CARBONDALE, ILL. – For a few minutes across the contiguous United States on Monday afternoon, people from all over the world who live in or traveled to the path of totality were treated to a rare, total solar eclipse.
Since San Antonio will be in the path of totality in 2024, the Rivard Report decided to get a preview.
Some experiences involved quiet, small gatherings of friends and family. Several people I spoke to described a hush that fell over groups and individuals as they observed the moon appear as the same size as the sun, revealing a ring of fiery atmosphere for the naked eye. Wild animals, insects, and pets reacted to the sudden, mid-day nightfall.
“Night birds were starting to chirp and the cicadas came out,” said longtime Carbondale resident Karol Zieba Phelps, who stayed home during the event to serve moon pies and eclipse cookies to family and friends.
“It sounded like a summer night for a few minutes,” her husband, John Phelps, said. They hosted 13 people in their home for the event, myself included.
Other experiences, like the one at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, were as raucous as a sporting event and arguably more dramatic. The forecast called for clear or partly cloudy skies for most of the day with a chance of rain during the totality. More than 14,000 people and 800 volunteers packed the Saluki Stadium for Eclipse Day. The stadium and arena hosted science demonstrations, and hundreds more gathered outside in nearby fields and parking lots for an arts and crafts fair and other exhibits.
A dark cloud started to form about an hour before the totality was to begin. Even Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) was keeping his fingers crossed, he told the Rivard Report as we looked over the filling stadium from its rooftop view.
Rauner said he met people from Sweden, Japan, and Canada over the weekend who had traveled to the state specifically to see the eclipse. Even if it’s cloudy, he said, “this is all about celebrating a very historic day.”
Though there was increased traffic around the stadium, the City of Carbondale didn’t seem as crowded as expected over the weekend, local police officers said. It wasn’t until Monday that the crowds showed up – likely waiting to hear of the weather.
Back on the ground floor, the crowd fell silent as a cloud overtook the sun. A few scattered “boos” erupted from the masses.
Then, a literal ray of hope shone through as the cloud began to break. A deafening rumble of stomping feet and cheers: “Go, Cloud! Go, Cloud!”
In the end, people at the stadium saw about 15 seconds of the totality. Many left the scene with looks of disappointment – as though their beloved Salukis had just lost. But, still – 15 seconds isn’t bad, said Diana and Seth, who drove six hours from Minnesota.
“It was worth it,” Seth said. “We got to see the diamond ring [effect] … and dusk 360 degrees around you.”
“And we saw the shadow fingers,” Diana added, referring to phenomena called “shadow bands,” which are caused by atmospheric turbulence before and after eclipses. They can be seen on white surfaces such as sidewalks.
Dan Abramov, a photographer who holds a master’s degree in astronomy, drove to Carbondale from Waco. He waited patiently for hours for the perfect shot of the totality, and finally got it.
“I saw it for a split second … you can’t blink,” Abramov told the Rivard Report. Passersby gathered around his camera to take their own photos of his screen – a perfect totality.
“This was a trip well spent,” he said.
John Whisenhunt, who lives in San Antonio and is a member of the city’s League of Sidewalk Astronomers, traveled to his hometown Columbia, Mo. which just happened to be in the path of totality.
Whisenhunt set up a telescope at the retirement community his mother lives in. Many of the residents, ranging in age from 80 to 100, had not seen an eclipse of any kind before, he said. Unfortunately they, too, had weather issues as a light “haze” fell over the city. Ironically, some people in Missouri travelled to Carbondale’s stadium once they saw the weather reports.
“We think that kind of movie effect [haze] was actually kind of an enhancement,” he said, but it did prevent them from seeing other planets and stars.
“It was only two and a half minutes … but it felt longer,” Whisenhunt said. “You’re trying to save that in your memory and in your heart.”
An eclipse seems to have an odd, unifying effect on the human race. It’s not every day the moon perfectly blots out the sun – in fact, the last time it swept across North America was almost 100 years ago.
As 2024 approaches, San Antonians can likely look forward to an influx of visitors. This reporter might want to skip the crowded venues to spend those fleeting moments in quiet reflection with friends.