Did you see it?
Jaelyn Gardner did — a full-blown solar eclipse — and just two minutes before thick clouds rolled above Winnwood Elementary in Kansas City, North. She and 285 schoolmates took in the totality, diamond ring and all, and everyone whooped and squealed.
A playground of 285 grade schoolers could not have been more hushed before that, around 1:05 p.m. Monday, with all eyes turned up behind protective glasses. As cicadas sang, Principal Leah Copeland waited for the right moment to say, “Glasses off,” and the place went bonkers.
“You can only see that once in a lifetime,” a beaming Jaelyn said. And being just in third grade, she’s got a lot of life to live.
Not all around the Kansas City region were so lucky. Morning rains threatened to spoil things for everybody. In St. Joseph, which drew visitors from around the globe, eclipse viewing was mostly a bust.
It had been more than 200 years — 1806 — since the path of a total solar eclipse came this close to the Kansas City area. Not since 1442, nearly six centuries ago and 50 years before Christopher Columbus stepped foot in the New World, has a solar eclipse’s path of totality cast a lunar shadow so close to this area.
Said Jesse Wood of Cambridge, Minn., who laid on the sidewalk in the City Market to video the totality with his phone: “It was the best two minutes of my life.”
Next total solar eclipse for the Kansas City area: July 17, 2205 — 188 years from now.
Here’s how we spent this eclipse, moving west to east.
About 100 people joined the monks at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison to worship, dodge scattered rainfall and grill some food. Because what’s an eclipse without a little tailgating?
“We are guaranteed one thing today, clouds or not: It will get dark,” Abbot James Albers said during a special morning Mass.
That it did.
Glimpses of the moon crossing the sun’s path were few. When the clouds occasionally thinned enough to behold the eclipse, cheers erupted from the crowd gathered down the hill at Benedictine University’s stadium to the northeast.
Eclipse watchers had driven from as far north as Des Moines, Iowa, and as far south as Dallas.
Many who gathered at the Abbey reminisced about the times they’d seen partial eclipses, whether through holes in boxes or a father’s welding goggles.
Brother Joseph Ryan, a monk at St. Benedict’s for nearly 24 years, studied astronomy and physics at Benedictine University. Before burgers were served Monday, he gave a brief talk to those gathered about what they might see, from daytime darkness to confused skunks wandering out of the brush overlooking the Missouri River. This was his second eclipse.
“Growing up I just loved watching the stars,” Ryan said. “It actually helped me join the monastery. You see the sad things, but then you see the awe all around us. Basically that’s what we’re here for, the awe of God.”
About 8:30 a.m. Monday at Rosecrans Memorial Airport, just west of St. Joseph, Buchanan County Presiding Commissioner Harry Roberts said: “Everything’s going according to plan.”
On cue: thunder claps.
Sadly, for all its planning and prep work, there was nothing St. Joe could do about the weather Monday.
“Strategically and logistically, it was awesome,” said Beth Conway, spokeswoman for the St. Joseph Visitors Bureau. “But we can’t plan the weather. It is what it is.”
It was still a rich experience, “meeting hundreds of people from all over the world,” she said. “We had thousands of visitors. ... I just wish we could have seen it a little better.”
By some reckonings, there were few places that should have been as sweet to watch a total solar eclipse than St. Joseph. Only two other spots in the country would have longer blackouts, and typically, August skies are clearer in Northwest Missouri than the other spots.
Alas, eclipse Monday was a soggy, socked-in day. Off-and-on rain. Clouds all day. The sun and moon did peek through for a too-brief moment at Rosecrans airport, delighting the take-what-we-can-get crowd.
“Well, it wasn’t a total bust,” said Mark Finnegan, who traveled here from Iowa City, Iowa. “But it sure would have been nice to have clear skies.”
Interstate 29, Dearborn rest area
Along Interstate 29, the eclipse occurred amid total cloud cover, with a few sprinkles to boot.
But most in the crowd that packed the Dearborn rest area 20 miles south of St. Joseph said the experience was still one to remember.
“I’m just thrilled to death,” said Mary McDonough of Lenexa. “It was unbelievable. I’m amazed we got to see many different views of it in between the cloud cover.”
Penny and Hershal Dotson of Stilwell, Okla., had planned to go to St. Joseph, but stopped for a break at the rest area at 6 a.m. and decided that was as good a spot as any for eclipse watching.
“These clouds are just a chance you have to take,” Penny Dotson said. “But it will still be a great experience.”
At 11:45 a.m., a rumble spread through the crowd and all heads tilted upward.
“Look, it’s started!”
Over the next hour-and-a-half, the eclipse glasses were intermittently slipped on and off as glimpses of the sun came and went.
North Kansas City
Eclipse viewer Bill Pierce recalled hearing as a kid the line in Carly Simon’s song “You’re So Vain”: “Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun.”
“And I thought, man, that sounds like something fun to do,” Pierce said. Decades later, the Dallas bioengineer and girlfriend Molly Teague did just that. Except they flew commercial. And their destination was the rooftop of Chicken ’N Pickle in North Kansas City.
Last month CNN named the bar and restaurant at 1761 Burlington St. one of the top seven rooftop bars in the nation for viewing the eclipse. Rooftop tickets sold out about three weeks ago, said event manager Amanda Unruh; the spots down below were all reserved by last week.
About 800 revelers filled the place for pickleball, glow sticks, shots of the signature apple-green vodka eclipse cocktail and comfortable seats to see the sun to go dark.
Aerialist Liv Morrow, in glittery make-up and bodysuit, was hired to entertain the waiting crowd, hanging upside down and contorting herself around a hoop suspended from above. “I will try to embody the moon today,” she explained. “The moon personified.”
After a morning downpour, the clouds cleared and blue sky ruled. But when the sun had shrunk down to a sliver, just before the moon would fully cover it, the clouds rolled in. The crowd groaned.
But somehow, the covering wasn’t thick enough to obscure the awesome effects: a glittering diamond as the moon covered all but a tip of the sun and then a riot of color from the corona’s ring of fire. The crowd whooped and cheered.
“It was so freaking cool,” said Drene Middleton of North Kansas City, who took a break with co-workers to bask in the eclipse glow.
Kansas City, North, school
At 10:45 a.m., Winnwood Elementary second-grade teacher Karen Cangelose frankly was a little bummed. After all of the preparations the school had made, the sky was pouring rain.
Most of the kids wore black. A “solar oven” made of cardboard and tin foil would attempt to melt crayons. For lunch they would munched on sun chips with their solar subs. After drinking packets of Caprisun fruit punch, some would chew Eclipse gum.
Raymond Wootton, father of third-grader Aubrey Wootton, was supposed to start a new job Monday in Dallas, commuting on weekends.
“I told my new boss I had to be up here with my daughter to see this,” he said. “He was like, ‘totally understand. See you Tuesday.’ ”
Winnwood is a year-round school, allowing its students to spend more than four weeks learning about the sun, moon and solar system. But until the sun presented itself in and out from behind wispy clouds, the North Kansas City Schools Education Foundation’s gift of 22,000 certified eclipse glasses wasn’t looking so good.
By 1:05 p.m., a wall of dark clouds was just off to the west. And the clouds hung back, letting the youngsters enjoy the eclipse. Some chanted, “Baily’s Beads, Baily’s Beads,” referring to a sparkling around the sun’s rim at the moment of totality.
When it was over, Cangelose rounded up her pupils with a smile of relief.
“Now, kids,” she said, “we get to go in and make moon pies.”
Barbara and Glenn Osterwisch drove up from Houston. They arrived Saturday with the promise to take their 5-year-old grandson, James, on a special outing.
He originally asked for Paris. Instead, they opted for the the eclipse.
Barbara was already at Independence Square setting up chairs at 7:30 a.m. when the day seemed promising. Then by 9 a.m., dark clouds began to cover the square. It began to drizzle, then pour.
“If you look at the map, it doesn’t look promising anywhere,” Barbara Osterwisch said.
They figured they’d watch it get dark and count, perhaps, on 2024, when a total solar eclipse will slice across the U.S. from Texas to Maine.
Then, just after 11 a.m., the rain stopped. The sun beamed down.
What had seemed hopeless turned into a block party. Hundreds of people slowly filled Independence Square. Vendors sold hotdogs. Kids bounced inside a moonwalk. Mostly, families spread out in folding chairs on the courthouse lawn.
Tommy Nugent, 32, and his 8-year-old son, Kieran, had driven all the way from Owasso, Okla. They stood with their naked eyes trained on the sky — the moon in total solar eclipse, having blackened out the face of the sun. A shimmering corona outlined the moon.
The breeze had picked up. Shadows had lengthened. The streetlights glowed to life. Suddenly, instantaneously, the voices of hundreds of people rose in exclamations of wonder.
“This is amazing! I’m shaking. Can you see this, dude?!” Tommy Nugent said to his boy. “I can see the stars! Wow!”
Klaes Svensson and Soren Neilsen had made the nine-hour drive from Dallas to Kansas City to view the eclipse. But by 8 a.m., they were getting worried.
The weather reports looked bad, so Svensson and Neilsen decided to head east with no particular destination in mind. By 10 a.m., they had settled on the campus of the University of Missouri, surrounded by thousands of students, faculty and staff who were back in town for the first day of classes.
“We planned to go to St. Joseph, but we realized last night the weather wasn’t going to be good,” Svensson said. “We decided to go east, but we didn’t know where to go.”
The eclipse, paired with the first day students were back in classes, made for a busy Columbia campus. The school provided free pizza for students and handed out more than 4,000 pair of eclipse glasses.
Ruth Tofle, professor and chair of the department of architectural studies, said the eclipse was a wonderful way to kick off a new school year, especially after the turmoil the campus has seen in recent years.
“Mizzou is a wonderful school, and we need good press,” Tofle said. “Between our total solar eclipse, and the coming basketball season, all our woes will be gone.”
The Star’s Sharon Hoffmann and Kathy Lu contributed to this story.