Eclipse thrills local viewers

Matt DeYoung • Aug 22, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Caroline Jeisy has long been fascinated with all things involving outer space.

On Monday, she watched the much-anticipated solar eclipse with her mom, Brenda, and twin sister, Kendall, at Grand Haven State Park.

The home-made cereal box viewer wasn’t cutting it, however. When Caroline finally got her hands on a pair of eclipse glasses, she slid them into place, gazed at the sun, and her face broke out into a huge smile that lit up the darkening afternoon. 

“This is awesome,” she said as she gazed at the eclipse, which was just nearing its peak. 

Caroline first pressed her mom to take a family trip to Kentucky to watch the eclipse, but Brenda’s work schedule wouldn’t allow it.  Instead, they ordered 10 pairs of eclipse glasses and paid for overnight shipping so they’d be here in time — but as of early Monday afternoon, they hadn’t arrived. 

Undaunted, the Jeisys headed down to the state park to watch the eclipse alongside hundreds of others interested in the rare natural phenomenon. 

“I’ve been excited about the eclipse for months,” Caroine said. “I love space. I think it’s really cool. I really wanted to go down to Kentucky to see the full eclipse.”

Caroline shared a bit of eclipse folklore, as well. 

“In ancient cultures, they believed it was a beast taking a bite out of the sun, so they viewed the eclipse as a sign of the apocalypse,” she said. 

A majority of the eclipse viewers at the state park were armed with home-made contraptions. Some used shoe boxes, while Dean Buntley held up a sheet of paper covered in aluminum foil with a small hole poked through the center. 

“We saw this on YouTube,” Buntley said. “It’s small, but you can see it changing shape. We called all over the place looking for glasses, but everyone was out.”

Buntley and his kids — Lexi, 13, and Brendan, 11 — looked at the eclipse through a pair of borrowed glasses with wide smiles on their faces.

“We figured we’d come out here since it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and see what we could see,” Buntley said. 

Jenny Bennetts and her family were also watching the eclipse through viewers made of shoe boxes. 

“We watched a YouTube video on how to make them,” said the Grand Rapids woman.

Gary and Jamie Gillette also traveled to the Lakeshore from Grand Rapids, taking advantage of a day off work to check out the eclipse from the comfort of the beach. 

“It’s a unique opportunity and we happened to have the day off work,” Jamie said. 

“It’s interesting to see,” Gary said. “I don’t remember viewing it the last time it happened in 1979.”

“It’s kind of exciting, but not as exciting as you’d think,” Jamie added. 

Astronomy club watch party

About 200 people attended a solar eclipse watching party at Hemlock Crossing County Park in West Olive, hosted by the Shoreline Amateur Astronomical Association. The club handed out special eclipse-viewing glasses, hosted a program inside the park’s Nature Education Center on the elicipse and set up four telescopes with special filters for the public to take turns safely viewing the eclipse.

“We are very pleased with the turnout,” said the Holland-based club’s president, John Dillebeck, who was keeping one of the club’s telescopes focused on the eclipse.

Photo gallery: See more photos of the Hemlock Crossing viewing party at the Tribune Gallery of the Week.

Al Zahn of West Olive scored a set of the special glasses, but he said you could see the eclipse much better through the telescopes.

At about the time the eclipse peaked in West Michigan — at 80 percent at 2:21 p.m. — the park became a bit darker.

“I like the eeriness of the darkness right now,” said Crystal Nyland of Holland. “But it’s the simplicity of the eclipse that stands out to me.”

Another SAAA member manning a telescope, Sherry Adlof, noted the club is leading a drive to build an observatory at Hemlock Crossing.

Locals travel to totality

There were some Tri-Cities-area residents so geeked about the eclipse that they traveled south or west to catch it on its path of totality, where the moon completely blocks out the sun for a couple of minutes.

The Levandoski family of Grand Haven traveled to Carbondale, Illiniois, and camped out for a couple of nights ahead of the event.

"Totality live was the most amazing 2 1/2 minutes,” Kathy Levandoski said. “The crickets sang loudly, it was a blackout with a 360-degree sunset, the beautiful corona surrounded the black dot in the sky. It was a dream come true. And, now, homeward bound with a heck of a lot of other people."

John Stalzer of Spring Lake posted this on Facebook:

"Got down to Lusk, Wyoming, to see the eclipse. We were at about 99 percent. For about five minutes you could see a few stars and it got quite dark and cooler. Our pictures don't do it justice. Looking through our shades, the sun got down to just a very, very, very thin sliver. It was cool hanging out in the prairie with complete strangers from different parts of the country. There was just miles and miles of cars."

Linsey Joseph of Ferrysburg also was out West for the eclipse, atop a mountain in the path of totality, and she said the shadow it cast “took my breath away.”

“We were able to watch the shadow of the moon rush across the plains toward us (from the moment we could see it, it took less than 45 seconds to hit us at 2,200 mph), and when it hit our mountain (totality) everything turned an inky black, and for 2 minutes and 16 seconds the stars came out and everything was still,” she posted on Facebook. “It literally took your breath away.”

Tribune reporters Mark Brooky and Becky Vargo contributed to this report.

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