The Great American eclipse of 2017 – Four Personal Experiences

Waiting for the eclipse in Goreville, Illinois
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The eclipse, on August 21st, 2017, was an event that was shared by people in the 14 states that were in its path and others who traveled in order to have a total eclipse experience.


In South Carolina with Ben Shapo-

I saw my first total solar eclipse in 1991 when a friend asked me to go to Mexico to see the celestial event.  Although I was skeptical, Mexico seemed like a great vacation.  Mexico did not disappoint, but the eclipse surpassed all expectations.  Since then, I have traveled to two other countries to see eclipses, once to Venezuela in 1998 and once to Hungary in 2000.  So a trip from Washington, DC to South Carolina for another eclipse sounded like a piece of cake.


Corona, Photo: Ben Shapo

Except for the weather.  The National Weather Service, the Weather Channel, Accuweather, Intellicast, and the Weather Underground all had forecasts for South Carolina that differed as violently as the summer storms that sometimes visit the Palmetto State.  After scrutinizing all sites, I decided to try my luck at a park along the shores of Lake Murray, just outside of Columbia.


I arrived at 7:45 a.m. to a crystal-clear, blue sky.  Things still looked great at 11:00 a.m., but the clouds started forming just after that.  By 1:00 pm, as the eclipse was about to start, the sun seemed to be dodging clouds.  Then, a large cloud loomed just as totality approached.  To the immense relief of the hundreds of people in the park, the cloud just missed the sun as totality started, and they were all treated to the incredible sight.  Two minutes later, another cloud covered up the sun.


Diamond ring, Photo: Ben Shapo

Who would have guessed that my “easiest” trip would result in the most nerve-wracking of all my eclipse-viewing experiences ….


In Beatrice, Nebraska with Murray Gorchow and Lois Shulman

Here is our experience of the total solar eclipse:

My new bride of two weeks, Lois & I, set out on our “honeymoon” trip by car from suburban Detroit MI to Beatrice NE hoping for clear skies in southeastern Nebraska.  Although I’m 70 years old, this amateur astronomer had never seen a total solar eclipse before Monday.


Lois Shulman & Murray Gorchow in Beatrice, NE, Photo: Courtesy of Murray Gorchow

The weather and skies that morning did not look good at all so we decided to drive 15 miles further south chasing clearer skies. We were rewarded for our 850 mile adventure on a dirt road between cornfields. We saw the moon totally block the sun as day turned to night. We were treated to the sun’s brilliant white corona emanating out into space as well as the beautiful “diamond ring effect” just before and again just after our 2 minutes and 15 seconds of totality.  It was an awesome breathtaking experience that brought us both to tears!


Lois Shulman, Photo: Courtesy of Murray Gorchow

In Goreville, Illinois with Barbara Keer, Jackie Keer and Steve Pasek –

Goreville, Illinois was the best place in the world to view the eclipse according to Brian Fields, the MC who guided visitors through the eclipse event.  Fields is a professor of Astronomy and of Physics at the University of Illinois. We had to agree with him.  This was the best place to be that day.


Brian Fields guided us through the Eclipse

The Department of Astronomy at the University of Illinois and the City of Goreville, Illinois cooperated and created an event that was welcoming, fun and educational.  In addition, they provided perfect weather with the longest viewing time on earth!


The viewing experience was greatly enhanced by being with others who were also interested in the event, and receiving clear instructions about what to look for and when.  Free glasses were available.  I liked being told when to put glasses on and when I could remove them.  Kudoos to the group that arranged this event! And even more amazing was the knowledge that we were sharing this phenomenon with countless spread across the country.


Goreville’s Public Park was the best place to be

I loved talking with people from other places –  from Madison – a professor of religion with her family ; from Detroit, a retired couple who worked for an oil company,  from Chicago – Ed and his brother-in-law from Albany, N.Y. and nephew from Albuqueque, NM.  He also brought great equipment for viewing.  He made a special piece of equipment for capturing the sun’s shadow. Visitors came from as far away as Australia, Italy and Costa Rica..


Ed, from Chicago, explains how the device he made works to children from Madison


Ed’s device shows the sun’s shadow as the Eclipse moves toward totality

Having the 44 individuals in the astronomy departments from the University of Illinois in Champaign and in Goreville instructing and answering questions was wonderful. I loved being able to chat with this friendly group and getting help with the telescope so I could photograph though the lens. (The telescopes had special filters). There were also activities for children, food that was aavailable, and real toilets.


The astonomers helped visitors use the telescopes


The sun before the Eclipse began

Clear instructions about what would happen and what to look for were repeated over the loud speaker several times because when things begin to happen, many things happen quickly.  The first change we noticed when the eclipse began, was the lengthening of shadows. Soon the wind picked up a little and  the air quality changed so that it was harder to breathe. There was an erie quality to the light as we observed the 360 degree sunset.


Elongated shadows


An Eclipse is an opportunity for scientists to learn about the behvior of insects, plants, animals and more


Totality is near


360 degree sunset, getting dark

I was surprised at how long it was light.  It really didn’t seem dark until the last sliver of the sun was covered. But, then, with glasses off, I looked at the sky an saw what appeared to be a blue circle around the rim of what had been the sun. This was in place for about 2 and a half minutes and then, suddenly, the “diamond ring” popped out and glasses went on, while the moon continued on its path across the sun.  It was stunning.

Glasses off- totality

Looking up

It was over. We were awed.  But it was time to head home.  And now our story is less delightful. We found ourselves crawling along highway 57 such that, in 9 hours we had only gone one hundred and fifty miles.  There was no highway supervision- no signs for alternate routes, no Police giving directions – very spotty internet service, no live radio announcements, and a road under construction with narrowed and merging lanes.  There were no hotel rooms available anywhere along our route, so, eventually after torrential rains began, we, as many others, pulled our car into a lot near a closed restaurant, slept for a few hours. At daybreak the next day, we saw a fast food restaurant open across the street, got coffee, used the facilities and returned to a road that moved.. A woman in the long line at the restaurant wondered how she would convince her boss that the 5-hour trip really took her 15-hours. We wondered how we made it home. Goreville is planning for the next Eclipse in seven years.  The experience was so incredible, we were grateful to have gone and might consider returning.  Eclipses are addicting.


At the Adler Planetarium (Chicago) with Debra Davy

On Tuesday, August 21st, the city of Chicago being the closest it has come to a total solar eclipse in 92 years, the Adler Planetarium– America’s first planetarium and dedicated to the study of astronomy and astrophysics- hosted “Eclipse Fest”. This reviewer arrived at 9am- the museum was to open at 9:30- and there was already a line 1½ miles long to get free appropriate viewing glasses; the Adler gave away 250,000 pairs to protect the public prior to the eclipse.  The mood was respectful, anticipatory and expectant; everybody I met was thoroughly engaged. The museum provided free general admission to check out exhibits including “Chasing Eclipses”, their newest enthralling and preparatory experience. There were indoor and outdoor activities and space on the lawns for all to participate.


At the Adler Planetarium, Photo: Debra Davy

Before the day’s events began, I spoke with Annie Vetter, Curator of Experience at the Adler. She worked on “Chasing Eclipses”, a fascinating display. The goal of the Adler’s enormous efforts with regard to the eclipse, she said, is “to inspire and encourage, to make people aware, to empower people to see and experience the eclipse for themselves. This is the first time since 1925 a total solar eclipse has come to Chicago. Usually, it’s difficult to see, for instance, the Milky Way because of light pollution. But with the eclipse we can connect with the sky. The Adler wanted to make this a free event with free glasses, and inside, live feeds of the whole eclipse”.


Soon, the planetarium was filled both inside and out. Lying back on the grass outside, moments before it began at 11:54 am, subtle and unusual natural accompanying phenomena will be noted. The air is filled with dragonflies. As a creeping darkness in the right upper quadrant begins, a coolness descends. By 12:15 PM, the sun begins to appear like the “Apple” logo. It’s quiet outside amidst the crowd on the northeast tip of Northerly Island on the shore of Lake Michigan. A penumbra and fingers of light penetrate the outline, even as blackness invades the orb. In Chicago, it reached maximum .89 magnitude at 1:19PM. Despite the overcast day, everybody is thrilled, speaks in hushed tones, and everybody stays for “the full show”.


Adler Planetarium, Chasing Eclipses, Photo: Courtesy of Adler Planetarium

The eclipse ended at 2:42 PM when the moon left the sun’s edge. Exiting the Adler campus at 2PM, walking up Solidarity Drive, packed with spectators, I was hailed by a cabdriver parked behind the shuttles. “I’ll turn off the meter if I can use your safety sunglasses.” I demurred to the offer but handed him my pair. He leaned out the window to take in the sight. Soon we were approached by a policewoman; she asked, “Can I see too?” This had been an especially shared time in a very special city.


Photos: B. Keer unless otherwise noted.



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