On Monday, Aug. 21, as the time drew closer to 2:46 p.m. — the “peak” eclipse time for the region — a steady stream of eclipse-watchers pulled in to the parking lots at the Indian River Inlet and began climbing the pedestrian path on the east side of the Indian River Inlet Bridge.
Some carried the special safety glasses that had been hard to come by in the days leading up to the rare astronomical event. Others carried an assortment of boxes that once held cereal or other assorted items, festooned with foil and tape, designed to provide safe viewing of the eclipse through pinhole projection.
Since Delaware State Parks had announced the bridge would be set up as a viewing site and glasses would be available, people began lining up by 9 a.m. to procure the 200 or so glasses that were available for sale. Laura Scharle, interpretive programs manager for Delaware Seashore State Park, said the 200 glasses were sold out in less than 15 minutes.
“Could have even been five minutes,” Scharle said. “They went fast.”
For those who missed out on the protective glasses, state parks employees were on hand throughout the day to help people construct their own pinhole projectors.
“We got here a little too late” to snag glasses, said Cathy Hodgkins of Arlington, Va. So Hodgkins and her son, Scotty Hodgkins, 12, gamely kept watch on the moon’s advancing shadow with their homemade viewing boxes.
Both seemed to be enjoying the day, despite the fact that the eclipse peaked at only about 80 percent coverage in Delaware, rather than the total solar eclipse experienced in a swath across the country from Oregon to South Carolina.
“There was so much build up,” Hodgkins said.
The event brought back memories for her of an eclipse during her childhood, she said, recalling “We had to make all kinds of special contraptions.”
At the highest point in the bridge, Ocean View Leisure Center director Yolanda Gallego stood with about 16 members of the center. Faye Hartman of West Fenwick praised Gallego for putting the trip together for the members.
“All of us love her because she comes up with the best trips,” Hartman said. “I don’t know if I would have done this, otherwise,” she added.
Paulette Rappa of Long Neck stood, hair blowing in the stiff breeze atop the bridge, gazing at the disappearing sun through her American flag-design solar eclipse glasses.
“It’s just amazing!” she said. “Can you imagine, years and years ago, how terrifying it must have been?” to see an eclipse. “It’s just…” she said, searching for the right word before settling on “mystical. It’s mystical.”
Rappa praised the state park staff for planning the viewing event.
“It was a great idea,” she said.
Even the drivers crossing the bridge seemed aware of the approaching “peak,” as a few honked their horns at those gathered on the path just at the appointed moment. There was a kind of festive atmosphere among those gathered between ocean and bay to see the eclipse. Children flipped bottles and worked on their last-minute summer reading assignments, families took photographs of themselves and each other awaiting the big moment.
Some thought the peak of the eclipse had come a few minutes before the appointed time, when the sky darkened a bit and the temperature seemed to drop several degrees. It was a bit hard to gauge what caused those things, since there were also large clouds lumbering across the sky at the same time. The waning sun disappeared behind one just before the peak, but reappeared in time for the crowd to see the moon slide across the face of most of the sun.
“Oh, wow! Oh, look! Wow!” came a few shouts from the eclipse watchers, faces buried in boxes or eyes protected by glasses.
Scharle said she didn’t have an accurate crowd count as of about 3 p.m. Monday, but she guessed “at least 1,000 people” had parked in the lots at the park since early that morning. While she said she couldn’t be sure how many of those were on the bridge, as opposed to watching from the beach or from the deck of the Big Chill restaurant, she said the crowd was definitely much larger than a typical summer Monday.
“None of us are expert astronomers by any means,” she said, but nonetheless, staffers enjoyed helping visitors construct their own viewing boxes and offering what information they could. “It was just so, so cool to see all these people congregating for science… to see all those people excited about science,” she said. “It was great.”