August 22, 2017 10:24:56 AM
Stubborn clouds lingered over Mississippi State University's Drill Field for nearly 45 minutes leading to the Great American Eclipse's peak in Starkville.
But the clouds broke at 1:25 p.m. -- just two minutes before the moon covered nearly 90 percent of the sun. Other than a brief moment of obstruction after the peak passed, the clouds drifted away after that.
Avery Jamal, a senior horticulture student from Kosciusko, watched the whole thing. He said the clouds were frustrating, but everything worked out in the end.
"It was awesome," he said. "It's my first time seeing an eclipse. I've been looking forward to this."
Jamal was one of more than 1,000 people that crammed onto the Drill Field, in the heart of MSU's campus, to watch Tuesday's eclipse.
The university had 1,000 protective solar eclipse glasses available for people to use to safely watch the first solar eclipse visible across the entire United States since 1918 and first eclipse where any part of the U.S. was in the path of totality -- where the moon completely obstructed the sun -- since February 1979.
MSU Associate Professor of Astronomy Angelle Tanner said the glasses were a hot commodity. By Monday morning -- hours before the moon began encroaching the sight line to the sun at about noon -- long lines formed in front of Mitchell Memorial Library of people hoping to get their hands on a pair.
Jamal, who noted his passion for science, said he thought it was great to see so many people out to see the eclipse.
"It's just so cool seeing everyone into it," he said. "I've never been around so many people at a gathering like this."
Karen Russell sat out on the Drill Field with her husband, Andrew, and their children.
"We ordered glasses for all of us about a week and a half, two weeks ago," Karen said. "It was a pain in the butt and I had to chase down the UPS guy this morning. Literally had to get him on his cell phone -- a 'Where are you? I'm coming to where you are' type thing."
Karen was too young to remember very well the 1979 eclipse. She said she let her children go to the Drill Field Monday, rather than to school at Starkville High, because the school couldn't guarantee that all students would get to see the eclipse.
Carole Sorenson and Ali Jones, two other Starkville residents seated near Karen's family, said they were very excited to see the eclipse.
"We've been preparing for two weeks for this silly thing," Jones said. "We ordered glasses and kind of made a plan to sit together and see it. I mean, this really is a big deal."
Sorenson said she was a senior in high school during the 1979 eclipse. Though the Golden Triangle wasn't in the path of totality, she said the experience was worth enjoying.
"We have such a huge coverage here today," she said. "It's really neat to be able to experience something like this, short of driving to Montana to see the totality of it. ... Even though it's only going to last a short while, this is a really cool, scientific thing."
By 12:30 p.m. Monday, Columbus attorney Bill Cunningham had shut down his office on Second Avenue North so he and his staff could take in the eclipse.
"We're not working," Cunningham said. "We're eclipsing."
His office manager, Jessica McCool, stood looking up at the sun with the eclipse glasses she bought online through Amazon.
"Hey, this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, maybe," she said. "My son is 10 and they've been learning about the eclipse in school. Every day, he comes home and talks about what he's learning. He was so excited and that got me excited, too."
Cunningham said the eclipse recalled memories of the one he watched in 1979 when he was a student at Western Kentucky University.
"Back then, we didn't have these glasses," he said. "A lot of people put water out on their patios and watched the reflection on the water," he said. "But I had some fraternity buddies who were water skiers. They had access to boats and there was a lake nearby, so we went out on the boats and watched the eclipse reflection on the lake. It was pretty cool."
By 12:45, the entire student body at Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science had assembled beyond the school's fine arts building, lounging on the grass and listening as loudspeakers blared the selected music of the occasion, geared, naturally, to the eclipse -- tracks like "Chasing the Sun," "Dancing in the Dark" and "House of the Rising Sun."
"We had fun picking out the music," said music and dance instructor Dawn Barham.
Barham's dance class even put together a line dance, which it demonstrated to classmates as Elton John's "Rocket Man" played on the speakers. About 70 kids joined the dance.
"It's pretty cool," said Vivia Davis of Holly Springs, "but I'm not dancing. I'd rather just watch."
At about 1:15 a dark cloud obscured the eclipse, as students groaned, but it had passed by 1:23 raising a cheer from the students.
At 1:28, science teacher Bill Odom informed the students: "Take a good look. ... It will begin decreasing now. This is as good as it gets."
Odom said he believes the build-up to the eclipse has energized his students.
"It's something we can talk about the rest of the school year," he said. "It's definitely gotten their attention."
Starkville wasn't in the eclipse's path of totality -- where daytime briefly turned to darkness -- but that didn't spoil the excitement for many of Henderson Ward Stewart's grade schoolers.
"Oohs" and "ahhs" were overheard as many students peered toward the sky to observe the day's partial eclipse.
"That's so cool!" said one student as she firmly held her safety glasses to her face.
The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District campus provided multiple viewing locations at the campus throughout the event, allowing two classes at a time at each space to view the sun's partial blockage after lunch.
While one group looked through the eclipse glasses provided by the school, another group followed the guidance of Trevon Strange, a Mississippi State University graduate student studying wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture, as he showed the sun shine a crescent shape onto poster board.
Students were also provided Ritz crackers and instructed to allow the sun's light to pass through holes in the food and display on notecards.
Reporters Alex Holloway, Slim Smith and Carl Smith contributed to this article.