Mother Nature showed her sense of humor Monday, clouding the view of the sun just minutes before the 1:30 p.m. peak of the solar eclipse on the Biloxi beach.
Still, it was an amazing show, uniting generations who paused and looked to the heavens with their eclipse glasses and homemade pinhole viewers.
“There it is!” Edna Montgomery of Moss Point shouted as she located the sun in her viewer made with aluminum foil and an empty ice cream cone box. A shiny dot appeared with a bite out of one side an hour before the peak.
People tailgated, spread out blankets on the lawn of the Biloxi Visitors Center, and gathered at libraries and schools. Those who took to the beach witnessed the birds getting still and the sky becoming dim, whether from the eclipse or the nearby storm clouds.
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Strangers quickly became friends over shared eclipse glasses and ice water as the heat index topped 100 degrees.
“I checked him out of school,” said Heather Schenck of Biloxi who sat on a blanket with her son, Ethan Schenck, in sight of the Biloxi Lighthouse. The school reported lots of parents had picked up their children, she said.
Next to them sat Joe Seidule of Biloxi. At 92, he’s seen a lunar eclipse and watched the television broadcast with the rest of the nation as Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the moon. “I made my kids watch it,” he said, and he approved of Schenck getting out of school to see the eclipse.
Not in his lifetime, Seidule said, but in Schenck’s, “We’ll be on our way to Mars.”
W. Fred Hornsby III brought his children, Jane Claire and Hayes, to the beach to see the eclipse. He asked, how often do you get kids excited about science, and how often is there an eclipse of the sun?
“It only happens once in a blue moon,” he joked.
At St. Patrick Catholic High School, most of the students got permission slips from parents to go outside to watch the eclipse. Reactions from the teens ranged from “cool” to “I think it was over-hyped.”
Some of the students laid down in the parking lot while a few teachers took photos during the 15-minute school break. The school provided eclipse glasses to students who were allowed outside for the event.
And while cloud cover was spotty up on Tradition Parkway, it was clear enough for the students to see the eclipse.
It’s been 99 years since a solar eclipse has been visible across the continental United States and it will be 7 years before the chance comes again to South Mississippi.
Better keep those eclipse glasses as a souvenir.
Sun Herald photojournalist John Fitzhugh contributed to this report.