The Solar Eclipse Transformed America, at Least For a Few Moments

August 22, 2017

Millions of Americans gasped and groaned Monday as the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years zoomed across the country, dazzling many but disappointing some whose view was obscured by clouds.

For about 90 minutes the shadow of the moon raced over mountains, plains and forests at twice the speed of sound, from the coast of Oregon to the Atlantic wetlands of South Carolina.

For the lucky viewers, it was glorious.

“Awesome!” people said over and over.

“That was nuts,” said Sage Reuter, 20, in Culver, Ore.

“You weren’t kidding about the goose bumps,” a man in Casper, Wyo., said.

Onlookers cheered, rang bells, prayed, and wept as an eerie midday darkness fell.

Some counted down the minutes to approaching totality.

In Carbondale, Ill., scheduled for 2 minutes 38 seconds of totality, clouds threatened to obscure the event at its peak.

But they suddenly passed, and the fully eclipsed sun emerged.

“Diamond ring!” one person shouted, describing the characteristic gleam of the sun’s last rays shining over the moon’s rugged terrain.

“Wow,” said Beth Dellow, of Baltimore. “I feel different. I can’t describe how. But I do feel different.”

“What an experience,” said Carol Bleinstin, “at one in the afternoon, to be in total darkness. Nature really is gorgeous, and has something to teach us all the time. You just have to look.”

Crowding into the 70-mile-wide band of eclipse totality, people had thronged the shadow’s 3,000-mile-long path, camped out in tents, parking lots, and football stadiums.

They came by train, by car and on foot, jamming small towns worried about the influx of outsiders wearing eclipse T-shirts and cardboard eclipse glasses.

One community, fearing for its dead, roped off a small cemetery, to keep eclipsers from parking there.

Observers watched the glittering atmospherics, as the moon blocked out the sun, from beach chairs, from big-city rooftops, and from 11 different spacecraft, NASA said.

The sun is “our star!” one NASA expert said.

Starting about 9 a.m. Pacific time, the country was mercifully distracted from the dire news of the world, until the last remnants of the eclipse slid off the beaches of South Carolina, near Charleston, a little after 4 p.m. Eastern time.

And when it was over Monday, the weary moon, itself, went dark, entering the new “black moon” phase in its cycle.

Monday morning, the anticipation was intense.

“It’s starting!” a woman on the Oregon Coast cried as the eclipse began. “It’s starting!”

On misty Fishing Rock, near the centerline of totality, in Pacific Palisades, Ore., Perry Washington, called to his sons, “It’s about a 16th” blocked!

Then: “Oh shoot! The fog is in again.”

And a fog horn sounded in the distance.

“You can feel it!” said Julie Gess-Newsome, the dean of academic affairs at Oregon State University-Cascades, as she watched in Culver, about 200 miles inland. “It’s getting cooler. It’s starting to feel like sunset.”

In Carbondale, Ill., about 300 miles south of Chicago, Haja Goggans, 17, who had driven more than six hours from Milwaukee, tried to hold on to the wonder in the moments afterward.

“When it was cloudy right before,” she shook her head. “Everyone was so sad. And then this little sliver appeared. It was giddy.”

She recalled the cheer that went through the crowd — Goggans herself started whooping — and the intensity of knowing everyone around her was feeling the same thing.

“The only thing we all cared about was the sun, the moon and the sky. We all were here for one reason.”

As the applause and cheers for totality died out and the sun returned, a reverent quiet fell upon the crowd.

If before totality had been a carnival, the aftermath was like an especially moving church service.

People hugged, or traded reactions in hushed, awestruck tones. More than one person’s voice choked trying to describe what they had just seen. Most preferred not to talk at all.

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