People were staking their spots with cameras, lawn chairs and umbrellas on the Georgetown Harborwalk Monday morning, hours before the dawn of a rare sight: the total eclipse of the sun.
The last time the contiguous U.S. saw a total eclipse was in 1979, according to NASA.
Tony Goodyear, an earth sciences and astronomy teacher from Salisbury, Maryland, had just started college that year and was mowing a lawn when he watched the eclipse reflecting on a car window.
“I didn’t have the knowledge I have now,” he said, with a chuckle. Goodyear works at a planetarium and was using a Sunspotter solar telescope to count the sunspots from the Harborwalk.
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There were 44 spots on the sun on Monday, he said, and Goodyear was looking forward to seeing a new spot — the moon — roll in to eclipse them all.
Jo Arnold, a professor and STEM director at a college in Florida, was excited, too, as she sat under an umbrella nearby.
“I wanted to experience the eclipse for my students and for personal reasons,” Arnold said, so she hit the road with a fellow professor Sunday to make it to Myrtle Beach before the morning trek to Georgetown. “We’re excited.”
Parking spaces and shady spots were becoming hard to find in downtown Georgetown by 11 a.m. as the growing crowd at the Harborwalk battled the scorching heat of a sun not yet eclipsed.
Although spaces were filling up two hours before the eclipse was set to begin at 1:17 p.m., southbound traffic from Murrells Inlet was getting heavier, according to a real-time traffic map on the S.C. Department of Transportation’s 511 app.
Maritime traffic also was picking up in Winyah Bay as boaters glided in to claim their eclipse-viewing spots on the great confluence.
“I’m hoping when the eclipse happens and we’re able to see it that we’ll be able to see a few flares … and seeing the corona is very cool,” Goodyear said. “It looks like a giant diamond ring.”
Eclipses are popular times for proposals, Goodyear said with his wife by his side.
Crowds of spectators, equipped with eclipse spectacles, lined Front Street and filled riverfront restaurants to capacity in Georgetown. Lines of more people, hungry for food, drink and air conditioning, trailed down the sidewalks.
And in the mix of the growing crowd were police officers, ready to answer questions or provide assistance, and postal carriers still on their appointed rounds delivering mail come rain or shine or … eclipse.
But eclipses, as rare as they are, don’t always happen without a hitch. Thunder rumbled into the coastal town Monday morning and dark clouds threatened to overtake the sun before the moon. And just before the crowds had really started to roll in, a troubling email found its way to the inboxes of Georgetown city leaders.
The city of Georgetown posted on Facebook that a vendor, who supplied the city with eclipse glasses, had sent officials an email urging the city not to use them.
“After recent discussions with our supply chain they have confirmed that the goods meet their standards. However, due to issues with the product’s certification, we have decided that we would like to carry out our own tests to give our customers extra peace of mind,” the company reportedly told the city in its email. “Unfortunately due to the time-span we are now unable to carry out these tests before the eclipse this coming Monday.”
Georgetown officials had handed out the paper spectacles at its fire station, police department and city hall, but Monday morning, they were advising the ones who had them to use other methods to watch the eclipse.
A limited supply of glasses from another vendor were made available at city hall and the dark clouds that loomed near the Harborwalk never stole the show of an amazing display of a total solar eclipse.