Fact Check

April 8, 2024, Solar Eclipse Will Pass Over All 7 US Cities Named Nineveh?

Some Christian groups have preached that the eclipse is a bad omen.

Published March 31, 2024

 (John Finney Photography / Getty Images)
Image Via John Finney Photography / Getty Images
Claim:
The United States has seven towns named Nineveh and all of them will fall in the path of totality during the April 8, 2024, solar eclipse.

On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will blot out the sun for a couple of minutes in a small band across the United States. The eclipse's totality is the only time humans can look directly at the sun without damaging their eyeballs, and so millions of people from around the world will flock to cities in the path of totality, such as Dallas and Indianapolis.

Eclipses do not discriminate, so anyone in the path of totality will be able to see the sun fully obstructed by the moon. However, some people have claimed online that there's one interesting coincidence about the eclipse's path of totality: It will pass through every city in the United States named Nineveh. That name is shared by an ancient city in modern-day Iraq that was described in the bible as "evil." 

Snopes received an email from a reader who requested that we check the claim about cities named Nineveh in the eclipse path. In our research, we discovered that many of the people making the claim were Christians who were interpreting the eclipse as a bad omen

Contrary to the claims, Snopes discovered that the path of totality in the eclipse does not pass through seven cities in the United States named Nineveh — it passes through just two. But before counting places named Nineveh, we must first briefly clarify how eclipses work.

How Eclipses Work

A total solar eclipse is caused by the moon and the sun being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. The moon fully blocks the light from the sun, casting a really large shadow on the earth. Those inside the moon's shadow, called the umbra, are the only ones who will be able to look directly at the sun without eye protection, and it's the small path of the umbra that people travel to in order to see the total solar eclipse. The website GreatAmericanEclipse.com created a visualization of the shadow's path across North America.

Outside the umbra, where the moon blocks only some of the sun, is called a partial solar eclipse, and the sun looks like it has a giant bite taken out of it. You cannot view a partial solar eclipse without special eclipse glasses, and this area is much, much larger than the umbra. The entirety of the continental United States will be able to see a partial solar eclipse on April 8, just as the entirety of the United States (even Alaska and Hawaii) was able to see a partial solar eclipse in 2017

The cool part (partial) of an eclipse can be seen from a very large area, as long as you wear eclipse glasses. The really cool part (total) of an eclipse can be seen only in a small area. It is the total eclipse that people have thought held religious significance since practically as long as humans have had eyes to see and religions to follow.

To quote the essayist Annie Dillard:

A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane. Although the one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it. 

Places Named Nineveh

We started with Wikipedia's list of places named Nineveh to get a general idea of where to look. Of course, we cross checked those results with more-reliable sources of knowledge, including Google Maps and data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Wikipedia listed just six places in the U.S. named Nineveh, which made our claim of seven dubious to begin with. Checking the locations of those places on Google Maps, we found that three were actually townships, a term used for county subdivisons in some states. 

The first was the largest, Indiana's Nineveh Township (south of Indianapolis), which contains a small hamlet of the same name. Both the township and the hamlet will indeed fall in the path of the total eclipse.

Next, Wikipedia listed two townships in Missouri — one in Adair County (about halfway between Kansas City and Davenport, Iowa) and one in Lincoln County (about an hour northwest of St. Louis). But neither of the two townships contained a village named Nineveh on any of the maps we looked at. Furthermore, neither of the townships fell in the path of the total eclipse. 

The fourth place on Wikipedia's list, Nineveh, New York, is about 30 minutes east of Binghamton. We found it marked on maps but, again, it did not lie in the path of totality.

Fifth: Nineveh, Pennsylvania, roughly halfway between Pittsburgh and Morgantown, West Virginia. This Nineveh was marked on maps, but it was also outside of the total eclipse. It was also the last Nineveh listed by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sixth, we found Nineveh, Virginia, an hour and a half west of Washington, D.C. This was the easiest to check: Nobody in the state of Virginia will be able to see full totality during the eclipse. We did not find a label for Nineveh on maps, and buildings located in the area had their postal addresses listed as White Post, Virginia.

That completed the Wikipedia list, but various posts about the supposed line-up listed two more Ninevehs located in the U.S.: one in Texas and one in Ohio.

Nineveh, Texas, was not marked on maps, nor did it have a post office. It was located not far off of Interstate 45 halfway between Houston and Dallas. This one was close, but we eventually confirmed that it would be outside of the zone of totality by referencing nearby cities that also were outside of totality.

Nineveh, Ohio, was a similar story: not found on maps, no post office, no Census data. But this Nineveh, 30 minutes northwest of Dayton, was finally our second hit.

In total, we counted two places named Nineveh in the United States that could be found in the path of totality.

Sources

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Jack Izzo is a Chicago-based journalist and two-time "Jeopardy!" alumnus.