For a shining moment, solar event ‘eclipsed’ Washington woes

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By Monday, Aug 21 News  3 Comments
Terry Cowgill
Solar gazers admire the view of the eclipse on the front lawn of the Mason Library in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, on Monday afternoon, Aug. 21.
Jean Parsons of Princeton, N.J. gazes upward. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Jean Parsons of Princeton, N.J. gazes upward. Photo: Terry Cowgill

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.

Eclipse

The solar eclipse at its peak photographed at 2:45 p.m. by David Noel Edwards.

“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.”

Michele Waldman of Great Barrington found the experience and the crowd 'very exciting.' Photo: Terry Cowgill

Michele Waldman of Great Barrington found the experience and the crowd ‘very exciting.’ Photo: Terry Cowgill

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.

Amateur astronomer Rick Costello readies his telescope for viewing the partial eclipse. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Amateur astronomer Rick Costello readies his telescope for viewing the partial eclipse. Photo: Terry Cowgill

“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.

Monument Mountain Regional High School art teacher Neel Webber and his daughter Mira enjoyed viewing the event through a through a cereal box turned into a pinhole projector. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Monument Mountain Regional High School art teacher Neel Webber and his daughter Mira enjoyed viewing the event through a cereal box turned into a pinhole projector. Photo: Terry Cowgill

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.”

Daniel Pomerantz of Stockbridge uses a pair of eclipse glasses to shield his smartphone's lense as he takes a photograph of the eclipse. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Daniel Pomerantz of Stockbridge uses a pair of eclipse glasses to shield his smartphone’s lens as he takes a photograph of the eclipse. Photo: Terry Cowgill

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.

Monica Regal, Teresa Sarinsky and Genette Winnik ham it up. Sarinski has a place in Alford. Her friends were visiting from California. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Monica Regal, Teresa Sarinsky and Genette Winnik ham it up. Sarinski has a place in Alford. Her friends were visiting from California. Photo: Terry Cowgill

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.


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3 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Ed Abrahams says:

    When the solar eclipse event started, it was known by many in the crowd that there wouldn’t be enough protective glasses. What could have easily become a heated, tense “me first” response to shortage, instead turned into a wonderful community event thanks to our amazing, quick-thinking librarians.

    As glasses were handed out, library staff asked people to get into groups for sharing, instantly turning strangers into partners. Eventually the groups broke down and glasses were just passed around. People walking by were invited to join in without even asking.

    Rick Costello’s calm enthusiasm and expertise, the live feed inside (for people who wanted to see the total eclipse or just take a break from the heat), and the smiles and sharing of hundreds of people, made this an experience I’ll never forget.

    Anyone who uses either of the Great Barrington Libraries knows that they are as much about community as they are about books and research. Thank you Amanda and the rest of the library staff for creating something wonderful yesterday.

  2. Martin says:

    Is it possible to write an article without mentioning Trump. It was ridiculous to include that entire paragraph. Very shoddy writing.

    1. Hinda Bodinger says:

      True AND it was absolutely a common thread of conversation throughout the day. It was indeed a welcome respite from the news and a joy to be part of a diverse group, all enjoying the opportunity to share the experience (and the glasses!) as a unified community.

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Ruth Verones, 90, of Alford

Tuesday, Nov 21 - Ruth married her beloved husband, John (Sonny) Verones, in 1950 and they raised their family on a dairy farm on Alford Road.