SCHENECTADY — As the moon had its moment in the sun Monday, Capital Region residents turned their eyes skyward, most of them protected by what vaguely resembled 3-D glasses or, in some cases, empty cereal boxes.
Across the United States, people stopped what they were doing to witness a solar eclipse, which completely blocked out the sun in some parts of the country. It was the first eclipse to stretch coast to coast in nearly a century.
In the Capital Region, community and educational centers hosted viewing parties, giving attendees a chance to see the moon covering roughly two-thirds of the sun. At Schenectady’s Museum of Innovation and Science, or miSci, more than 1,000 people, many of them families, packed the lawn, back patio and parking lot to take in the rare astronomical event in a community setting.
“Some people say ‘people aren’t interested in science,’ but they haven’t seen these crowds,” said Mac Sudduth, president of miSci.
Visitors began arriving about 11 a.m. By 1 p.m., traffic backed up from the entrance on Nott Terrace to the intersection at Franklin Street a couple of blocks away. Cars were diverted to a pair of nearby churches for overflow parking.
By 1:30 p.m., the eclipse had just begun but the event was in full swing. Close to 1,000 people had already arrived, with a few hundred more expected to filter in, making it the museum's most attended event in memory, Sudduth said.
Visitors lined up to look through telescopes equipped with special lenses. Museum volunteers walked around with special eclipse glasses, allowing those who didn’t purchase their own to borrow a pair and steal a glance toward the sky.
“You can take part in it and you don’t have to be an expert or a Ph.D. to enjoy science,” miSci astronomer Valerie Rapson said when asked to explain the eclipse’s popularity.
In recent weeks, the museum sold about 5,000 pairs of the specialty glasses, which allowed users to safely look up at the sun during the eclipse.
Allyn Writesel, from Altamont, said she acquired a pair of the glasses during a miSci event on senior day a few weeks ago. She returned to the museum a couple of weeks ago to buy a few additional pairs for her kids to use on the big day, she said, adding she thought so many people were excited by the eclipse because of its rarity.
Eclipse glasses were hard to come by at events around the region, as most had sold out by the time Monday rolled around.
Siena College’s viewing party went on without the specialty eyewear, after the vendor alerted them Friday that they couldn’t independently verify that the glasses were up to standards for watching the eclipse.
The college disposed of the glasses, and instead offered specialty telescopes and other methods of watching the event, spokeswoman Lisa Witkowski said.
Many who couldn’t get their hands on a pair of the specialty glasses resorted to more creative means.
The crowd at miSci was dotted with adults and kids alike carrying empty Cheerios, Frosted Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios and Rice Krispies boxes, among other brand names. They had fashioned eclipse viewers at home using the empty box, some tape and some tinfoil, which when done correctly created a pinhole projector.
Olympia and Roark Frisoni, ages 11 and 8, respectively, came equipped with homemade eclipse viewer. Olympia said it took them about 20 minutes to create theirs, including time to decorate the outside of the box. The siblings, from Scotia, were excited to take in the event, saying they’d never seen such a thing before.
Patricia Barbanell, a retired Schenectady teacher who lives in North Bethlehem, recalled witnessing a total eclipse during her childhood in rural Connecticut. Her father, an engineer, brought home welders' masks to view it through, she said.
On Monday, she and her husband wanted to experience the eclipse along with the rest of the community, so they staked out a bench on the back patio at miSci.
“It’s fun to watch the kids experience the wonder of it,” she said. “It’s a unique experience, and for some people it’s the only time we’ll get to see it.”
The gathering at miSci resembled a neighborhood block party at times, with families mingling, laying out blankets and chairs and unpacking snacks and juice boxes.
A specialty playlist lingered in the background, made up of eclipse and star-themed songs like Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars” and Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.”
The eclipse came and went in about 90 minutes, but those who missed it or immediately craved an encore will only have to wait seven years.
The next eclipse will take place in April 2024. Whereas 2017’s eclipse only featured about 70 percent coverage in the Capital Region, area residents will witness about 99 percent coverage in 2024, Sudduth said. A total eclipse will be visible from just a couple of hours away, he said.
“Astronomy events in particular, they work like clockwork, so we can predict them,” Sudduth said. “Lately, there are so many people who express doubts about good, solid science, but they don’t question the eclipse or say the eclipse is a hoax."