CLARKESVILLE — Applause and cheers erupted as total darkness covered hundreds who came to witness a few fleeting seconds of history during the total solar eclipse at a festive Sam Pitts Park on Monday.
It was a communal celebration that brought people from all walks to enjoy the moment. Not since 1918 had a transcontinental solar eclipse graced millions of viewers in the United States looking up with special safety glasses.
Northeast Georgia will have to wait another 61 years until 2078 to see the celestial spectacle again.
Joshua Peck traveled from the suburbs of Philadelphia to join up with Elisa Frye, who has family in Clarkesville.
“I’ve been an astronomy nerd all my life,” Peck said. “I’m 60 and I’ve never seen a total eclipse.”
Frye said the couple always travels to the area in August to visit her family. For two years they’ve circled this date on their calendar to plan for this special event.
“I’m glad the city organized this today,” Frye said.
Tyler Penland, 25, graduated with a degree in astronomy from the University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega campus. He now does the weather forecast for Now Habersham.
Penland and friend Mac McMahan set up a large Meade telescope with a filter connected to a laptop that projected the eclipse on two big monitors at each end of a bandstand set up at the park.
On eclipse day Penland was astronomer, weatherman and DJ.
As the clock approached total eclipse at 2:36 p.m., he had fun playing tunes getting the crowd pumped for the celestial show.
“I want to see the sun blotted out from the sky,” Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones crooned in “Turn it Black.”
Cat Stevens sang “I’m being followed by a moon shadow,” and Elton John belted “Don’t let the sun go down on me.”
Penland said he’s been into astronomy from the time he was a 10-year-old kid. By the time he was 13, he knew a solar eclipse would be over his home in 2017.
“I’ve been waiting for this day since then,” he said.
Kaitlin Fleming, 25, a 2014 Brenau graduate, put to good use what she learned at the university in Gainesville. Fleming, who graduated with a degree in fashion merchandising, was selling colorful printed T-shirts that read: I Saw The Eclipse 8-21-17. She was ringing up brisk sales at $20 per shirt.
“It’s a once-in-a-100-year event,” Fleming said. “I sold a shirt to someone from Woodstock, N.Y.; Asheville, N.C.; Flowery Branch and many other places that don’t come to mind right now.”
Organizers provided inflatable amusement stations for children, free safety glasses to glance at the eclipse and free bottled water on the hot day.
Vendors sold pizza and a barbecue featuring smoked turkey legs, alligator on the stick and roasted corn.
Many stayed to enjoy the carnival atmosphere, while others exited to get a jump on the heavy traffic.