All Eyes on the Sky

For a few moments last week, Americans across the map were united in one thing – their eyes were on the sky.

On Aug. 21, the first total solar eclipse in decades swept across the United States, with the moon blocking out the sun’s light as it passed. This type of eclipse had not passed through Chicago in more than 90 years.

The moon began to block the sun above the city at 11:54a.m. with 87 percent of the sun covered by 1:19p.m. Despite cloudy skies, crowds gathered across the city to stare up at the historic event.

With food trucks, entertainment, and of course, a hefty supply of eclipse glasses, crowds gathered to stare up as the eclipse moved. With the Chicago skyline behind them, many lay out blankets on the grass and made themselves comfortable as they awaited the eclipse.

Dustin Farrington and Brooke Denny were among those seated on the lawn, having traveled from Lansing, Mich., to watch the eclipse at Adler Planetarium’s Eclipse Fest. The two drove over three hours to attend the festival, using the cosmic event as an excuse to visit Chicago.

“I’ve never been to Chicago before, so since the solar eclipse was happening we woke up and came here to watch,” said Farrington.

Although the Chicago skies didn’t see “totality” – the sun being blocked entirely – Denny said the festival made it worth the trip.

“Being around people who appreciate this as much as we do is really cool,” said Denny, “The environment is really great.”

And there were plenty who appreciated the significance of the event here in Chicago.

More than 45,000 spectators gathered outside of Adler Planetarium for the Chicago Eclipse Fest, grabbing up all 40,000 pairs of glasses Adler distributed the morning of the eclipse. In total, the planetarium gave out over 250,000 pairs of glasses. The glasses helped prevent eye damage, caused by looking directly at the sun, and were given out for free across the city as part of Adlers “Equipped to Eclipse” campaign.

For those who made a last minute decision to watch the eclipse, plenty of other opportunities were available for safe viewing. An activity station allowed visitors to craft their own mechanism from boxes and duck tape, while volunteers like Isobell Tallenar showed guests how to use a modified telescope.

Tallenar explained to a line of spectators that scientists from the planetarium used a 3D printed to create “an aparatus out of shower curtain and construction paper that makes a mini sun theater.” The telescope projected a viewing of the eclipse for those who didn’t have glasses to watch it first hand.

“It’s like a live stream,” said Tallenar.

As the eclipse progressed, Megan Trinh adjusted the glasses on her three-year-old daughter Madeline, and instructed her to look up and look for a little sliver of light. When the three-year-old south loop resident caught a glimpse she pointed toward the sun — “I’m excited,” she said toward her mother.

“She loves the planetarium,” Trinh said of her daughter, who she said watched PBS cartoons about eclipse to prepare for the event. Her love of the space museum meant they couldn’t miss the festival. Trinh said her husband waited in line for 45 minutes at two different libraries to find the glasses for their daughter.

Many other parents made sure that their children would not miss out on the historic event.

June Murdock brought her two children, Keanu Keys, 8, and Lyric Keys, 5, to watch the eclipse. The children lay on their backs on the planetarium stairs, looking up through their glasses. Murdock, from Washington Heights, said she brought her kids to the festival for quality family time.

“I was eight-years-old the last time I saw something like this,” said Murdock, “and for them this is the first opportunity.”

Locals, tourists, families and space enthusiasts all enjoyed an afternoon of eclipse-themed art work, 3-D chalk creations, food trucks, and arts and craft activities before and after they set their sites on the sun.

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