The forecast looked grim, with cloud coverage and light rain expected for most of the morning and afternoon. For those who traveled thousands of miles to get one of the best views of the Great American Eclipse, it wasn’t the news they were hoping for. Their persistence was rewarded, however, as many were gifted an unforgettable experience over the Nebraskan prairie.
About 10,000 people flocked to the solar eclipse viewing party in Beatrice, Nebraska, at the Homestead National Monument of America on Monday, Aug. 21. Events were sponsored by the National Park Service, with special guests from NASA and The Planetary Society’s CEO and former children’s television host Bill Nye the Science Guy.
A press conference with Homestead National Monument superintendent Mark Engler, NASA scientists, junior rangers and Nye kicked off the festivities for the day at the Homestead Park outside of Beatrice.
“Space brings out the best in us,” Nye said to reporters Monday morning.
Nye, along with members of NASA and The Planetary Society, said they chose Beatrice and the Homestead National Monument for the location due to its perfect viewing angle and historical significance, commemorating the Homestead Act of 1862 when Daniel Freeman took the first plot of land in Nebraska under the new act. Nye also praised two young junior rangers for their passion for science, stating the future is in good hands.
After the press conference ended at 10 a.m., Engler said attendance figures were in line with their expectations of many thousands of visitors.
“Any number would be purely speculation, but we are seeing a very good turnout,” Engler said.
License plates from all over the country, including states such as Georgia, California and Maine, filled the nearly endless line of parked cars along the dirt roads leading to the park. Telescopes of all sizes dotted the lawn of the Heritage Center as both professional and amateur astronomers patiently waited for a clear view through the clouds.
With cloudy skies in the forecast for much of the day, viewers were cautiously optimistic when thick clouds and light rain began breaking as totality approached in the early afternoon.
The totality occurred shortly after 1 p.m. over Beatrice and the surrounding areas. The fairgrounds, city parks, country roads and grassy fields were all occupied as the black moon fully covered the sun, creating a white halo over the Nebraska countryside. Reactions of awe could be seen and heard throughout the small and large crowds gathered across and around the town.
Back at the Homestead National Monument, totality brought both joyous cheering and waves of silence. The 2 minutes and 35 seconds of darkness provided ample time for people to take photographs or soak in the moment.
Light began to creep back across the park grounds, but many were still left speechless.
As the moon continued onward and the sun slowly returned, crowds quickly began to disperse, and vast lines of cars filled the dirt roads and town streets surrounding the Heritage Center and Beatrice.
The Great American Eclipse was over in the blink of an eye, having fulfilled its promise of showcasing a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most who traveled to Beatrice and the Homestead National Monument.