Norton Experiences the Rumblings of an Earthquake and Glimpses a Solar Eclipse

Last week Norton saw two rare natural phenomena: an earthquake and a solar eclipse. Neither were very showstopping, but they certainly provided an interruption from daily life, if not a mild sense of awe.

On April 5 at 10:23 a.m.,
a 4.8 magnitude earthquake originated in Tewksbury, New Jersey. The earthquake sent tremors up the East Coast, from Maryland all the way up to Boston. Though some parts of New Jersey were close to the epicenter and sustained some damage, Norton experienced only very light shaking. As Abbie Cramer ‘26 said, “I didn’t feel a thing.”

Norton Deputy Fire Chief Michael Wilson said in an email to The Wheaton Wire that Norton does “not have protocols specific to earthquakes, but we do have protocols for building collapses and other emergencies that would result from an earthquake. As I am sure you are aware, earthquakes are extremely rare in this part of the country, but we always need to prepare for the unexpected.”

Wilson is right that earthquakes are rare in the Northeast, which lacks the major fault lines of the West Coast. According to Wheaton geology professor Geoffrey Collins, most earthquakes on the East Coast “are caused by the gradual settling of the ancient mountain range that we live on top of. Kinda like the random pops and groans of an old house.”

“300 million years ago most of the East Coast was in the middle of a Himalaya-scale mountain range — earthquakes would have been common and strong back then — and it’s been eroding and settling ever since.”

The solar eclipse as seen from Wheaton College, MA.
The solar eclipse as seen from Wheaton College, MA.
Photo courtesy of Ajahni Jackson via the Wheaton College Instagram

Solar Eclipse on Campus

Gracie Beach ‘24 describes the scene on campus on the day of the eclipse as looking “like Woodstock 1969 in the Dimple,” with everyone crowded around on blankets and chairs to see the partial solar eclipse. The Boston area got roughly 93% coverage, which, as Beach put it, meant that “not much happened…

it got a little dark and a little cold, but nothing crazy happened with the lighting.”

Still, Beach and Aidan Connor ‘24 said the event brought the campus together. “So many people I know said their professors let them out early to go to experience the eclipse,” said Connor, who also noted that the weather was another upside of the day.

“It brought people together and allowed everyone to go outside and just have fun and enjoy the warm weather. And the eclipse itself was cool,” Connor said.

Beach and Connor watched the eclipse from lower campus, on the Outdoors Haus roof with some of their housemates and friends. Beach said that from the roof she could hear whoops and cheers echo across campus when the moon covered the sun.

“There were people out on the soccer field throwing frisbees, and I saw a group of three women wearing long skirts holding hands and running in a circle as it was happening,” Beach said about the scene from the roof.

Lake Champlain, VT, when darkness fell during the eclipse.
Lake Champlain, VT, when darkness fell during the eclipse.
Photo courtesy of Emmett Anderson.

Traveling to the Path of Totality

John Morris ‘24 decided that he wanted to be in the path of totality, where he could see the full effects of the solar eclipse. On Sunday night, he, his girlfriend, and four friends loaded into his car and joined over 150,000 other people to view the complete eclipse in Vermont. Vermont, Maine, and parts of New Hampshire were all states in the path of totality.

“I’m not a scientist, but I know that we’re the perfect distance from a star that life can survive on this planet. So to watch something very, very slowly come between us and the sun, to slowly block out the light and the warmth, to watch the color drained from reality” Morris said. He paused. “I don’t know. I don’t know the words for it. Maybe grounding. Just to realize how reliant we are upon the sun.”

The solar eclipse, as seen from Lake Champlain, VT.
The solar eclipse, as seen from Lake Champlain, VT.
Photo courtesy of Emmett Anderson.

Morris said it was a worthwhile event to skip class for, and a “very human experience.”

Another human experience was driving in traffic on the way home. It took him and his friends eight hours to get from Vermont to Boston, something many eclipse travelers experienced.

“It was equally as human that we all gathered and watched the sun disappear as
it was that we all got stuck in traffic on the way home,” Morris said.