Observing Totality and So Much More

Yesterday, the Great American Eclipse swept across the country. Out of the millions of Americans who saw it, only a small percentage can claim that they saw the phenomenon in complete totality.

I am one of those.

I will always remember Aug. 21, 2017, and not just for the eclipse itself. Several contributing factors made yesterday especially memorable for me.

A photo Bill took of me in Conway moments before we headed off to McClellansville.

Early Monday morning, a few of us staffers from Coastal Carolina University drove south to a tiny South Carolina town called McClellanville (population 500). Our small team was comprised of our vice president of University Communication, Bill, one of our videographers, Alexandra, and myself. McClellanville was in the path of complete totality and it was also one of the very last places the eclipse would pass over.

However, we weren’t taking an 80-mile joy ride on the worst travel day of the decade just so we could see totality. Rather, there was another draw. One of our physics professors, Louis Keiner, was observing and photographing the Great American Eclipse in McClellanville. Throughout the weeks leading up to the eclipse, our University had depended on Louis for his expertise as “eclipse mania” engulfed our campus and community.

Bill used his selfie stick to take a photo of our “Coastal Crew.” Alexandra is on the left, Emma is wearing the red hat, Louis Keiner is in the back, Bill is up front, and I am on the right.

On Monday, he set up camp at Blue Pearl Farms, a small area right outside of McClellanville known for its blueberries, honey, and prime location to view a certain spectacular event that only comes around so often. Louis had graciously allowed us to shadow him so we could provide social media coverage of his observations and produce a video chronicling the day from his vantage point.

We arrived at the farm and quickly met up with Louis and his daughter, Emma. The father and daughter had camped out the night before and had a spot among all the other campers. Once we got settled, we noticed one thing (besides Louis’ gigantic telescope): clouds.

It was an overcast morning and we were all aware that a cloudy sky could block out totality. But Louis told us to hold out hope, noting the area we live in is notorious for quickly changing weather patterns. Trying not to stress over what we couldn’t control, we started focusing on the job we were there to do. We documented Louis setting up his equipment. An extremely talented photographer, he set up and synched multiple cameras on top of his telescope.

This is a photo I snapped of Louis Keiner setting up his equipment.

With his gear in place, Alexandra mic’d up Louis and he started to give us fascinating updates every 30 minutes or so. I conducted a Facebook Live interview with him while also live tweeting his updates to our #CCUSocialMedia Twitter audience. Bill assisted the two of us while also setting up an additional camera to hopefully capture totality.

Emma, myself, Alexandra, and Louis ALL preparing for the big event.

It was hot and humid. We couldn’t stop sweating. But the slight discomfort and the hovering clouds couldn’t dampen the spirit at the farm. You see, the place was filled with eclipse-junkies. The people who had traveled to McClellanville were so excited for the chance to be part of something special and couldn’t care less about the conditions. This spirit oozed from Louis and was reflected in everyone else there. The eclipse fever was contagious and the three of us felt it too.

Goofy photo of myself looking up at the sky (thanks for taking this, Bill!).

As we did our work shadowing Louis, we had to “fight” for access. Numerous people kept approaching Louis asking questions. But please note I put the word fight in quotation marks because it wasn’t a matter of contention for us at all. These people were hungry for knowledge and Louis was more than happy to feed it in a humble and easy-to-understand manner. People kept coming up. The equipment obviously made us stick out like a sore thumb but word also quickly spread throughout the farm that a tall, gentle scientist was happily sharing his expertise. Watching how excited these folks were to have the opportunity to talk with such a kind and intelligent professor was inspirational. The fact this man happened to be a faculty member at the college I work at made me very proud to be a Chanticleer.

People, both young and old, approached Louis throughout the day with questions.

The eclipse started and we initially battled cloud cover. Despite the conditions in the sky, Louis was taking incredible photos of the moon beginning to cover the sun. This drew even more people over to our area. Then, with totality about to set in, the remarkable happened: the clouds parted and we had an unobstructed view of one of the craziest sights you will ever see.

Another photo of a different group of people chatting with Louis.

On the verge of totality, everything started to slow down. You could feel it. Our surroundings became dark and quiet. I ripped off my eclipse glasses. Gazing up in wonderment I heard a voice behind me.

“Oh, this is good. Oh, this is good.”

It was Louis.

I had only seen photographs of totality. In my opinion, seeing it with the naked eye was way different. The sun had turned white and the corona looked much more like an actual crown than it did in pictures. I had a very mysterious feeling inside of me. People were literally gasping. Those 150 seconds went quick. Then came the light. For what it is worth, I thought the sky going from night to day was more spectacular and uplifting than it going from light to dark. As normalcy was restored, applause erupted from inside Blue Pearl Farms.

My amateur photo of the sun post-totality.

Alexandra immediately sought reaction from Louis. The guy was on Cloud Nine. It was so cool to observe someone almost speechless after seeing one of the signature events in his field. He mentioned that he had to look away from his camera and marvel at the eclipse, a sight he had never seen (in totality) until yesterday. After stating that he couldn’t have asked for a better show,  he made it a point to say that he was proud to represent Coastal Carolina University.

It was a pleasure to observe and take in the expertise of Louis Keiner.

Yes, the eclipse itself was awesome. But it was also special to cover something of such magnitude with people from my office. Bill, Alexandra, and I had a great time together and worked hard. It was also extremely gratifying to see Louis Keiner in his element. The Great American Eclipse was almost like his Super Bowl or his Christmas. To watch him excitedly help others and then for the sky to part so he could observe totality made me feel really happy for him. Simply put, I left that farm feeling fulfilled. I am thankful I had the opportunity to make the journey to McClellanville. Don’t Blink.

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