Sun near totality
The sun a few minutes before totality at Wyoming’s Guernsey State Park. Photo by Chris Jennewein

The ancients were terrified during a solar eclipse; twenty-first century Americans are awed — and briefly united.

For just over an hour and 30 minutes on Monday, as the moon’s shadow moved from Oregon to South Carolina, Americans looked up in eclipse glasses to marvel at this astronomical spectacle.

For those in the path of totality, it was a time of surprising friendliness and unity, especially during the two minutes when the sun was entirely covered by the moon.

My daughter and I journeyed to Guernsey, Wyoming, on Sunday to view the eclipse from a nearby state park. The little town of 1,100 was overwhelmed but accommodating. Every parking lot had campers, the high school’s lawn was filled with tents, free packages of water and sunscreen were distributed, and merchants were busily selling hot dogs, beer and even whiskey from roadside stands.

In the town’s few restaurants, multiple languages could be heard discussing the upcoming solar spectacle. Outside our motel, an astronomer from the island of Guernsey solemnly presented the British bailiwick’s flag to the mayor. Outside the bowling alley, well into the evening, a DJ spun tunes while people drank and danced.

Then it began. Starting at 4 a.m., a steady stream of vehicles entered Guernsey State Park and lined up in neat rows on grass-covered fields.

Darkness at Guernsey State Park minutes before totality. Photo by Chris Jennewein

As the eclipse began, thousands were in the park, happily greeting each other, sharing food, stories and observing equipment. One mother had driven all night with her two children, who counted license plates as they waited. A music teacher played Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Amateur astronomers fussed over their equipment. There was no talk of politics — no complaints — just excitement. Everyone smiled and said hello.

Those of us in the path of totality had the best view, but the widespread availability of inexpensive eclipse glasses made this a nationwide event. Old-fashioned pinhole projections weren’t needed for this eclipse as Americans from San Diego to Boston donned glasses to watch the moon partially cover the sun. Even President Trump and his cabinet watched from a White House balcony.

Then it was over. Minutes after totality, cars began to leave Guernsey State Park. Jobs and school beckoned. Soon a massive traffic jam stretched for 20 miles from the park along U.S. 26 to Interstate 25, the main route to Denver. And nationally, President Trump turned to strategy in Afghanistan and plans for a rally in Phoenix.

But for a brief period, as the sun darkened and vanished, we all saw something larger than ourselves.

Chris Jennewein is editor & publisher of Times of San Diego.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.