YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

San Diego reporter won a Pulitzer for account of 1923 eclipse

Magner White used lean, vivid prose to produce a colorful report on a noontime solar eclipse and garnered journalism's highest prize.

May 22, 2012|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
  • Magner White in the 1950s. He "was a very polite con man and a great reporter,” one colleague told The Times years later.
Magner White in the 1950s. He "was a very polite con man and a great reporter,”… (USC Digital Library )

The newspapers and websites were full Monday morning with stories about Sunday's eclipse: finely done accounts with facts, figures, quotations and on-the-scene reporting.

Will any win the Pulitzer Prize? Only time will tell.

But if so, there is precedent: The 1924 Pulitzer Prize for reporting went to Magner White, a reporter for the San Diego Sun, for his account of a noontime solar eclipse that occurred Sept. 10, 1923.

White's account, in the lean, vivid prose of the day, had weird gusts of wind hitting the city, circus animals pacing and roaring, prostitutes falling to their knees and vowing to change their wicked ways, and San Diego residents exchanging "ghastly smiles, pale lilies they are."

The Sun's story was on the stands within minutes of the eclipse becoming total. A rival paper's story published the next day didn't have nearly the same kind of detail and emotion. According to its story, the zoo animals were quiet.

For his story, the 29-year-old preacher's son from McKinney, Texas, who loved suits and prizefights, won the biggest prize in journalism, a rare honor in those days for a newspaper from the West Coast.

Just how White scooped his rivals and found such colorful details is a matter of conjecture. Most of his contemporaries are gone now but in 1989, on the 66th anniversary of the eclipse, they talked to the Los Angeles Times about White.

"Magner White was a very polite con man and a great reporter," said one.

"Magner White was a damn fine newspaperman," said the editor who had assigned the eclipse story to White. "He got cocky after winning the Pulitzer though."

And finally a third Sun alum: "Magner used to joke about never having to leave the office to win a Pulitzer."

White spent several more years at the Sun before leaving for a job in El Paso and then a stint with the Los Angeles Times. Then it was back to San Diego, where he was a columnist and editor at the Sun before it merged in 1939 with the Evening Tribune.

After the Sun's closure, White worked for the Saturday Evening Post, the movie industry, Look magazine, and, finally, the Los Angeles Examiner in the 1950s.

A book listing Pulitzer winners notes, "He wrote the story from the newsroom."

Los Angeles Times Articles