A partial solar eclipse drew hundreds of local viewers to parks, schoolyards and even a city hall to on Aug. 21 to witness a phenomenon rarely visible in metro Atlanta.

In a solar eclipse, the moon enters a position where it blocks the view – and the light — of the sun from Earth. Part of the U.S., including north Georgia, experienced a total eclipse, with the sun fully blocked and darkness falling. Locally, there was a partial eclipse, with the moon blocking about 97 percent of the sun, leaving a thin crescent exposed.

During the partial eclipse, sunlight dimmed to an unusual, twilight-like level and the temperature dropped noticeably. Shadows became fuzzy and tree leaves acted like pinhole cameras to project dozens of images of the eclipsed sun onto the ground.

The last such eclipse visible in the Atlanta area was in 1984.

The following are reports from some viewing scenes around Reporter Newspapers communities.

Dunwoody Nature Center

A crowd that appeared to number over 200 people came out to the Dunwoody Senior Baseball fields on Roberts Drive for a viewing event hosted by the Dunwoody Nature Center, which handed out solar viewing glasses – though they quickly ran out — and offered children’s crafts.

Sandy Springs residents Joseph and Courtney Sura came armed with homemade pinhole cameras built from a shoebox and a box of Raisin Bran. A small hole in the boxes projected an image of the eclipsed sun inside the box for safe viewing.

Reid Metzger, left, is joined by parents Jason and Paige as his telescope projects an image of the partial eclipse at the Dunwoody Nature Center event Aug. 21. (John Ruch)

Reid Metzger, a student at Alpharetta’s Fulton Science Academy, offered everyone an easy view of the eclipse with his telescope, which was rigged to project the sun’s image onto an attached screen made from a scrap of vinyl shower curtain. Reid’s parents Jason and Paige joined him at the event.

While a lot of press attention focused on the enormous crowds heading north to see the total eclipse, there were signs of unmet demand for local viewing events. Several attendees of the Dunwoody event said they came from Sandy Springs after searching for a gathering spot.

One such visitor was Desi Steib of Sandy Springs, whose eclipse adventure began as a quest for safety glasses and eventually brought him to Dunwoody.

“I was calling around to grocery stores” hoping to find glasses, he said. He then tried the library, which mentioned the Dunwoody event.

As the partial eclipse neared its peak around 2:30 p.m., the crowd applauded and someone set off what sounded like firecrackers in a nearby wooded area.

Brookhaven City Hall

Shirlynn Brownell, Brookhaven’s director of economic development, watches the eclipse at City Hall Aug. 21. (Dyana Bagby)

Five days before the eclipse, the city of Brookhaven gave away 500 pairs of safety glasses, a stock that ran out in three hours. The city’s public viewing event, held on the Peachtree Road lawn of City Hall, was a smaller draw attended mostly by city staff members.

One resident who attended was Priscila Briggs, who just moved into an apartment in the nearby Town Brookhaven center in April. She said she has wanted to find ways to be part of her new city.

“I wanted to share the moment with some people,” Briggs said of the eclipse viewing.

“I loved it,” she added after the eclipse. “Everybody was so nice and they were sharing their glasses.”

Among the more than a dozen city employees gathered outside was City Clerk Susan Hiott, who said she was glad to share a historic moment with her colleagues.

“I’m glad I got to experience it with them … and it was fun seeing everybody showing their interest [in the eclipse],” she said.

Cheryl Robinson-Smith, an IT employee, had a faint memory of a 1979 total eclipse, the previous such eclipse visible in the continental U.S. She remembered making pinhole cameras to view it.

“We didn’t have these fancy glasses,” she said, laughing.

While MARTA trains continued to rush down the tracks along Peachtree Road, there was considerably less traffic on the normally busy road during the eclipse.

Buckhead schools

The eclipse was a teaching moment for schools everywhere. The DeKalb and Fulton school systems extended the school day to accommodate eclipse-watching and avoid dismissal during the event.

At Garden Hills Elementary on Sheridan Drive and Atlanta Girls’ School on Northside Parkway, teachers used pinhole cameras and live-streamed videos from other parts of the country to educate students about the astronomical event. Some students at both schools also simply sat on the lawn and viewed the eclipse with safety glasses.

Melissa Hankinson, the science department chair at Atlanta Girls’ School, poses with sophomore Sarah Wood in their celestial and eclipse-themed outfits during the Aug. 21 viewing event. (Evelyn Andrews)

“You can’t ignore a celestial event like this that offers such a good interdisciplinary opportunity,” said Melissa Hankinson, the science department chair at Atlanta Girls’ School. It was Hankinson’s first time seeing a solar eclipse and was glad to share the experience with her students.

“I’m thrilled all the girls got to see it safely,” Hankinson said.

Mary Elizabeth Marquardt, a junior at Atlanta Girls’ School, said she learned how to calculate the moon’s movement in Advanced Placement calculus, and in Spanish class, she read folk tales about the sun and moon.

“Learning about the eclipse was a good way to ease back into school with fun things that are relevant to what is happening now,” Marquardt said.

Amber Player, a British literature teacher at the school, said her students read medieval accounts of eclipses to learn how people of that era believed an eclipse was a bad omen.

Jennifer Halicki, the school’s world language department chair, brought her grandfather’s telescope and had the eclipse projected onto a board.

“It’s so neat to see things like this with children because you can feel their joy,” Halicki said.

Holy Spirit Preparatory School on Northside Drive was another local school offering students the ability to view the eclipse by live stream, pinhole cameras and safety glasses, according to spokesperson Timothy Durski. The Parent Volunteer Association also brought along a human touch: ice cream.

–John Ruch, Dyana Bagby and Evelyn Andrews 

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