NAHANT — The entire country was treated to a view of a partial solar eclipse that gave the sun the appearance of a crescent moon for the first time in the United States in 38 years.
About five dozen spectators, young and old, gathered on the porch of the Nahant Public Library Monday afternoon. The spectators protected their eyes with NASA eclipse glasses equipped with special-purpose solar filters. Others brought their own homespun viewing devices made with cardboard boxes and tin foil.
“It’s really nice that this has become such a community event,” said Library Director Sharon Hawkes. “Given recent events in this country, we need to put people together. We’re all people. We all have a sense of wonder.”
Hawkes said she purchased 20 glasses without knowing if there would be an interest, and saw more than 30 people stop by before the 2:15 p.m. viewing time.
Though everyone in the U.S. got a glimpse of the moon blocking portions of the sun, more than 12.2 million Americans who live within the 70-mile-wide path that crossed 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina were privy to a total eclipse, according to NASA’s website.
The last time the United States experienced a total eclipse was in February 1979. It happens in one place an average of about once every 375 years, according to the website. During a total solar eclipse, more than just the darkness makes it seem as though it’s night time; the temperature drops and birds can be seen settling in for sleep in the middle of the day.
While the event wasn’t as dramatic in the North Shore, crowds still stepped outside to experience the rare sight.
But not everyone listened to the safety warnings about the damage staring into the sun could do to a person’s eyes. A man at a Lynn corner store announced he would watch with a naked eye, a young girl stared into the sky with two pairs of sunglasses on, and a group gathered on the sidewalk, using their hands to shield the sun’s rays.
Winnie Hodges, of Nahant, said she remembers friends using beer bottles to filter the sun during a partial eclipse in the past.
“I don’t think they had the glasses 40 years ago,” said Nahant resident Christine Alexander. “We weren’t allowed to look at it at all, but people still would.”
Others found creative ways to protect their eyes from the rays, including Jim Cunningham of Nahant, who said he remembers using a welding mask with his co-workers at General Electric during the last partial solar eclipse. This year, he stuck to the glasses certified by NASA.
Sophia Alexakos, 11, experienced the buzz created by the eclipse for the first time Monday. She and her mom learned how to create their own eclipse viewer out of a shoe box and tin foil.
Inside the library, NASA’s live streaming video of totality was projected on a large screen, and an orrery, or model of the solar system, showed how the celestial bodies align to make an eclipse. The orrery was lent to the library by local astrophysicist Peter Foukal.