People from all over the world converged Monday on St. Joseph, Mo., a town nestled along the Missouri River just north of Kansas City, to watch an event that many said comes once in a lifetime: a total solar eclipse.
Instead of the expected — and usual — sunny August day in the city of about 77,000, the thousands who gathered at Rosecrans Memorial Airport on the edge of town got cloud cover and nearby thunderstorms.
About 10 minutes before totality, the rain stopped. The crowd erupted in a cheer. The sun, a mere crescent, popped out from behind the clouds.
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The jubilation was like a tide: cheers, followed by quiet as the clouds covered the dwindling sun. Then cheers again, as the ever-shrinking sun emerged.
But then it was as if night had descended: the area was thrust into darkness. To the eclipse watchers in the shadow of the moon, it was as if there was a sunset around them in every direction.
Twelve-year old Ava Byrd travelled 18 hours by car from Jacksonville, Fla. with her mother Alicia. She donned her glasses, head craned, hoping for just a glimpse of the sun's corona. And then, through a break in the clouds, she got it.
Was she disappointed that she wasn't able to experience the full effect? Not at all.
"People started quitting," she said, referring to many who jumped into their cars to head out before totality even began. "But my mom's like, 'Don't give up' … and here we are."
She was thrilled to have seen what she'd come so far to see: the coronal effect of a total solar eclipse.
"We saw a big black ball, and a little light coming out and I was like, 'That's the solar eclipse!' she said, jumping up and down on her toes.
Alicia, a college math teacher, said she was happy to make the trip.
"Stuff like this, you don't normally get the chance to do it," she said. "We heard about it and we went for it."
'A wonderful event'
Robert Dechert, a former member of Parliament, and Ruth Clarke made the 14-hour trip from Mississauga, Ont., just outside Toronto. They, too, felt the trip was certainly worth it, clouds and all.
"It was an opportunity to share this with all our fellow humans and sky watchers and astronomy buffs and experience a very special, rare event with like-minded individuals, so it was a wonderful event," Dechert said.
'Even though it was cloudy...it seemed more magical and special to me.' — Ruth Clark
"Everybody on the planet is equal in something like this, and you see how equal we all are and how we can all share this together, and it was worth the drive," he said.
Dechert and Clark enjoyed the crowd's reaction.
"They were sombre beforehand, because they were a little bit disappointed, but it made it all the more special when it came out," Clark said. "Even though it was cloudy … it seemed more magical and special to me."
Italians Vincenzo Roselli and Ginny Sgarro decided to make the trip from Rome three years ago. They decided on St. Joseph due to the favourable weather prospects.
Though the weather didn't co-operate, there weren't any regrets.
"It was wonderful. We loved staying here. Since we're from Italy, this kind of organization for us is completely unusual, so it was fun. Everything was fun," Sgarro said. "The very moment of the total eclipse was very emotional. So we are satisfied."
As for Ava, she's hooked. Asked if this was her first eclipse she said: "Yes, but it won't be my last,"