It was an adventure that I’d had up my sleeve for a few years. Actually it really dates back to about fourth grade when our teacher Betty Dallman brought us to the grade school library to learn about the school library’s Dewey Decimal filing system and to peruse books for some recreational reading. Class-mate Gary Frederickson and I both ended up in the non-fiction area at a small but engaging selection of books on planets, stars and constellations. Astronomy was still a bit of foreign to us, although it would became familiar very quickly. We couldn’t read enough about this and every page seemed to bring new information into our young minds. This was during the year after John Glenn flew three orbits around the earth. The whole country had a fascination about space travel. President Kennedy set a goal of NASA sending an astronaut to the moon by the end of the decade NASA was in a “space race” with the Soviet space program.
Those elementary library astronomy books fed right into all of that. One particular book featured a variety of topics from stars to planets and also covered comets, meteorites, the Aurora Borealis, the moon and both lunar eclipses and solar eclipses. The photo of a total solar eclipse captured my imagination and became a must-see. The summer following fourth grade, on July 20, 1963, there was a partial eclipse in Minnesota. We watched it through a pinhole in cardboard and that made it seem all the more important to see a total eclipse someday. There was a total eclipse in Minnesota on June 30, 1954 but I was slightly more than a year old at the time, so it was well before my memory took hold. My sister Sandy, was 13 at the time and remembers it and has been kind enough to recall it, further whetting my appetite to see a total eclipse.
Since that 1954 eclipse, there have been several partial solar eclipses in Minnesota in recent years, the last one occurring on May 20, 2012, but there hasn’t been a total eclipse here. The calculations and the news about the coast to coast “Great American Eclipse” this past Monday has been out for a number of years and has been in mind ever since. This was going to be a drivable distance, so we made plans to head to the nearest point on the centerline of the 70 mile wide band of totality in Grand Island, Nebraska. After contacting a fourth hotel last September, I was finally able to reserve a room. The likelihood of a cloud-free day in Nebraska in August seems likely unless there’s some thunderstorm.
This past spring, our grandson Kian mentioned that his fourth grade teacher Pete Scheffler talked about this summer’s eclipse in class one day, telling the students they would be 92 years old the next time there is a total solar eclipse in Minnesota in 2099. That must have made an impression on those 10-year-olds. Kian asked if he could go with us to Nebraska. That sounded like a great idea to us so we took him and his eight-year-old brother Evan with us for a long weekend.
We drove down to Yankton, SD last Saturday. After swimming at our hotel, we went downtown to take in Riverboat Days, Yankton’s huge community celebration, held in a scenic and shady park along the Missouri River. With lots of fun things to do and more food vendors than we could count plus a free street dance and other live music, it was a fun Saturday evening.
There’s lots more to do and explore around Yankton, too, much of it based on the big river and the people who have lived there for centuries and the early European explorers and settlers.
We met other folks there who were also headed to see the eclipse and it was an easy jaunt to Grand Island on Sunday. The eclipse was all the talk all over that town of 50,000 and our hotel was filled with folks from all over the country.
The next morning I was up with the other worry-warts looking at the sky and the weather forecasts in the hotel lobby and preparing to drive to where ever we could, in search of a cloud-free day. A fellow from Shakopee told me that he thought it might be best to sit tight in Grand Island. He thought the cirrus clouds might clear off by eclipse time or at least be thin enough to be workable.
That sounded good to me so we found a grassy boulevard near our hotel and set up chairs along with other folks from Minnesota, Arizona and a few other states. Looking through our eclipse glasses, the sun looked like an orange ball and we all watched intently as the moon slowly edged over the upper right side of the sun. This looked like those other partial eclipses that we’ve seen but this time as the moon moved it covered more and more of the sun. We all commented about how the light was slowly changing, just a bit. As the sun got more and more covered by the moon’s disk, the temperature dropped and the breeze slowed. Slowly and steadily the crescent looking sun got thinner and thinner. The high, thin clouds had moved away and we had a clear view as the sun’s crescent became just a sliver. Then the sunlight disappeared and there was a black circle surrounded by a bright white glow, called the corona. It was spectacular.
The temperature had dropped exactly 15 degrees and the light was dim like very early dawn, demonstrations of the sun’s power and what happens when the sun is blocked for even a couple of minutes. The horizon took on an orange glow. It was sunset and sunrise at midday. It was 1 p.m. and we could see Venus and Mars as well as a few stars. It was everything I had imagined as a kid. It was incredible.
Totality in Grand Island lasted 2 minutes and 36 seconds. Cheers, hoots and hollers went up around us and all over Grand Island. Someone to our west shot off fireworks as the moon’s disk slid slowly to the left. Just as quickly as it covered the sun, it moved on, allowing just a slight glint of bright sunlight to shine down turning the near-dawn light back into mid-day. That little bit of sunlight was enough to make it daylight again and bring the temperature back up, almost right away.
Our grandsons kept their eclipse glasses on and watched the moon move to the left as more and more of the sun reappeared. It was a wonderful experience and a sight that none of us will forget.
Was seeing the eclipse worth making that 385 mile drive to Grand Island? Absolutely. No doubt about it. It was even worth it after we had stopped in heavy traffic among the Nebraska cornfields or driving five miles per hour through Central City and Columbus as we headed east and north afterward.
The next total eclipse in the U.S. will be in April 2024 from Texas through Ohio. The last coast-to-coast total eclipse was 99 years ago in 1918. The next coast-to-coast total eclipse will be in 2045. Someone said the last total eclipse in Grand Island was in 1179 A.D. the next one will be sometime after 2700 A.D. they are indeed rare events.
The next total eclipse in the Granite Falls-Clarkfield area is in 2106 A.D. Our grandson and his classmates will be 99 years old. It was a good decision to go to Grand Island.