The Great American Eclipse has come and gone, but those who ventured into the totality zones that swept across 14 states will remember it for years to come.
We drove from the Raleigh/Durham area of North Carolina, leaving there at 9 a.m. to view the eclipse within the totality zone on the coast of South Carolina. Traffic southbound on I-95 was sluggish, with RVs and SUVs out-numbering the big rigs. We rolled into our hotel in Murrell’s Inlet at 2:15 p.m., pleased to be only one hour behind our projected ETA. We checked into our hotel, The Inlet Sports Lodge, a luxury boutique property that caters to golfers and fisherfolk, then headed to the beach for a few hours before dinner.
After dinner at Wicked Tuna in Murrells Inlet, we strolled over to the Tuna Shack, a casual waterfront bar and grill with outdoor seating, to relax and listen to the live entertainment. People were enjoying the spirit of the evening with spirits from a bottle, seat-dancing, and singing along with the guitarist. Many of these were locals, but others, like us traveled here exclusively to see the eclipse.
We awoke Monday morning disappointed by thunder and rain, but not distressed. The only thing we knew for certain was at 2:47 p.m. in Georgetown, S.C. the moon would blot out the sun whether or not we could see it through the clouds. The weather gurus promised the rain would abate before the eclipse began and sure enough, by the time we left our hotel the rain had stopped.
We could have hung out in Murrells Inlet to watch the eclipse from the hotel’s charming widow’s walk, but Murrells Inlet was only 99 percent within the totality zone. Having driven this far to see a total eclipse of the sun, we weren’t about to settle at 99 percent. It took us more than an hour to get 20 miles in bumper-to-bumper traffic heading south along Hwy 17 with all of the other totality geeks, winding up in Georgetown and our viewing party at the Kaminski House Museum.
Georgetown is a small coastal hamlet about 80 miles north of Charleston. By the time we got into Georgetown and parked, the party was well underway throughout the town. Front St. through downtown Georgetown was closed to traffic for a good, old-fashioned street party. People were already crowding around and heading toward the waterfront along Winyah Bay for a clear view of the sun’s path. We had tickets to a viewing party at the Kaminski House Museum, a historic two-house complex and event center. We parked our beach chairs, pocketed our eclipse glasses, and mingled into the festive crowd.
Even before the eclipse began, the atmosphere was charged with excitement. We met people from all over the world who came to view the eclipse. Some people brought their dogs and were training them to wear eclipse glasses in advance. Two couples thought eclipse day such an auspicious date they said their wedding vows before hundreds of onlookers on the green grass of Kaminski house, then enjoyed the eclipse with their families.
Scattered clouds with swaths of brilliant blue sky dominated the South Carolina skies all day long. By the time the moon made first contact with the sun, our view was alternately bright and then cloud-covered. Still, people donned their eclipse glasses to watch the progress, astonished at how brilliant the eclipse could be seen through the clouds. I snapped a few photos with my Nikon SLR and also with my iPhone in sheer excitement of the moment, but I didn’t come prepared or expecting to shoot the eclipse. I was here for the story.
Linda Joy came ready to shoot. Her Nikon D7200 was outfitted with a solar filter and stabilized on a tripod. A science writer currently working for the FDA, she knew enough about photography to set up the shot and wait for the right moments to snap. Her efforts paid off. She generously sent me a phone snap of her Nikon’s viewing monitor showing the glowing ring of the sun.
Until you’ve seen the blotting out of the sun with your own eyes, experienced the profound darkness and seen the stars emerge in the middle of the day, viewed the sun’s corona as a golden ring of fire, you won’t understand why hundreds of thousands of people flock to locations of solar eclipse totality. Looking around the crowd during the totality phase, I saw my own excitement reflected in the people around me. Smiles of childlike joy lit up the the faces of elderly people, while children shrieked as the light fell dark around them. Mouths dropped open in Os of speechless wonder, while the “oohs” and “ahhs” so familiar to firework displays harmonized all around me.
After the polarizing events of Charlottesville just over a week ago, this gathering of people seeking a peaceful experience released a ray of hope for our nation’s future. I shared this once-in-a-lifetime event with a crowd of strangers, who for a few fleeting moments, became intimate friends.