Richmond experienced its best chance to watch a solar eclipse in decades on Monday.
From watch parties to searching for a pair of eclipse viewing glasses, people experienced the event in a variety of ways.
Every inch of available shade outside the Science Museum of Virginia on West Broad Street was packed with people as they did their best to cope with the heat.
Those who wandered into the sun did so to stand in a food truck line or to visit one of the craft or educational tents. Many wore T-shirts that boasted the museum’s logo and read, “The moon crashed the sun’s party and I was there.”
“I’m here because I don’t think I’m going to be here 40 years from now,” said Ivy Drew, a Henrico County resident.
Drew is an instructional aide in an earth science class at L. Douglas Wilder Middle School, so she knows better than most how significant the eclipse was.
“I keep in touch with a lot of my students at L. Douglas Wilder, and I was like, ‘You’ve got to go, have your parents take you,’” she said. “I called a few because I think it’s important that our young people get to see something that they may never get to see again.”
Interest in science was the main reason that 4-year-old Sal Scislowicz attended Monday’s event, along with his mom, Ori, and his grandmother, Kathy Gradeles.
“It’s a cool experience for him,” said Ori Scislowicz, a Glen Allen resident. “We’ve been talking about it and listening to podcasts to learn about it.”
They were some of the last in line to receive a pair of eclipse glasses from the Science Museum — they were in high demand.
Tiffany Robinson of North Chesterfield and daughters Karena, 10, and Ka’Mya, 12, had their glasses ready to go. They were using them to gaze up at the sky soon after the eclipse started, when just a sliver of the sun was darkened.
Robinson said her family follows the movement of the solar system already, so it was easy for her to explain to her kids why the eclipse was taking place.
“Experiencing it with them as a parent is awesome,” Robinson said.
“I think it’s cool,” Karena added.
Around Richmond, eclipse glasses got to be as rare as, well, an eclipse.
In the lead-up to Monday, on the retail market the eyewear had been priced as low as $2.98 and as high as $7.99 depending on the seller. Most if not every major retailer that had been selling them was sold out of the protective glasses needed to watch the moon block out the sun.
A handwritten sign at a 7-Eleven by Virginia Commonwealth University warned the public, “We don’t have anymore solar eclipse glasses.” The “don’t” was underlined multiple times. Inside behind the cash register, employee Andrew Fischer answered the phone by saying, “Welcome to 7-Eleven. We’re sold out of the glasses.”
It was a similar situation at the Lowe’s at West Broad and North Lombardy streets, where a worker said people had been calling and arriving in search of the glasses since the early morning.
“If I get one more question about eclipse glasses … ” the worker at the hardware store fumed. “I just hope it’s as spectacular as it seems like it’s going to be.”
The glasses were sold out at the Kroger in the Willow Lawn shopping center and the Walmart off Forest Avenue in western Henrico County.
Beyond the brick-and-mortar shops, people could turn to Craigslist.com, where eclipse glasses were being advertised for as much as $60.
Brown’s Island in downtown Richmond had the air of a New Year’s Eve party on Monday, when more than 1,000 people gathered to watch the solar eclipse.
People crammed onto the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge to watch. Some showed up with eclipse glasses in hand; others arrived hoping to get a free pair.
Viewers started lining up at 9 a.m. in the hopes of nabbing one of the 600 pair of free glasses. At 1 p.m., when the glasses were handed out, they were gone in five minutes, leaving many empty-handed.
Julie Hulett and her husband, John Heyser, stretched out on the grass to watch the eclipse with a pair of glasses they had received from a neighbor.
“It’s awe-inspiring,” Hulett said.
“Thank God for no clouds,” Heyser said.
Lauren Minor didn’t get a pair of free glasses, but stayed, asking to borrow glasses.
“Oh, it’s so cool!” she gushed, after borrowing a pair from a stranger and looking up at the eclipse.
The watch party was hosted by Richmond National Battlefield Park, the American Civil War Museum, the James River Park System and Venture Richmond.
Organizers tore some glasses in half, turning them into monocles to share with as many people as possible.
Lynn Reed and daughter Lana Voight, both teachers at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, arrived with cereal boxes turned into pinhole cameras.
They were about to leave the island to watch the eclipse from home when a stranger, Cathy George, said, “Do you need glasses? I have extras.”
Jeff Netherton wore a welder’s mask painted with a skull and flames that he borrowed from his brother-in-law.
Stephanie Jenks camped out on the bridge with her two children, Ethan, 7, and Josephine, 6. She had taken them out of summer camp to witness the special event.
“I wanted them to get out and see it,” Jenks said.
By 3:30 p.m., most people had packed up and left, even though the eclipse was still going on.
Charleen Baylor stuck around, watching the final stages. She described the experience as “amazing,” but added, “It was a tad anticlimactic. It didn’t get as dark as I thought it would. There was no chill in the air or the animals going silent.”
Richmond did not experience a total eclipse, but a partial one.
“Next time, I’m going to go somewhere where I can see the whole thing,” Baylor said. “I want to experience it in all my senses.”
Beyond the excitement at cultural centers throughout Richmond, Goochland County offered a pastoral setting to enjoy the partial eclipse.
The Goochland Education Foundation had donated 3,000 pairs of glasses so every Goochland student and staff member had the option to watch the eclipse on the first day of school. Along with getting students acquainted with rules and expectations, teachers and administrators squeezed in lunar science and eclipse safety.
Superintendent Jeremy Raley was at Goochland’s secondary school complex for the eclipse. He said the occasion was an opportunity for an authentic learning experience that went beyond books and videos.
“We embraced this opportunity,” Raley said.
At Randolph Elementary School, every grade level sat through a presentation on solar eclipse safety and science. A local ophthalmologist contributed a video about eye damage.
Assistant Principal Christin East led the teachers and participating students as they filtered out onto the playground.
“Can we look yet?” shouted one student.
The plan went as follows: on East’s command, the kids would lower their heads, push their glasses onto their face and look up for 30 seconds. When the call came, the restless children let out a collective, inarticulate expression of awe at the glowing crescent above them.
“It was more than first-day excitement,” said Alden Blevins, a music teacher.
Two buses carrying 68 people from the Richmond area left Henrico at 5:45 a.m. Monday and headed to Dillon Park in Sumter, S.C. They arrived around 12:15 p.m. and left at 3:30 p.m. to return home.
“Everyone was sitting in the sun with their faces turned up to see the first little crescent,” said Stan Maupin, who organized the bus trip for the Encorepreneur group, an organization he co-founded for local baby boomers interested in creating new careers.
“It got dark rapidly and the entire park went as silent as a cave — until suddenly the world got very dim and a star — or planet — popped out,” he said. “Then the crowd cheered and you heard a chorus of exclamations of wonder, like the sounds of people watching fireworks, only on steroids.”
When they saw the “diamond ring” — a flash of light on the edge of the sun and moon in the seconds before and after totality — “people just stood in place, looking at each other, heads shaking in amazement,” Maupin said.
Then the sparkling wine and glasses came out to celebrate: “We toasted the experience of a lifetime, as many called it,” said Maupin, who was in Olympia, Wash., in 1979 and witnessed the eclipse then.
“This time was better.”