When Venus went in front of the Sun on Dec. 6, 1882, the Globe started off with a nod to mythology, hinted that most people who said they saw Venus were lying, and then assumed that the most important observations were made at Harvard. The story was played on page 4.
“Whether it was an ingenious plan to attract public attention from Mrs. Langtry to herself or a desire to scrutinize a little more closely the features of her old flame Apollos does not appear, but certain it was that Venus made herself conspicuous to the eyes of mankind yesterday.
As certain peoples of the East when they worship their deities cover their faces in the awful presence, so yesterday the people of Boston covered their faces while in the presence of the goddess, the only difference being that the ignorant heathen use their cloaks, but smoked glass was good enough for the civilized world.
Smoked glass was, therefore, in great demand. The remnants of old lamp-chimneys, window panes, bottles, anything that was transparent, were brought into requisition, and the streets were lined with the curious gazers.
The amateur scientist dissected his telescope and devised ingenious schemes for getting an image of the sun. The men with portable telescopes reached rich harvests. The professional astronomers were happy in getting a clear sky, even if the early part of the transit was obscured by the clouds flitting over old Sol’s disc.
A good sight of the little speck was hard to get with common smoked glass, but after looking carefully for a minute or two the observer was always ready to swear that he had seen it, especially if somebody had told him where to look, but who might query how large a part of the imagination played in his success. It was amusing to compare the sizes which different people gave to what they saw. One man would compare it to a pin-head and another to a quarter of a dollar, while others took all the grades between. […]
The most important observation in this vicinity, and presumably in the country, occurred at Cambridge, and no less than seven telescopes were used, including the great telescopes, the equatorial telescope, the ordinary telescope in the west dome, the comet-seeker, the four-inch telescope and a six-inch telescope, the latter being mounted on a temporary frame of wood on the south lawn, just outside the building, and managed by Professor Searle, who was able to make the apparatus practical by assistance of a plain glass mirror, the same which was for a long time used at the observatory in making photographs of the sun. […]
The clouds interfered somewhat with the arrangements in the morning, but the observations in the afternoon were much more satisfactory than those of the morning.”
The article includes more on the “vast amount of compilation” to be done by the astronomers, as well as accounts of viewing in Washington, New Haven, and Hartford (by a German expedition). Here’s a PDF from the archive.
Access to the Boston Globe Archives hosted by ProQuest is FREE for Globe Subscribers (including BostonGlobe.com subscribers). Here are some links to explore the rest of the coverage from 1882 and the earlier transit in 1874. (Non-subscribers can pay for access to 1882 and 1874 here).