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Elgin hosts eclipse party

Posted: August 24, 2017 4:51 p.m.
Updated: August 25, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Some of the hundreds of people who gathered for Monday’s 2017 Solar Eclipse Party in Elgin’s Potter Community Park took refuge from the Sun’s 90-plus degree heat under some trees at the park. Others in attendance brought event tents and umbrellas, while still more took advantage of the park’s pavilion.

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The sky went dark in Elgin at 2:42 p.m. Monday.

When it did, hundreds of people cheered as they took off the special glasses they’d been wearing and looked up. They were in totality -- for 104 seconds the Moon completely blocked the Sun almost directly overhead at Potter Community Park.

They came from across Kershaw County and elsewhere in South Carolina, and from as far away as California; Massachusetts; and Quebec, Canada. License plates told more of the tale: Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia. At least one car bore a plate from New York.

“I left at nine o’clock this morning,” Catherine Betts of Pittsboro, N.C., just outside Chapel Hill, said. “There was pretty much no traffic and I got here at around 12:30.”

Betts said she wanted to be in the path of totality without having to go into Columbia. After doing some research on the internet, she found her way to the Kershaw County Library’s website, liked what she saw and decided on Elgin.

“This is set up very well,” Betts said looking out from the library’s bookmobile.

The library, Kershaw County Department of Parks and Recreation, and the town of Elgin sponsored the party.

Dale Ankers came from a little closer -- Darlington County. There, he is a science teacher for Hartsville Christian School. Ankers brought along some No. 13 welder’s glass, his binoculars and some blueprints, which he had turned over onto their blank sides on the grass. He placed the binoculars skyward in a raised vice and put duct tape over one lens. With the uncovered lens pointing directly at the Sun, the binoculars acted much like a pinhole camera, allowing a dim image of the Sun, partially eclipsed by the Moon, to appear on the back of his blueprints.

He also brought along some students.

“They’re a combination of students from the school and homeschool students,” Ankers said.

One couple traveled about 2,400 miles to Elgin to see the eclipse. Jim Simmons, of China Lake, Calif., near Death Valley, said he and his girlfriend, Paula Smith, ended up in Elgin by way of Durham, N.C.

“We stayed there Saturday and had dinner at a friend’s barbecue place,” Simmons said. “Yesterday, we decided to drive down U.S. 1. It was beautiful.”

Simmons said he and Smith knew there was “no way” they’d be able to see the eclipse in Columbia. In fact, they weren’t even able to get a hotel room. Sunday evening, they drove back up U.S. 1 to Camden where they found a room available at the Colony Inn. In a way, finding that room in the path of totality was like a present for Simmons.

Sunday was his birthday.

The next morning, they had breakfast at DeBruhl’s where they got to meet some Camden and Kershaw County residents.

“They were all nice people,” Simmons said.

By early afternoon, they made their way back down to Elgin and Potter Community Park.

“This doesn’t feel crowded,” he said, despite the hundreds of people on hand. “The folks that put this together obviously put a lot of thought into it.”

The eclipse really began as the Moon just barely began crossing the Sun at 1:13 p.m. Although the party didn’t officially start until 1:30 p.m., the park had pretty much already filled up by then. Many brought their own eclipse glasses, but the library had 600 on hand in case people needed them.

As 2:42 p.m. drew nearer, colors began to shift not only on the horizon, which took on dusk-like hues, but up close as the Sun’s light started disappearing. At full totality, day had turned to night and summer’s oppressive heat had cooled just a bit.

One minute and 14 seconds later, everyone had to put their eclipse glasses back on as the Moon began to leave the Sun’s path. Some people began to leave, trying to get out ahead of heavy traffic. Others stayed until at least the end of the party at 3:30 p.m., if not longer.

At 4:06 p.m., the Moon completely cleared the Sun’s path. With the exception of some late afternoon clouds, the skies over Elgin were blue again.


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