The Adler Planetarium didn't host the only large gathering in Chicago for Monday's eclipse. Across the city, in neighborhood parks and beaches, curious onlookers went outside to share in the once-in-a-generation experience. While much of the sky overhead was cloudy, Chicagoans were still on cloud nine.
South Side residents filtered into the 63rd Street Beach in Jackson Park at the start of the eclipse Monday morning aware of the ominous forecast, but hopeful that they could still get a peak.
"Well, it’s starting to get cloudy," said Lois Bassett as she staked out a spot on the beach.
She and her husband, Robert, came prepared to capture the eclipse from multiple angles.
“We have a welder's mask that has the type of glass that allows us to look directly into it. We have our camera which we'll take a combination of movies and still photos,” Bassett said. “We have a pinhole projector with paper plates. So we're going to sit back and relax and enjoy this for two to three minutes.”
The event was even enough to get some elected officials to come out of the shadows, taking a welcome break from political battles of the day. They assured Chicago Tonight that there were no inside deals to obtain glasses
“I see the sun, I do. I do,” said Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie. “We're at a tiny sliver of an eclipse right now. It's great.”
“The park is where it's all happening, so it's great to be out here with my fellow South Siders,” said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th Ward).
One couple says the eclipse sparked anew feelings of romance as they showed off the dual pinhole projectors they made out of shoeboxes.
“And you will see the sun with whatever is covering it and you can see the progression of it,” said Jaime Pozo, who traveled to the beach from suburban Berwyn.
But as the eclipse moved toward peak, the view dimmed.
Just before 1 p.m. at 63rd Street Beach the moon was at about 80 percent coverage of the sun. But it was really hard to tell because the clouds totally obscured the view for the first time all day.
At peak time (1:19 p.m.) the darkness was akin to a typical overcast day in the city. Cars flipped on their headlights as onlookers scraped for precious peaks at the mostly obscured sun.
As the moon made its way east, onlookers at Edgewater Beach were satisfied with what they saw despite the less than favorable conditions.
“I think the clouds really covered it at the peak, but I got to experience it while it was halfway covering the sun and it was pretty cool,” said Elias Wilkin, who took the view in with his sister and mother.
“There was this half thought of 'Oh God, what if the world falls apart when the moon passes the sun?’ But we made it through,” said Corey Smith, who sat on a rock at Edgewater Beach. “The falcon can hear the falconer.”
Elizabeth Braun says that, while her eyes were fixed on the sky, the most satisfying element of the day was the connections she made back here on the ground.
“You're making new friends as you're sharing glasses with people, and everyone's kind of curious about what's going on, so it’s great to talk to people and share in the experience even though it's hit or miss,” Braun said.
And for at least one day, a giant solar event that unites Chicagoans from all walks of life can eclipse whatever divides them.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz
Aug. 21: What did you see during the historic event? Add your images to our online gallery.
Aug. 21: Over the course of civilization, eclipses have been met with fear and superstition. How humans have reacted to—and explained—eclipses throughout history.
Aug. 21: The last time a total solar eclipse spanned the continental United States from coast to coast was 99 years ago. Thousands joined in the Adler Planetarium’s celestial celebration to mark the occasion.