On Eclipse Day, People Around Montgomery County Gaze at Rare Blockage of the Sun

People use special glasses to observe phenomenon in the sky


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Posing for a family selfie in Woodmont Triangle on Monday during the eclipse were Jason and Emily Goldberg, of Potomac, and their children, Zachary, 11, and Tyler, 8.

Sarah Hogue

This story was updated at 6:40 p.m. August 21.

All of those people standing in public places on Monday afternoon, their heads tilted back, their eyes protected by dark-lensed glasses—they were staring at history.

The first total eclipse to sweep across the United States in 99 years was underway, although much of the country had to settle for a little less than full blockage by the moon of the sun. Montgomery County peaked at about 80 percent mid-afternoon.

The county had eclipse-watching parties that drew thousands of people. At Martin Luther King Jr. Park in White Oak, a crowd as diverse as the Earth gathered to watch the moon glide past the sun.

So many people showed up, Montgomery Parks had to close the park about 15 minutes after the 1 p.m. scheduled start because the parking lot was full. Residential neighborhoods in the area were crammed with cars lining the streets.

The crowd at the Silver Spring event at MLK Jr. Park. Credit: Andrew Metcalf

There was a long line and a wait of more than 90 minutes to get free specially tinted eclipse glasses. After an hour, the parks department ran out of the approximately 1,000 pairs of glasses it had to give away.

Colesville resident Peter Mills didn’t mind the wait.

“We are having a blast,” Mills, a school teacher, said. “I met an old friend in line and we were talking.”

He said the crowd didn’t surprise him.

“This is a big moment,” Mills said, “I knew everyone was going to be here.”

As the family tried on their glasses, Mills’ son Dean looked at the sun around 1:15 p.m., just as the moon was starting to block out part of the sun.

“It’s like someone took a bite from an apple,” Dean Mills said.

Parks department spokeswoman Melissa Chotiner said people started arriving at the park around 9 a.m.  When the crowd swelled, she encouraged people to share their glasses. The department ran out of about 700 plastic water bottles soon after the event began.

“I don’t think anyone realized how popular this was going to be,” Chotiner said. “I think, though, it’s going as smoothly as possible given the situation.”

In Veterans Park in Woodmont Triangle in Bethesda, by 2 p.m., as peak blockage was near, the crowd was growing.

Andrew Lenick, a local businessman, stepped out of work to look at the sky. Some of his friends had gone to South Carolina, but he was happy with the sight here.

“I didn’t know what the viewing would be here, but I was actually impressed with the viewing here,” he said. “It’s pretty clear. I wish I had bought glasses.”

Luckily, a coworker shared hers.

Stuart Claggett, an Alexandria, Virginia, resident, said he had seen another eclipse in Paris—the city become enveloped in darkness as he stood at the Eiffel Tower. Though this view didn’t quite compare, he said he was glad to pay more attention to the sun itself rather than the surrounding environment.

“Now I’m interested in looking at the eclipse itself,” he said.

Lisa Joyner was more interested in the eclipse for the science.

“I’m so excited,” she said. “I’ve had NASA on all day.”

Employees at Design To Delivery Inc., a government contractor, could see the sun from their offices at Woodmont Triangle, but they descended to the outdoor courtyard for a better view.

Diana Dibble said she remembers making glasses out of cereal boxes for a total solar eclipse in 1973. This time, the office bought a pack of five pairs of glasses through Amazon.

After word got around that some glasses sold through Amazon were falsely labeled as approved for the eclipse, the vendor refunded the Design To Delivery group its money—even though these glasses were real and usable, Dibble said.

Dibble saw a tip online for shooting photos of the eclipse with a smartphone by using glasses as a filter. She got a good picture on her second try.

Diana Dibble shows a photo she took of the eclipse on her smartphone. Credit: Andrew Schotz.

Maria Moraso, with Andres Buonano, uses both regular sunglasses and special filtered glasses to look at the sky on Monday. Credit: Andrew Schotz.

Like Dibble and Lenick, eclipse watchers Andres Buonano and Maria Moraso, who work at the National Institutes of Health, also had friends who drove to South Carolina to be in the “totality” zone and witness a full blot-out of the sun.

Buonano also took a stab at shooting photos through his eclipse glasses, but they didn’t turn out so well.

Shirley Griffin, a coworker of Dibble, said eclipse watching was a fun communal event. “It’s one of those those things where people come together,” she said.

At Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Gina Deavers, an exercise instructor from Silver Spring, said she bought her glasses three weeks ago.

“I’m excited because this lunar event happens only 27 years or so,” Deavers said—noting the last total solar eclipse visible from the United States happened in 1979. “I’m also excited my community came out to the point where we backed up New Hampshire Avenue with cars trying to get in. Fabulous.”

In Montgomery County, the moon blocked out about 80 percent of the sun right around 2:42 p.m., then began to retreat, re-exposing the sun. It wasn’t enough to make the day appear shady or dark—such as in parts of the central United States, where the moon completely eclipsed the sun, briefly plunging daytime into darkness.

Families gathered in Silver Spring didn’t seem to mind that they were watching a partial eclipse. Each time the partly cloudy sky would clear, hundreds of people stood up, popped on their folding glasses and stared at the sun.

“I see a big bite taken out of it—the sun looks like the moon,” said County Council President Roger Berliner, who attended with his wife, Karen.

Surrounding him were families of all kinds—grandparents with grandkids, new mothers with infants, young couples and large extended families with big lawn chair circles and coolers filled with cold drinks. There were black, white, Latino, Asian, young, old and middle-aged people.

“We have a community here,” Berliner said. “If we give the community a good excuse to come together, then people do that.”

Near Berliner, Drena Reaves-Bey sat in a lawn chair. She was there with her daughter, Kishma Bey.

Kishma said she saw the 1979 eclipse as a young child in New York City and wanted to see another one, so she and her mom came to the park.

“That one passed slower,” Kishma Bey said. “This one moves pretty fast.”

Reaves-Bey was in a more philosophical mood.

“You know what’s really good about today,” she said. “We have all these different ethnic groups coming together as a family. It’s nice to see this cosmic event, but also to see peace and love in Maryland.”

Mike Riley, director of Montgomery Parks, said he hadn’t heard any complaints while walking around the event with his son.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Riley said.

Cardboard boxes came in handy for people without special eclipse glasses on Monday. A hole in a box allowed a shadow of the eclipse to be projected on the ground. Credit: Sarah Hogue.

As light filtered through objects during Monday's eclipse, it created crescent patterns in the shadows. Credit: Sarah Hogue.

Light filtering through holes created unusual patterns on the ground during Monday's eclipse. Credit: Sarah Hogue.

Coworkers Shirley Griffin (left) and Diane Michie (center) were part of the eclipse-gazing crowd on Monday at Veterans Memorial at Woodmont Triangle in Bethesda. Credit: Andrew Schotz.

The crowd at Veterans Park in Woodmont Triangle in Bethesda grew on Monday afternoon as the moon blocked more of the sun. Credit: Sarah Hogue.

Marshall Foster of Silver Spring poses with his eclipse watching setup—a pair of binoculars attached to a tripod that projected onto a piece of cardboard to show the eclipse (pictured below.) Credit: Andrew Metcalf

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