Good things come to those who wait.
By 12:30 p.m. on Monday, August 21, a crowd of several hundred people had gathered on the rooftop of Monona Terrace in hopes of seeing the solar eclipse, the fist one visible to Wisconsinites in 38 years. In the background, the dramatic music played, adding to the excitement of the moment.
Never mind the dark bank of clouds on the horizon. Never mind the dismal forecast. It was as if everyone needed to be together for this event, even if it didn’t show up.
And then, just like that, it happened. At about 12:45 p.m. the clouds lifted just enough to reveal the sun partially covered by the moon.
The crowd gasped with delight and everyone grabbed their viewers. Except for a few brief moments, the eclipse was visible – though somewhat obscured by clouds – through peak coverage of 85 percent at 1:15 p.m.
No one complained.
Sometimes, the suspense of waiting for something makes the moment all the more sweet.
I planned the event at Monona Terrace to bring people together around something positive. Apparently, we needed it because the response was overwhelming.
Nature has the ability to do that. For a few hours, there was no talk of politics or nuclear weapons or neo-Nazis. It was all about joy and beauty and celebrating what we have in common: a planet and solar system.
To prepare, I purchased a bunch of official eclipse viewing glasses, though not nearly enough, and made 13 cereal box pin hole viewers and several hundred card stock pin hole viewers. I also strapped a pair of binoculars on to a tripod with some duct tape and created a larger scale viewer.
The eclipse brought out the best in folks.
Della Jo Haugen and her neighbor Cindy Krantz live nearby and brought homemade binocular viewers to the rooftop. Other people brought supplies and made them with their kids when they got there.
Haugen explained, “I came out to watch the eclipse because it’s a natural event like no other. I found an article online on how to project the eclipse using my telescope and tripod so I didn’t have to worry about buying the special glasses. My favorite part of the eclipse was how it brought people of all different backgrounds together. People were so nice to each other. Everyone was sharing their glasses and viewers with each other,” she said.
Olivia Schultz, 12, and her sister Lucy, 11, came with their grandmother from Mount Horeb to see the eclipse.
“We saw a crescent and it was really cool,” she said. “I felt happy and nervous because you don’t want to look at the sun and go blind. But I had glasses so I was okay.”
Since glasses were in short supply, participants were encouraged to share their glasses, which added to the community feel.
Schultz took this seriously and walked around the terrace sharing her glasses. She was met with smiles and hugs.
“They were happy that I shared with them. I got a lot of hugs,” she said.
While there are two full solar eclipses somewhere in the world every year, Wisconsin hasn’t seen one for 38 years. On February 26, 1979, that eclipse maxed at 83 percent and I remember viewing it with a pin hole viewer in my back yard in Middleton, Wisconsin. I walked outside, saw it, and came back in.
I don’t recall that there was any frenzy surrounding that eclipse, perhaps because it was in February, or perhaps it was because there was no social media to create a frenzy, or perhaps I was a teenager with better things to do than go to eclipse parties. Prior to that, there was one on June 8, 1918.
The next total solar eclipse to be visible in Madison will be on April 8, 2024, a mere 7 years away. To see the eclipse in totality will require just a short drive to Chicago. I’m already planning ahead and will likely organize a trip.
After that, on August 12, 2045, Madison will see another full eclipse with 69 percent coverage of the sun. We’d have to travel to Mississippi to see totality.
Madison finally hits pay dirt on September 14, 2099 – 82 years from now – when a central total eclipse crosses directly over the southern badger state. Madison will be treated to just over three minutes of totality.
Mark the calendars of your unborn children for this one.
Jaye Maynard, visiting from New York, saw the event on Facebook and came out to volunteer.
“I was completely delighted by the idea of watching the eclipse with a group and at Madison’s Monona Terrace. What a bonus that totally eclipsed any other plans,” she said.
“I watched people become educated in watching the eclipse using alternative methods and sharing with young and old. My favorite moment was watching a couple of deaf dads and their hearing kids watch with their glasses,” she said.
Let’s hope that the goodwill generated from the eclipse lingers awhile.
We need to remember that we all live on this planet under one sun and moon.