By Jay Cook and John Burton |
HOLMDEL and SANDY HOOK – For the thousands of people who turned out locally to experience Monday’s cosmic milestone, it was more than just about staring into the sky. It provided a means for folks to step back, take a deep breath, and collectively enjoy an event with millions of Americans across the country.
On Monday, Aug. 21, the United States experienced its first total continental solar eclipse in 99 years, long before any advances were made in space exploration. Americans living in 14 states, from Oregon to South Carolina, were able to see a total eclipse, with the moon entirely blocking the sun for a few minutes, depending on their locations.
New Jerseyans witnessed an approximate 75 percent eclipse, with higher percentages of coverage seen further south in the state.
Across the Two River area, residents used the day to take their kids out of camp or call out of work to experience the generational event.
Crowds came out in droves to Bell Works in Holmdel on Monday afternoon as businesses and management on site coordinated an event, open to the public, to view the eclipse in a setting with a rich astronomical history.
The idea of a public eclipse watching was hatched by Frank Corrado, founder and CEO of Blue Blaze Financial Advisors, a tenant at Bell Works.
“We’re so into experiences with our people,” Corrado said. “This is really something for the community.”
Although doors officially opened at 1:15 p.m., there was a quarter mile-long line of people out the side entrance to Bell Works, who learned about the event on social media, eagerly waiting for a pair of approved eclipse-viewing sunglasses. Corrado said he ordered a thousand pairs, but they ran out in short time.
In total, over 3,000 people from across New Jersey flocked to Bell Works to either sit on the lawn or on the outdoor terrace to watch the spectacle.
While many people missed out on the free sunglasses, they discovered others were easily willing to pass around a pair and share.
Some came prepared with homemade conduits to watch the eclipse, in one manner or another.
Rishay Gupta, a 10-year-old Red Bank resident, was showing off his pinhole camera – a tin foil wrapped cardboard box – to people walking by. He read how to build the device in a Boy Scout magazine he receives, and whipped together the homemade tool in about 20 minutes on Monday morning.
An aspiring scientist or physicist, Rishay was more than excited to watch the moon pass in front of the sun.
“Solar eclipses are rare,” he said, “and this is going to be the first one that I actually see in my lifetime.”
Bob McKenty, an Aberdeen resident, said he waited for a while in line before getting into Bell Works. Initially, he had not planned on even going, but his grandson, Matthew, was more than excited.
McKenty fashioned his own viewing tool from a Cracklin’ Oat Bran cereal box after watching a tutorial on the internet earlier in the week.
“Matthew is the real reason we came. It’s a big deal when you’re a little kid,” McKenty said. “We took him out of Tab Ramos and decided to come out here. It’s been a wonderful experience.”
Aaron Miller, a 47-year-old employee of Ocean Township’s recreation department “officially left work early” to watch the eclipse with his wife and four children. For Miller, he said the afternoon was a much-needed break from the depressing 24-hour news cycles of the past weeks.
“It’s a break from all the crazy news, you know what I mean?” Miller said. “It’s just nature. God’s glory. And it’s pretty cool.”
At about 2:43 p.m., the eclipse in Holmdel reached its peak. For a few moments, the sky slightly dimmed, the heat cooled, and heads tilted back to see the event. A live band on the terrace strummed two aptly-titled songs: “Dark Side of the Moon,” by Pink Floyd, and “Black Hole Sun,” by Soundgarden.
For Holmdel elected officials, seeing the outpouring of visitors to the former-laboratory-turned-commercial-hub is exactly what they envisioned when signing off to redevelop the 2 million-square-foot space.
“It’s really becoming a hub for events and gatherings for people to come together and socialize,” Holmdel Mayor Greg Buontempo said of the newly revitalized Bell Works building, the former Bell Labs, located at 101 Crawfords Corner Road. “It’s really the perfect venue for that, and something that we hoped it would become.”
Festivities also took place further east in Monmouth County, where people enjoyed an ocean breeze and sandy shores as they watched the eclipse from Sandy Hook.
According to Jennifer Cox, supervising park ranger at Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook, somewhere between 1,500 to 2,000 people attended the solar eclipse party conducted at the park’s historic Fort Hancock.
“We’ve been very busy,” Cox said. “More than we anticipated…which is good.”
The National Park Service coordinated with S*T*A*R (the Society of Telescopy, Astronomy and Radio) club, headquartered at Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, which had its members and telescopes on hand to assist enthusiastic participants in safely viewing Monday’s solar eclipse.
The park service handed out 500 pairs of the heavily tinted glasses for looking skyward at the astronomical event, with another 200 available in the Junior Rangers Booklets being distributed to younger members of the crowd. Those 700 went quickly and weren’t nearly enough, Cox acknowledged.
But, “Everybody’s chillin’,” Cox observed, noticing that many in the good-spirited crowd were quite willing to share available glasses to get a look at the event. Many in the crowd were making a day of it, spreading blankets, placing beach chairs, bringing along snacks, while children tossed Frisbees and ran around during the summer afternoon.
“It’s great, nature and science,” said Maria Piccolo. Piccolo, an Atlantic Highlands resident, said she told her boss she was leaving early to come to Sandy Hook to participate.
James Burnham and his friend Elizabeth Deczynski, both in their 20s, traveled from East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, for the viewing party. “It’s really cool to be here for this, to see all the people,” Burnham said. “The eclipse is awesome.”
Cher Howell, Oceanport, is a teacher and said she decided to come out because, “I thought it would be a great experience to share with my students,” in the coming school year.
Howell was accompanied by her father James LaFreda, a retiree visiting from Del Ray Beach, Florida.
LaFreda seemed a little blasé about the whole thing. He had witnessed three eclipses over the course of his life, the first about 70 years ago, when he was a kid. “At first I didn’t know what it was,” he said, remembering back then, “It just got dark for about 10 minutes,” scaring some people.
This time, however, “It’s more commercial, it’s all over the TV,” he said.
Steven Siegel, outreach chairman for S*T*A*R club, was having a busy day helping people gaze through the 90×50 telescope with a dark filter covering the lens. He said he had hundreds, maybe a thousand, come by to look. Siegel said he was having a good time, as well. “I love having fun with everyone.”
As to what people may remember, “We’re hoping they take away to enjoy their environment…to understand the world around them,” Siegel offered.
This article was first published in the Aug. 24-31, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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