There were no tickets, no lines, no security checks. All anyone who happened to be in Central Park on Monday afternoon needed to enjoy the rare transcontinental solar eclipse was a patch of ground and curiosity about the cosmos.
As peak eclipse time of 2:44 p.m. ET approached, a crowd of a few hundred people gathered atop the park’s easily scalable Umpire Rock near the Columbus Circle entrance.
There were oohs and aahs and exclamations of “that’s amazing” and “whoa, dude” as the moon made its slow but steady progress across the sun. Observers came with everything from high-tech cameras and binoculars to cereal boxes transformed into pinhole cameras. A few people brought out colanders, but the general consensus was that they weren’t really up to the task.
There were plenty of picnickers and tour groups taking in the scene. The rare celestial event seemed to add sizzle to at least one passionate make-out session under the shade of a tree.
“It’s such a really cool communal moment for New York,” said Jordan Bradfield, a Battery Park resident who brought a cardboard box pinhole camera that was big enough to create an immersive experience by fitting over the viewer’s head.
Bradfield, a marketing executive for Paper magazine, and his fiance Brendan Rooney, were generous with the kids who lined up to give the box a try. Bradfield and Rooney are not astronomy buffs per se, but when the optometry retailer Warby Parker sent a batch of the pre-fab boxes to Bradfield’s office, he decided to “seize the moment.”
Others who came to the park with special solar-viewing glasses were also in a mood to share them with onlookers. The glasses became an elusive commodity in the city during the past 48 hours as eclipse fever reached its peak. On Sunday, there were long lines at B&H Photo and Video in Manhattan, one of the few shops that still had high-end glasses left (they sold out by Sunday midday).
Nisha Narayan, a pediatric ER doctor at NYU, and Mishuka Adhikary, a pediatric ER doctor at Columbia University hospital, made the trek to Central Park on their day off to experience the eclipse. The two considered themselves lucky to snag two pairs of glasses on Sunday night from a street vendor in Times Square.
“At first he offered us three for $50. We said ‘$10 for two’ and he agreed to that,” Adhikary said.
She was concerned that the specs might be lacking in quality, but in fact the view of the yellow-orange orb offset by a black crescent was fantastic. “It’s been sweet,” Narayan said.
Clouds periodically tried to steal the show from the sun and the moon, but they were elbowed aside by a light wind. Around the peak eclipse time, the natural light in the park resembled the early evening, and the temperature took a noticeable drop. A young man in shorts and a baseball cap emblazoned “Pride” in rainbow letters stuck his eye into a Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal box and swooned. “I love science,” he said. “This is awesome.”
By 3:15 p.m. or so, the crowds began to thin, as only a few die-hards stuck around on the rock to watch the last speck of the moon pass by.
As people carefully ambled down the rock, a man parked with a group on the lawn below found just the tune to play at top volume on his boom box as the Great American Eclipse faded into history: Smash Mouth’s “Walkin’ On the Sun.”
(Pictured above: Brendan Rooney and Jordan Bradfield)