View downstate brings some suburbanites to tears
Suburban residents who trekked downstate to watch Monday's eclipse say it was well worth the money and time. So much so that some were moved to tears.
Elgin residents Ron and Jodi Martin and their daughters witnessed totality at Fort Kaskaskia State Park near Chester. Jodi and 28-year-old daughter, Jillian, started to cry, as did WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling, at his viewing spot in Carbondale.
"It really took my breath away. It was beyond anything I was expecting," said Jillian, who watched with her family atop a picturesque bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.
Same for Vilia Jakaitis of Woodstock, who watched tearfully from Crab Orchard National Wildlife Reserve near Marion, east of Carbondale. "It's unlike anything you've ever seen before. It really was such a cool sight, it's hard to explain. It was totally worth it."
Many suburban residents who drove five or more hours to be in the path of totality described it as not just an awesome thing to witness but a friendly, festive atmosphere of people sharing telescopes and glasses, talking about science, and snapping photos of each other. When the skies darkened and the "diamond ring" of the sun was visible, the crowds cheered, applauded, repeatedly said "Oh my God!" or watched silently in reverence.
"People were in awe," said Dave Broviak, a civil engineer from Geneva who watched with his family from the Crab Orchard reserve.
Even though he had to take a vacation day from work, drive several hours and pay "triple the normal rate" for a hotel room in Marion, he said it was well worth it.
"I'd do it again tomorrow if I could," he said.
Naperville Astronomical Association spokesman Eric Claeys said their group of 250 people split up between three different states for the event. He watched with 60 members at a baseball field in White House, Tennessee, where it didn't get as dark as they expected, but enough to bring out locusts and other bugs that typically come out at dusk.
"A partial (eclipse) is very interesting, but a total is an experience. You really can't compare," he said. "As soon as it was over, I turned around and yelled, 'When's the next one?'"
For the U.S., it's on April 8, 2024, on a path that extends from Texas to Maine, and again includes Carbondale.
As expected, traveling south for Monday's eclipse came with some challenges. Eclipse-viewers reported a 4-mile backup going through the four-way stop in Redbud, a two-hour backup through Champaign where I-57 went down to one lane due to construction, and long bathroom lines at highway rest stops. But once people got to their viewing spots, they watched in comfort under mostly clear skies.
"We've talked about becoming eclipse chasers now," Jakaitis said. "I think I'm going to book my hotel room now for the next one."