“Once in a lifetime”: Salisbury residents take part in celestial fun

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, August 22, 2017

SALISBURY — Catawba College American history professor Gary Freeze described the strange midday lighting as a “purple aura.”

It wasn’t anywhere near the total dark that others in the direct path of the solar eclipse experienced Monday afternoon. Rowan County was not in the path of totality, meaning that residents here saw only a 96 percent eclipse of the sun.

Instead, as Freeze described it, there was a sort of purple, “mystical” light that fell over Catawba College’s chapel lawn when the sun’s rays were blocked almost entirely by the moon at 2:42 p.m.

Freeze, who saw a previous eclipse in 1970, said he chose to not look at the sun through special protective lenses that day.

“Instead,” he said as he gestured toward the 500 or so people gathered on the lawn, “I’m looking at this.”

Nearly 560 people gathered to for the eclipse at Catawba, which sent an email to students and staff members nearly a week ago telling them that glasses would be provided.

Many stores had run out of protective glasses days before, making the protective eyeware a sought-after commodity.

Although some stood in line to get glasses and then went to watch the eclipse elsewhere, chemistry professor and organizer ChaMarra Saner said the viewing was meant to give people who couldn’t leave Salisbury the chance to experience the eclipse in their community.

“For those who don’t have the means or the opportunity to go elsewhere to view totality, we wanted to make sure that they at least had the opportunity to do something,” Saner said.

Saner is the faculty adviser for the Catawba chapter of the American Chemical Society. She said that in addition to being excited that her students would get to see science in action, she was excited to share the eclipse with her two nieces.

“I think it’s important that they understand the magnitude of what they’re going to be experiencing,” she said. “I think it’s awesome.”

In addition to protective glasses, the school also provided eclipse-themed snacks — Sun Chips, Starburst and Sunny Delight — and a presentation by Freeze about the historical significance of eclipses.

“By knowing how this works,” Freeze said near the end of his speech, “you have learned the wonder of what you don’t know. And if you get that, then you get Catawba and you get why you’re here.”

Many of the students in attendance had their afternoon classes canceled so that both they and their professors could see the eclipse.

JON C. LAKEY / SALISBURY POST Students and community members watch the eclipse on a solar viewer at the Walls Center on the Livingstone College campus. Eclipse viewers were scattered all over Salisbury as they gathered under the partly cloudy skies to catch a glimpse of the partial eclipse. Monday, August 21, 2017, in Salisbury, N.C.

“They canceled my 1 o’clock class because she said she was going to be out here,” said Catawba junior Joey Monfort. “She told me she was looking forward to seeing the class out here and hopefully they take advantage of coming to such an event.”

Many students, including Monfort and senior Brandon Floyd, waited in line on the lawn for nearly half an hour to get a pair of protective glasses.

Floyd said it was worth the wait.

“I got my glasses and, as soon as I got them, I tried them on. I looked up at the sun,” he said. “This whole week has built up the solar eclipse and everything.”

Floyd said that although he was excited to view the eclipse itself, he was particularly excited to take in the sight with his peers around him.

“All of us experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of seeing this, just, like, being around each other (for) something so great, bringing us all together. … I just feel like it’s awesome,” he said.

Livingstone College, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and the Rowan Public Library system also held eclipse viewings.

Livingstone held two events — one for those with protective glasses at the Walls Center and one for those without them at Varick Auditorium.

Rowan-Cabarrus held an eclipse viewing party on its north campus that included a balloon release, music and food.

The Salisbury, East and South library branches held viewing parties and eclipse story times.

The next total eclipse in the U.S. will be in 2024, but North Carolina will not be near the path of totality. The path of that eclipse is from Texas to Maine.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.