I was sitting with my dad in Walter Cronkite’s basement office, with a slat of a window above Walter’s head that seemed to show the feet of passersby on the sidewalk of, I think, west 57th Street in Manhattan. We were chatting about this and that -- I don’t remember what, really, except that it was a quieter version of the Cronkite voice we knew from TV. But his posture was slumped back in his desk chair, relaxed and very far from the lean forward erect posture of the newsman who’d anchored the news. (Someone once pointed out to me, as have many publicly, that there’s more than a little performer in anchormen, and the trick is to make it look natural.) It was, perhaps, the early 1980s. I don’t think Cronkite was still anchoring, but he still had a position at CBS. I don’t know how my dad befriended Cronkite -- probably when dad was working for CBS radio in the 1960s, producing stories about space launches at Cape Canaveral.
It was a sunny, warm day in New York, and suddenly, Cronkite looked at his watch, startled, grabbed a metal briefcase, stood quickly, and told us us to follow him onto the street. At the nearby intersection, 10th Avenue, I believe, he opened the briefcase, pulled out what looked like film negative strips -- they were in fact light filters -- handed some to my dad and me, and proceeded to hold his own up and look at the sun. There was that day a partial solar eclipse, which one could look at through the filters safely, and that no one but an enthusiast would have known about let alone bothered to see. As people passed us on the street, a couple seemed to realize it was Cronkite and do a double-take. But it is New York, and people often leave the famous alone here. He was eager and excited, almost boyishly so, to see the sun with a slither blocked by the moon. When it was over -- just a minute or two -- he took back the filters, put them in his case, and walked briskly back to the CBS studios building.
I’m told I met Cronkite a number of times, as a little boy at one of the space launches, and elsewhere. I think he might have come to our apartment in Greenwich Village once. But watching the eclipse is the one I really remember, and one I thought I’d share because it’s a small view into the man distinct from the other obit coverage we’ve been reading, and a story that I don’t think others, besides my dad, could tell.