People have been making preparations for years to travel hundreds of miles to see the 2017 total solar eclipse. In Casper, where thousands of people showed up, skies were clear and views under the path of totality were once in a lifetime.
The day before the eclipse, and downtown Casper was hard to recognize. Second Street had been closed off to traffic and hundreds of pedestrians were checking out the food vendors and the many different kinds of eclipse swag on display. Resident and vendor Brooke Hopkins said the most coveted item was going fast.
“We still have some eclipse glasses left,” said Hopkins. “Not many, but for five dollars we have them.”
On one corner, a map of the world was set up where visitors could use pushpins to mark where they traveled from. Executive Director of the Wyoming Eclipse Festival Anna Wilcox said it was amazing to look at.
“It really makes it real when you see that. When people said international, or from everywhere, everyone rolled their eyes at us,” said Wilcox. “You can actually look and see they’re from everywhere!”
Further down the street, Chapters Tattoo owner Craig Naegle was standing outside his shop. He said it had been a busy weekend with a lot of people taking advantage of his eclipse tattoo special.
“We got like five or six sheets of flash designs. We just take them as they come. Got four artists throwing down ink in there. Each of us have done at least six tattoos a day, the last two days,” Naegle said.
Downtown’s festivities went on late into the evening Sunday as more and more people made their way into Casper.
The morning of the big day, Backwards Distillery’s parking lot was full of license plates from all over the country: Louisiana, Kansas, California, Maine, and a bunch from Colorado and Wyoming, too.
On the distillery’s front lawn, about a hundred people had set up their blankets and lawn chairs. It was one of the few ticketed events in Casper. Visitor April Rosenthal said she didn’t mind paying if she knew it meant she and her husband, Paul, would have a reserved spot. They’re from Oregon, but April said they arrived in Casper extra early.
“We’ve been here for a month waiting for the eclipse, we came here specifically for the eclipse,” said April. “And I am glad that we did because this is a great town.”
Shortly after the first bite when the moon touches the sun’s edge, Paul pulled a colander out of his bag to look at how the shadows are changing.
“See the crescents?” he asked. The shadows that usually would have been circles were now crescent shaped.
The eclipse quickly approached totality and the sun shrank down to a sliver. I joined a group of friends that drove up that morning from Laramie. A couple of them put on extra layers since temperatures had cooled. The air was buzzing and some people were nervously giggling.
With totality about a minute away, the sky darkened to a deep, blue twilight.
“It’s happening, it’s eclipsing!” said one viewer.
As the last bit of the sun’s sliver shrank away, the corona appeared. Small beads of light danced around the sun before fading away, with the final bead brightening and expanding into the diamond ring effect.
We took off our glasses and the moon was a dark circle and the sun a glowing, white halo. The horizon was the color of a peach.
There was nothing to do, but to look around in total awe. When totality ended, we put our glasses back on and the sun began to shine across the land once more.
For some of the eclipse viewers, it was a highly emotional experience.
“It was amazing. It made me cry… I don’t know [why] I think it’s because it was something you’ll see once in a lifetime,” said one woman.
April Rosenthal, the visitor who’d been in Casper for a month, said she and her husband are already making plans for the next one.
Once you see one, you gotta see another!” said April.
When somebody put on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, fewer people were looking to the sky, but everyone was smiling.