Great Barrington — No, the skies did not turn pitch black. But more than 200 South County residents and visitors alike turned out at the Mason Library today to see a partial eclipse of the sun.
Experts have cautioned against staring into the eclipse with the naked eye, so the town provided about 100 pairs of tinted glasses through which eclipse watchers could gaze safely at the receding midday sun.
Berkshire County was well outside the zone that saw a full eclipse. The portion of the country that could see a full eclipse was confined to a 70-miles-wide strip stretching from Oregon to South Carolina. The portion of the sun obscured in Berkshire County was about 70 percent. But it’s safe to say the enthusiasm on the library’s front lawn was 100 percent on Monday afternoon.
“I’ve never seen one of these before,” said Jean Parsons, who was visiting from Princeton, New Jersey. “I’ve only see eclipses in photographs. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
As she removed the glasses from her eyes and spoke to a reporter, Parsons rubbed her eyes and pronounced the event “a demonstration of science.”
“More than anything, it’s really an affirmation of science–as opposed to the rhetoric we’re hearing in Washington,” Parsons said with a smile, in an apparent reference to the many conservatives in the nation’s capital and elsewhere who are averse to the science of climate change and evolution.
Parsons said she had friends who had traveled “all over the place” to view the full eclipse. Popular destinations included Idaho, Tennessee and South Carolina. But Parsons said she was thrilled to be in the Berkshires all the same.
Michele Waldman of Great Barrington had never seen an eclipse before, either, and was excited to view the receding sun through both the glasses and a special telescope brought in by artist and amateur astronomer Rick Costello.
“The glasses work fine,” Waldman said. “They’re a smaller version of the telescope.”
“It’s a great day for an eclipse,” Costello said as he assisted a boisterous youngster eager to use his equipment. “And it’s a tremendous turnout.”
Known as the “Star Man,” Costello of Great Barrington is a familiar face to many Berkshire County residents. He does a lot of lectures to civic and educational groups and private parties. He’s done several programs at the Mason Library.
The self-taught Costello told the Edge earlier that he has little formal training in astronomy but has studied the universe since he was a young kid. He gets emails from people all over the world thanking him for the article on his website, Time and the Speed of Light, which tries to explain those concepts–as well as time travel–in layman’s terms.
Even with emergency vehicles blaring by on Main Street, Costello showed remarkable patience, fielding questions on complex topics in the hot sun from young and old alike.
Others opted to view the eclipse through a cereal box turned into a pinhole projector, which allows you to see a reflected image of the event. Others were attempting to aim cameras to catch still images of the rare phenomenon.
Monument Mountain Regional High School art teacher Neel Webber and his daughter Mira, both Stockbridge residents, were doing just that. Mira’s stepbrother Daniel Pomerantz aimed his smartphone’s camera at the eclipse but layered the lens with the tinted glasses handed out by the library staff. It worked. He got a splendid image of the sun just as it was starting to become obscured by the moon.
“It works,” Pomerantz said. “That’s pretty cool.”
Teresa Sarinsky of Alford was entertaining two friends visiting from Los Angeles, Monica Regal and Genette Winnik. The two obviously fun-loving women from southern California said they gave up nothing in viewing the eclipse here since the portion of the sun covered in Berkshire County was the same as it was back home in La-La Land.
“But having them here, we’re gaining the camaraderie of it all,” Sarinsky laughed.
Elsewhere in the county, there were solar eclipse events in Pittsfield, Dalton and Hancock Shaker Village.
As was the case in Berkshire County, elsewhere in North America, the eclipse and its associated festivities provided a welcome respite from politics and the toxic environment of Washington.
It was a promising way to start the week. For a shining moment, the images of torch-carrying neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen in Charlottesville, Virginia, that permeated the news media last week were forgotten, as was the inability of President Donald Trump to distinguish between the haters and the counter-protesters, one of whom had died after being run over by a white nationalist.
Standing in the main entrance, library director Amanda DeGiorgis told the Edge that, at between 200 and 250, the turnout was far higher than she or her staff had expected. They had 100 pairs of glasses and managed to hand all of them out with 15 minutes.
“People asked each other for the glasses,” DeGiorgis said. “They shared.”
It’s probably safe to say that adults and young people alike can learn from that experience. With that, DeGiorgis excused herself and headed to the community room, where the NASA video feed of the eclipse was streaming live.