We sped off in Blue early Sunday morning heading the 350+ miles from Chesapeake, VA to Sumter, SC to watch the total eclipse of the sun scheduled for Monday (August 21st) at 2:44pm local time. We knew it was a bit early, but we prefer slow travel (no kidding) and figured there would be lots of traffic on the highways getting to the total eclipse viewing areas, plus it was an extra day off for the captain.
Additionally, never having visited Sumter, SC before, we thought arriving early would allow us to suss out possible places for the best (and most comfortable) viewing. I had found a great website that pointed us towards several possibilities in Sumter. The biggest venue was Dillon Park where a “total eclipse viewing party” was scheduled.
We arrived mid-day after a leisurely, but boring drive on I-95 South. We were tempted to stop at the Cryptozoology & Paranormal Museum or the Tobacco Farm Life Museum or even the world’s biggest collection of whirligigs, but we resisted … maybe another time. The traffic was light and we made good time.
Too early to check into our hotel, we evaluated all our options for suggested venues … the Manchester State Forest, the Poinsett State Park, Dillon Park and the Swan Lake Iris Gardens. Signs were posted all over town for the Dillon Park party, but it didn't appeal to us. The state parks were nice, but access and egress looked limited for the expected crowds. The Swan Lake was beautiful (it warrants another blog later this week), but in the end, our hotel window and the shaded grass lawn next door provided the most convenient, comfortable and uncrowded site for eclipse viewing.
The eclipse actually started in Sumter around 1:15pm on Monday afternoon when the moon first came in contact with the sun (aka C1). We’d been watching NASA’s live broadcasts of the eclipse in the western states and knew what to expect. I’d done my eclipse terminology homework, too, so “diamond ring”, “Bailey’s beads”, totality and corona were on the tip of my tongue. We were ready for the big show.
We watched for a few minutes from our hotel room. We dutifully wore our eclipse viewing glasses and observed the moon’s shadow slowly eat away at the sun. I couldn’t wait any longer. We grabbed our glasses, camera and chairs and set up camp under a tree on the lawn. It was hot and humid. We peeked through the leaves at the sun watching as more and more of it became enveloped by the moon's shadow.
As the last bit of sun was devoured, the streetlights came on and we noted that car headlights were on, too. The temperature dipped noticeably. The leaves began to rustle as a breeze began to blow. Venus was shining brightly as a dusky, blue haze took over the day and then the sun disappeared altogether. Totality! We took off our eclipse glasses to view the spectacle.
We whooped, we cheered, we gasped. We reveled in the uniqueness of the moment we were experiencing. One minute and 46 seconds of awe, but oh what a minute and 46 seconds it was. We managed a few pictures, but mostly we stared and tried to appreciate what we were seeing and take it all in. And then the totality was over and the moon sped on its way across the sky, reversing the process and allowing the sun to shine once more. We waited awhile … almost insuring ourselves that the sun intended to shine again. Confident that it was, we returned to our room and celebrated with a glass of chilled bubbly.
Was it worth the trip, the expense, the time? Absolutely! Would we do it again? In a heartbeat! It seems there’s another total eclipse in July 2019 in southern Chile where totality will last over four minutes! Anyone game?