August 28, 2017
My husband and I drove to Kansas City for the Great American Solar Eclipse, thinking we would view it in St. Joseph, MO, site of 100% totality. Once we arrived in K.C., however, we realized that St. Jo was expecting 2 million people. Not only that, but the weather report was iffy. Clouds and storms forecast.
We researched eclipse maps and picked Beatrice, Nebraska, located in the heart of the state. Turns out Homestead National Monument is there, NASA was broadcasting from there, and even "The Science Guy" was going to be there.
The Perfect Spot Weather report said partly cloudy, so we got up at 4:30 a.m. (yikes) and drove three solid hours to Beatrice, which is pronounced "Bee-At_Tris" by locals. The mid-town bakery was in full power mode, selling donuts and steaming coffee for the expected 50,000 visitors. Given the crowds at the monument grounds, I think the number was much greater than that.
The good people of this town put their hearts, souls and bodies into hosting this event. They ran buses between the local fairgrounds and the monument. We took advantage of the free transportation after parking our car at the county fairgrounds. Note I said "free." The town/county/national monument charged NOTHING for providing buses, parking and viewing site. Amazing.
At the monument grounds, there were booths, exhibits, food vendors, but quite honestly, the place was absolutely overrun with people. The lines were like Disneyland in summer. Although the host site had 60 port-a-potties in place, over 100 people were in line to go tee-tee.
Let's Get Outa Here! After surveying this situation, and with a good half hour left before the eclipse, I told my husband, "You're going to kill me, but I'm concerned about our ability to get out of here after the eclipse. It will take HOURS to load all these people."
Luckily, he agreed. So, we gathered our chairs and supplies, hopped a return school bus (I could barely fit in the tiny seat!) and went back to the fairgrounds. There, only about 100 people sat on benches and peered at the skies through those odd black glasses that protect your retinas from the sun's rays. Best of all, there were real bathrooms and water fountains in two buildings nearby!
The Clouds Broke Just in Time Although scattered clouds threatened to ruin our day, a wide enough hole broke before the big moment, and we were able to see the full solar eclipse. 100% totality was an amazing experience. There was this moment where you, a regular human, knew, without any scientist telling you, that THIS was IT. The black moon piece fit exactly inside the brilliant sun piece. Everyone cheered, took off their glasses and enjoyed seeing the sun's outer corona.
After, there was a delay, longer than you would expect, before the lights went out, the air cooled to a sigh, and several planets shone in the sky. Everyone cheered again, more a "Wow" than a "Yippie." But we grew quiet again in anticipation. Slowly, surely, our sun blazed a thin burst of crescent light beyond the moon's silhouette, and everyone celebrated again, this time reassured that our sun would shine again.
Although the drive back took us almost six hours because of clogged traffic, this experience was well worth the time and effort. I want to congratulate the small town of Beatrice, Gage County, and the Homestead National Monument of America for their congenial effort to provide services, food and goods for far more than 50,000 people. We were impressed with the good spirit of this Heartland community of about 12,000 people.
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