Witnessing the Total Solar Eclipse in Philadelphia
"May the shadow of the moon fall on a world at peace." - Frank Reynolds
Was that a bird in the sky? Was it a plane? No, the Total Solar Eclipse wasn't quite Superman, but that didn't stop the hundreds of Philadelphians today that went outside of their buildings during their lunch breaks or broke out their lawn chairs on parks to gawk at the Moon passing between the Earth and the Sun. What made this eclipse especially notable was that it was seen coast-to-coast, earning it the title of “The Great American Eclipse”, which will surely go down in future history and science textbooks.
Of all the places one could gather in Philadelphia to view the eclipse in all of its glory, The Independence Seaport Museum on Penn’s Landing had well-over 200 people in attendance for the astronomical event. Tickets sold-out fast due to the unexpectedly high demand for those evasive safety shades, which block the harmful solar radiation that is emitted from the Sun and its reflection. As one employee at the Seaport explained to me, “The damage to the retina- particularly to the macula -that can happen if you look at the eclipse without these sunglasses is permanent. You can lose your ability to see depth of field, go color blind, or burn a hole in your field of vision. You can even sunburn your eyes, which isn’t pleasant at all.”
Karen Lindsay and Alan Kurz, locals from Queen Village, set-up their beach chairs, food, and water atop the museum’s observation deck to effectively stakeout the solar phenomena together. Laughing, the couple told me that they were “having a ball” and that they actually felt “excited” whenever the clouds covered up the sun, because catching a glimpse of the eclipse was always “a great surprise.”
The President and CEO of the Seaport, John Brady, an unashamed “maritime and science geek”, was also in attendance at the viewing party, which he thought was a “perfectly logical” event to host at the museum. “Science is related to the water… Mariners have always been involved with astronomy. For several centuries, and before the GPS came to be, sailors had only the stars to rely on. And still, if all of the satellites were to shut down one day, our only guarantee to get from Point A to Point B in the sea would be to let the stars guide us.” Other than events such as the solar eclipse viewing party, the Seaport also hosts astronomy nights and celestial navigation courses. It is worth mentioning here to you, reader, that the Seaport has more to offer than just maritime art and artifacts, it is also home to an impressive exhibit that chronicles the African presence on The Delaware River through the themes of Enslavement, Emancipation, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights- appropriately titled “Tides of Freedom”.
In 1979, Frank Reynolds covered the last total solar eclipse for ABC News, expressing his desire for “the shadow of the moon” to “fall on a world at peace”. Thirty-eight years later, and The Great American Eclipse passed over a confused and tumultuous world, but the hopes of Frank Reynolds still burn just as effervescently. Maybe the next total solar eclipse will occur when that universal wish for a better and safer world has finally come true. We’ll see if it does on August 8th 2024.