Eclipse day: Here's how Philly saw the big event

The solar eclipse can be seen beside the statue of William Penn on top of City Hall.

At the Franklin Institute, science educators shot a garbage can full of plastic moons into the sky. A few blocks away, patrons at SkyGarten, a 51st-floor beer garden, sampled Moon Pies and a drink called Cold Side of the Moon.

But for thousands who gawked from the sidewalks of Philadelphia Monday, no frills were needed. The unadorned spectacle of a solar eclipse was enough.

Yes, the moon blocked only 75 percent of our view of the sun. And yes, even that partial phenomenon was obscured by clouds for much of the afternoon in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

It was plenty for Hameda Tartour, 29, who shared a pair of eclipse-viewing glasses with co-workers during a break from work near City Hall.

“The pictures don’t do it justice,” Tartour said shortly before 2 p.m. “This is a great time to see the moon slowly creeping over the sun.”

The sky was noticeably dimmer than usual at 2:30 p.m., said Malvern resident Randell Jesup, 54, watching outside the Franklin Institute in a Planetary Society T-shirt.

“It feels like late afternoon,” he said. “The light feels odd.”

The peak of the event occurred moments later, at 2:44 p.m. But people gathered outside the science museum hours before then, preparing to get in touch with their inner astronomer. Universities, libraries, and museums across the region joined in the fun with eclipse parties. At Manor College, students who attended an eclipse event could get $50 off their $100 deposit for the fall semester.

Inside the Franklin Institute, visitors watched a live projection of the total solar eclipse as it raced across the country from Oregon to South Carolina. Among them was Benjamin Franklin impersonator Ward Larkin, who gamely posed for photos with visitors.

“I think it’s fun for the city,” he said. “No work is getting done.”

The museum had a variety of devices available for safe viewing outside.

Joy Bergey, 62, of Flourtown, peered at the partly obscured sun through a handheld filter, and she also looked at a projection of the spectacle on a piece of white paper, using a device called the SunSpotter.

“There’s a little bite out of the right side of the sun!” she said.

Others huddled outside under 8-foot-wide sheets of protective film the science museum had erected on metal poles to provide a safe group viewing experience. A whoop went up just before 2 p.m. when the clouds receded, revealing the sun with an ever-larger bite out of one side.

 

As the spectacle progressed, more and more people came pouring out of office buildings to gaze at the sky, some quickly looking away when they remembered they didn’t have eye protection.

Fearful they might have suffered eye injury, a handful of sky-gazers visited Wills Eye Hospital after viewing the eclipse. But as of 6 p.m., none had suffered any damage, spokeswoman Cathy Moss said.

Outside the Hard Rock Café in Center City, Rebecca Pizzi and her 10-year-old daughter, Amanda, of Collegeville, had conflicting opinions about how to spend their time during the eclipse.

Amanda said she wanted to watch, calling it a “once in a lifetime” event.

But her mother said no, as they did not have protective glasses. The pair had come to the city for a doctor’s appointment.

“We are not thinking about the eclipse, and I am trying to get my kids to not think about it,” Pizzi said.

At SkyGarten, at 1717 Arch St., a few dozen people gathered to watch, some expressing irritation over the intermittent clouds.

Guests were given what the bar called “NASA-approved” glasses, but organizers said they were out of the shades by about 1 p.m. Eye protection or not, patrons were required to sign a waiver with instructions not to look directly at the eclipse.

Out on the streets, sun-gazers shared equipment.

Kennesha Africa, 25, of West Philadelphia, was disappointed when she tried watching the eclipse on her phone at Rittenhouse Square. Then someone lent her a pair of protective glasses.

“Wow, you really can see it. It’s amazing,” she said. “I was sun gazing until I saw the moon.”

Others looked through their phones, snapping photos with a protective filter pressed against the camera lens. Some used contraptions made from cardboard boxes to see the image safely.

Camera icon Barbara Boyer
Katie Armstrong (left) and Stephanie Wiggins, with her dog, Django, watch the eclipse in Rittenhouse Square

And who said humans get to have all the fun? Katie Armstrong, 29, and Stephanie Wiggins, 32, of Center City, shared a pair of glasses with a dachshund as they sat on a blanket.

Then it was over. The next partial eclipse hits Philadelphia in 2021.

But if it’s a total blockage of the sun you are after, the city is out of luck until 2079.