Millions of sky-watchers gazed heavenward Monday as the moon’s shadow raced eastward along a slender corridor bisecting the mainland United States, blotting out the sun in a grand celestial show that had not been visible all across America in nearly a century.
As if by the machinations of some great astral clock, the magic of the total solar eclipse began right on schedule, with the moon taking its first “bites” from the sun, to the enthrallment of watchers in the Pacific Northwest and swiftly beyond.
Utter darkness descended. The air cooled. Birds fell silent. Cicadas burst into buzzing night music. Watchers erupted in cheers.
Oregon: In-camera multiple exposure of the phases of the solar eclipse from Salem.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Oregon: In-camera multiple exposure of the phases of the solar eclipse from Salem.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
The rare “diamond ring” effect during totality of the 2017 eclipse seen from the top of Snow King Mountain in Jackson Hole Wyoming.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Joanna and Jack Wang of Long Island, New York came to Andrews, North Carolina to watch the eclipse. Andrews, North Carolina is dubbed as “Totality Town” by NASA.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Hundreds gather to watch the total eclipse in Heritage Park in downtown Andrews, North Carolina.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
The partial solar eclipse can be seen through protective spectacles over Los Angeles City Hall.(Michael Owen Baker / For the Times)
California: Ashlyn Veiseh, 7, views the eclipse with the help of a welder’s helmet at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
California: Tatiana Kalish, 17 of El Segundo views the eclipse at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Kari and Rob Beardsley of Eugene Ore. watch the solar eclipse with their dog Mitchell along the Willamette Park and Natural Area in Corvallis, Oregon.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Marlene Castillo uses protective spectacles to watch the partial solar eclipse at Grand Park.(Michael Owen Baker / For the Times)
Oregon: Dan Blanchette and his son, Sam, 6, watch the final phases of a total solar eclipse in Salem.(Don Ryan / Associated Press)
California: A crowd gathers in front of the Hollywood sign at the Griffith Observatory to watch the solar eclipse in Los Angeles.(Richard Vogel / Associated Press)
Oregon: People watch the start of the solar eclipse and raise their hands in prayer in an eclipse viewing event led by Native American elders, at Big Summit Prairie ranch in Oregon’s Ochoco National Forest near the city of Mitchell.(ROBYN BECK / AFP/Getty Images)
Oregon: The sun’s corona only is visible during a total solar eclipse between the Solar Temples at Big Summit Prairie ranch in Oregon’s Ochoco National Forest near the city of Mitchell.(ROBYN BECK / AFP/Getty Images)
Oregon: Julian Ledger, of Los Angeles, photographs the solar eclipse while his wife Shayde Ledger and friend Annemarie Penny, right dance during totality at the Albany Regional Airport in Albany, Ore.(Mark Ylen / Associated Press)
Oregon: People watch the start of the solar eclipse at Big Summit Prairie ranch in Oregon’s Ochoco National Forest near the city of Mitchell.(ROBYN BECK / AFP/Getty Images)
Tennessee: Annie Gray Penuel and Lauren Peck wear their makeshift eclipse glasses at Nashville’s eclipse viewing party ahead of the solar eclipse at First Tennessee Park in Nashville.(Shelley Mays / Associated Press)
Washington, DC: A woman looks through a pinhole eclipse viewer after making it in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum on the National Mall before an eclipse in Washington, DC.(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP/Getty Images)
Illinois: C. D. Olsen adjust one of his vintage style cameras which he plans to use during the total solar eclipse on the campus of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Il.(Scott Olson / Getty Images)
South Carolina: Alex Rivas makes a lens mount out of duct tape in preparation for the solar eclipse on the beach at Isle of Palms, S.C.(Mic Smith / Associated Press)
A look at the eclipse from Salem, Oregon.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Oregon: Portland Taiko drummer Karen Tingey performs in front of a live video shot of the sun to introduce the solar eclipse from Salem, Ore.(Don Ryan / Associated Press)
Oregon: A crowd wears protective glasses as they watch the beginning of the solar eclipse from Salem, Ore.(Don Ryan / Associated Press)
Wyoming: Let the #eclipse2017 begin top of Snow King Mountain Jackson Hole.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Wyoming: Annette Osnos watching the eclipse from Snow King Mountain in Jackson Hole.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Oregon: Jonathan Moric, left, and Finn Power, both of Vancouver, get ready to watch the eclipse in a park in Salem, Ore.(Andrew Selsky / Associated Press)
Kentucky: A woman who goes by the name of The Voodoo Bone Lady of New Orleans handles snakes as she sits in the campground set up for viewing the solar eclipse at the Orchard Dale historical farm near Hopkinsville, Ky.(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)
California: Norah King, 3, is ready to view the eclipse at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Washington: A photo made available by NASA shows the Moon as it starts passing in front of the Sun during a solar eclipse from Ross Lake, Northern Cascades National Park, Washington.(NASA)
Missouri: Jason Arbaugh, of Austin, lines up his shot for the solar eclipse at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)
Illinois: Saluki cheerleaders try out eclipse glasses that they were giving out to visitors to Saluki Stadium on the campus of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Ill.(Robert Cohen / Associated Press)
South Carolina: Solar eclipse watchers on the beach hoping to view the total solar eclipse if the weather clears in Isle of Palms, S.C.(Pete Marovich / Getty Images)
California: People wait in line to buy viewing glasses for the solar eclipse at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.(Richard Vogel / Associated Press)
Kentucky: Mike Newchurch, left, professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and graduate student Paula Tucker prepare a weather balloon before releasing it to perform research during the solar eclipse in Hopkinsville, Ky.(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)
Kentucky: Jim Cleveland sets up a camera at his campsite at sunrise as he prepares for the solar eclipse Monday in Hopkinsville, Ky.(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)
Kentucky: A sign stands at the Orchard Dale historical farm near Hopkinsville, Ky.(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)
Nebraska: Chuck Willard of Council Bluffs, Iowa, reads a tourist magazine as he waits in the bed of his truck for the total eclipse in Falls City, Neb.(Nati Harnik / Associated Press)
Oregon: Griffin O’Roak watches the rising sun with his homemade eclipse viewer at a gathering of eclipse viewers in Salem, Ore.(Don Ryan / Associated Press)
Oregon: Catalina Gaitan tries to shoot a photo of the rising sun through her eclipse glasses at a gathering of eclipse viewers in Salem, Ore.(Don Ryan / Associated Press)
Wyoming: Morgan Squires, a park employee, waits to help park and manage cars as they arrive to view the solar eclipse in Grand Teton National Park outside Jackson, Wyo.(George Frey / Getty Images)
Wyoming: People set up cameras and telescopes as they prepare to watch the total eclipse at South Mike Sedar Park in Casper, Wyo.(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
In the eerie, failing light, cattle lay down in the fields. The stars came out. The contrails of passing planes jumped into sharp relief.
The eclipse, moving along a 2,600-mile, 14-state swath starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina, seemed to bring out everyone’s awestruck inner poet — or curious amateur scientist.
All too soon, it was over, and its passing left some feeling almost bereft. Watching, some embraced. Others wept.
Outside Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, the wonder of it was still in the voice of Lisa Wilbanks, 57, of Louisville, Ky., after light returned to the sky.
“I felt a sense of awe about nature ... the whole totality of the universe,” she said.
At Lake Jocassee in South Carolina, water and surrounding hills were slowly engulfed in a shadowy and pink 360-degree sunset. “Whoa,” said a woman on a paddleboard, leaning to kiss her girlfriend. “I didn’t think it would be so dramatic.”
The path of totality, it turns out, is a pretty personal thing. Among young and old alike, a sense of childlike wonder awakened as the clock ticked down to what many saw as a once-in-a-lifetime cosmic spectacle.
“Make the most of the day!” said gallery owner Bonita Shipman in Brevard, N.C. Hours before eclipse time, vendors in a parking lot were gearing up to hand out free Moon Pies and hawk their crafts.
“I felt like I couldn’t pass it up,” said Oregon state Rep. Rob Nosse, who happily rose before dawn to catch the Solar Eclipse Special Train — dubbed the “Nerd Express” — from Portland to the state fairgrounds in the capital, Salem, which was in the path of totality.
Skies were mainly clear along much of the 60- to 70-mile-wide eclipse corridor, but clouds and smoke from forest fires spelled anxiety for some. In north-central Oregon, a wildfire forced the temporary evacuation of the Kah-Nee-Ta resort, packed with solar tourists, just days before the event, but firefighters halted the blaze’s progress toward its camera-wielding hordes.
The stretch of enveloping darkness as the moon fully blotted out the sun was the longest in southern Illinois, where totality lasted nearly three minutes. Elsewhere on the route, the show was a few seconds shorter.
Thanks to social media and the population density along the viewing trail — and with millions of visitors in place — the eclipse was likely the most-viewed and most-photographed one to take place in this country.
“The entire U.S. is geeking out as one,” Hakeem Oluseyi, a Florida Institute of Technology astrophysicist stationed at NASA headquarters in Washington, tweeted delightedly. Google’s “doodle” — the daily image viewed by millions of search-engine users — featured two cartoon aliens in spaceships playfully batting the moon back and forth between them.
The most devoted eclipse-watchers had prepared for the fleeting moments months or years ago, devouring accounts of the fear and awe eclipses inspired in ancient times, and, turning to modern-day preoccupations, scouring online for flights, rental cars and hotels.
Some rural highways and byways, as well as major highways, were hit by choking traffic jams. The National Weather Service in Cheyenne, Wyo., tweeted a shot of a long, zigzagging line of car headlights lighting up the predawn sky. “Holy moly!” it said of the 4:30 a.m. traffic on Interstate 25.
Elsewhere, it paid to get an early start. In South Carolina, traffic before 9 a.m. was light on many of the two-lane roads winding through the hills in the west of the state. Day-trippers in sun hats walked along the side of Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway, hauling folding chairs, coolers and umbrellas to Table Rock State Park.
Even in cities where the eclipse was only partial and the sky barely darkened, office workers clustered on street corners, using protective spectacles to look at the fiery corona. In Washington, D.C., outside the totality path, President Trump, together with wife Melania and son Barron, came out onto the White House’s Truman Balcony, gazing skyward with protective lenses in place — although the president briefly looked up after removing his glasses.
Eclipse mania suddenly became a pop phenomenon as well as a scientific bonanza. NASA star-gazers and reams of other astronomers kept watch from ground telescopes and outer space. Animal behaviorists and botanists had a literal field day. Zoos and museums hosted viewing events; campgrounds and open fields fell silent with awe, or erupted in whoops of wonder.
Long before the sky darkened, Twitter was lit up, and many social media users were openly delighted by a break from divisive national politics. NASA said its livestream broke agency records, reporting 4.4 million watchers at the eclipse’s midpoint.
Many of those who secured a spot in the path of totality sighed with satisfaction.
“The eclipse was on my bucket list,” said Shyloh Elder, a-26-year-old New Yorker who hit the road for North Carolina along with her mother, who lives in Pennsylvania.
For anyone who missed the show: Just wait until 2024. That’s when the next total solar eclipse will be seen in the United States. But there won’t be another coast-to-coast one until 2045.
Times staff writer King reported from Washington and staff writer Pearce from Nashville. Special correspondents Thacher Schmid contributed from Portland, Ore., Kay Manning from Brevard, N.C., and Jenny Jarvie from Salem, S.C.
12:25 p.m.: The article was updated with the passing of the point of “totality” off the East Coast, and additional witness accounts.
10:55 a.m.: The article was updated with additional details about the total eclipse.
10:15 a.m.: The article was updated as a total eclipse descended on Oregon.
9:55 a.m.: This article was updated with details of the beginning of the eclipse.
9:15 a.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from eclipse watchers.
This article was originally published at 7:35 a.m.