabited state.