Rare eclipse brings crowds out into midday darkness

Photo by Christine Hudak, Linden Public Schools
Natalie Alexis Diaz peers into the sky to watch Monday’s eclipse near her home on Verona Avenue in Linden.

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Crowds came with telescopes, pinhole cameras and dark cardboard glasses that looked like they were going to see a 3-D movie.

It was a rare chance to see solar eclipse, and people fanned out across Union County on Monday, Aug. 21, by their homes, workplaces and even viewing parties like those in Springfield, Mountainside and one arranged by the Cranford Public Library at Sherman Park.

“We wanted to create a program that was educational for children,” Cranford Children’s Librarian Lauren Antolino told LocalSource. “We wanted to encourage them to be safe and get people to join their community to see this phenomenal occurrence.”

Celestial watchers arrived as early as 11 a.m. to receive a pair of the 200 solar viewing glasses provided to libraries to distribute to patrons from a StarNet grant from the American Library Association. Antolino and volunteers apologized after so many people were disappointed about not receiving a pair of glasses. They offered residents instructions to build their own pinhole camera.

“My husband made me this pinhole viewing device in case I wasn’t able to get glasses,” Susan Rho of Cranford said. “It doesn’t work that well because the view is just a small shadow. I viewed it through the telescope which was a lot better. I was waiting to get glasses and looking for them the past few days. Everyone was sold out already.”

Amateur Astronomer John Sichel brought his telescope to the event to share with viewers. Residents also graciously offered their neighbors a sight of the view with their glasses, so everyone who attended eventually got to see what they came for that day.

“This is a regular spotting telescope,” Sechel said. “It magnifies the eclipse by about 25 percent.”

The moon began to creep across the face of the sun around 1 p.m. and reached its zenith — about 77 percent coverage — around 2:40 p.m. Viewers described the eclipse as a “Pac Man” at the beginning and an upside down crescent moon by the very end. At around 2:30 p.m., the park grew significantly darker.

“The next eclipse like this won’t take place for another seven years,” Sichel said.”The last time it occurred was about 38 years ago.”

The library held an event just prior to the eclipse party for children to learn about the eclipse and ask questions.

“The kids asked some really interesting questions,” Antolino said. “There were about 36 kids that attended. We use the StarNet grant to expose children to science and learning. This was a way to encourage families to learn together. We did the best we could with the glasses. We trusted families to be honest and to only take two per family. This is also an event to get to know your neighbors.”