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Sungazers: Region looks skyward for eclipse

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Ana Hernandez, 14, of Elizabeth City, (front) along with her mother, Rosaura , and brother, Michael, watch the partial solar eclipse through special safety glasses at Dismal Swamp State Park in South Mills, Monday. Nearly 200 people showed up at the park to view the partial solar eclipse, park officials said. The moon (inset) covers the sun during a total solar eclipse in this Associated Press photo taken near Redmond, Ore., Monday.

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By Chris Day
Multimedia Editor

Monday, August 21, 2017

SOUTH MILLS — Monday's solar eclipse left a lasting impression on nearly 200 citizen-astronomers who witnessed the event at Dismal Swamp State Park.

"It's really cool," said Nathaniel Werderman, who attends Camden County Middle School.

He likened the image of the moon moving across the sun to a popular brand logo.

"I thought it looked like the Apple symbol from an iPhone," said the 12-year-old.

People young and old turned out Monday to watch the celestial spectacle from the grounds of Dismal Swamp State Park. The event included presentations by park rangers before first signs of the moon's bite started to show around 1:30 p.m. Around 2:15 p.m. park rangers estimated the number of viewers at around 170, but more possibly showed up as peak eclipse time neared.

Spectators, some donning special viewing glasses and others equipped with homemade pinhole viewers, scurried about excitedly, stopping every so often to look upward to track the moon's trajectory. Meanwhile, others tried holding their special glasses up to the lens of their smartphones hoping to get a good photo.

Lisa Doepker, the park's office manager, walked around with a tray of Moon Pies and passed them out. Her daughter and assistant for the afternoon Taylor followed, carrying a tray filled with bags of Sun Chips. Keeping with the theme, the park also made available free Capri Sun drinks. Somewhere on someone's radio the 1994 song "Black Hole Sun" by the band Soundgarden was playing.

Young amateur astronomer Noelle Swogger was joined by her brothers Nolan, 7, and Eton, 4, and her mother, Lara.

"I think it's really cool," said 9-year-old Noelle of the eclipse. "Because, it doesn't happen every day."

Lara Swogger said she brought her children down from Chesapeake to view the eclipse.

"I love that the (park) offered this," she said.

Also visiting from Virginia was Jessica Bokis, who after looking at the sun through her safety glasses said it looked like a crescent moon.

"It's amazing. I'm almost emotional," said Bokis. "It's breathtaking."

Bokis said she came down from Virginia Beach to get out of the city so she could view the eclipse in an area more in touch with nature.

Minnie Sutton of Camden was helping her 5-year-old son view the eclipse through his safety glasses.

"I see the moon," Solomon Sutton shouted, when the glasses were fitted on his face.

Minnie Sutton confessed that at first she had considered watching the eclipse at home on the television. However, her oldest child is starting college this fall and her youngest, Solomon, is starting school. So she figured the viewing party would be a great chance to build memories and spend time with her family.

"I want to take every opportunity to make memories," she said. "I'm trying to make every opportunity count."

While she did have special viewing glasses for her son, Sutton also came equipped with a homemade cereal box pinhole viewer. That's how she remembers watching the eclipse in 1979. Feeling nostalgic, she thought it would be nice to also make a viewer.

"We wanted to do it the old school way," she said.

Also attending the park’s eclipse party from Camden were several members of Cub Scout Pack 158. Among them were Anthony Dowd, with his children Trevor, 8, Matthew, 6, and Cooper, 2, and his wife Naree. The Dowds were using several pinhole viewers they made from different sized boxes.

Priscilla Spellman, of Elizabeth City, said she came out of curiosity but also for professional reasons.

"I'm here because I actually used to be a science teacher," said Spellman, a retired Pasquotank Elementary math and science teacher.

Spellman, whose husband, Calvin, works at the state park, said the last solar eclipse she witnessed was in 1979. That was when she was living in Murfreesboro in Hertford County. Just like in 1979, Spellman also made a cereal box pinhole viewer to view Monday's eclipse.

"This is a monumental event," she said, adding that while she was pleased with the turnout she would have liked to have seen even more people attending. "I wish this park was loaded with people."

Michele Aydlett, treasurer of the Friends of Dismal Swamp State Park, said she was thrilled with the turnout.

"We knew this was going to be a wonderful program for the public," she said.

The Friends organization worked with park officials to organize the event.

Park Ranger Katie Sanford said planning for the event began at least 2 months ago. While the park provided enough viewing glasses for 40 people, it also provided plenty of materials for guests to make their own pinhole viewers. Guests young and old busied themselves fashioning viewers using paper towel tubes, construction paper and glue.

In Elizabeth City, pockets of viewers gathered outside the Witherspoon Library to glimpse the rare solar phenomenon.

"It's something you don't see every day," said Nikki Ambrose, while her children Wyatt, Rilee and Rachel watched the moon's progression across the sun's face.

Library Director Jackie King said the library handed out 550 pairs of safety glasses, which went quickly. It was surprising, in a good way, to see so much public interest in the occasion, she said.

"It's making (astronomy) really cool right now," King said.

That was the case for Stephanie Sawyer and her three children, Maggie, Jake and Evie, who watched the eclipse with safety glasses and cereal box viewers. Sawyer said her father has always been excited about space and NASA and that excitement has spilled over to her family. She liked the eclipse because it had spurred interest in science, she said.

Pasquotank Courthouse employees Luree Sawyer and Jennifer Thompson popped outside briefly to see the moon take a chunk out of the sun. Also stepping outside was County Attorney Mike Cox. Eclipse observers also emerged by the downtown Wells Fargo Bank, and from behind the city's Public Safety Administration Building, where a few police officers were watching.

According to King, the next solar eclipse to cross North America will be in 2024. News reports state it will follow a different path, with a complete eclipse visible in a band from Mexico, the central United States and eastern Canada.

Staff Writer Jon Hawley contributed to this report.

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