Total solar eclipse brought people together with anticipation

I miss the eclipse and the once-in-a-lifetime experience while standing on Platte County soil, but I also yearn for the feeling of shared pleasant anticipation. For a day, a lot of people shared a community feeling, a rarity in these times.

The eclipse came on like a slow crawling turtle.

First, we knew we were in the path. Next, we learned St. Joseph to our north was a national hotspot for the moon totally blocking out the sun in midday. Then, waves of eclipse information and history washed over us as until Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, arrived.

I’ll admit I was a bit burnt out on the eclipse in the final weeks leading up to it.

I’d heard one too many descriptions of what was going to happen. Why spoil the mystery? It was like hearing the ending of a good movie you haven’t seen, but as the day neared, I caught the fever.

I believe an eclipse would be more suspenseful if you knew not that one was coming, nor the cause.

One clipped Missouri in 1869. Let’s say you were out plowing on a hot summer day, walking behind a pair of mules or a team of horses. Suddenly, with no clouds, the sky begins to darken, the night crickets chirp, stars and the moon appear in the sky, and it is lunch time.

You might well wonder if the world was at an end.

Still, the buildup for our eclipse in the internet age could not eclipse the wonder of the actual event. On eclipse day, I drove on an overpass over Interstate 29 in mid-morning to look at traffic.

As predicted, cars were heading north into the totality zone. The northbound lanes of I-29 were crowded. Southbound lanes were wide open.

I meandered over to the Platte Falls Conservation Area on the north side.

The public was being allowed to drive back to a shelter house and some parking lots near a couple of education program fishing ponds. By noon, cars were parked along the ridge road leading back to the shelter house.

A sizeable crowd had their lawn chairs facing east. They tested their solar eclipse glasses by gazing upward when the sun broke through broken clouds. It is impressive that looking through such glasses straight ahead there’s nothing but blackness, but point them at the sun, a round ball appears.

What a powerful reminder of the sun’s power.

People awaiting the eclipse were cheerful, visiting with one another, introducing themselves to strangers. Some had cameras set up with special rigs to photograph the eclipse. I met a couple and their kids who had never been to Platte County before. They were headed farther north and west but the traffic was backed up so they turned off at Platte City and detoured to Platte Falls.

Our county was a destination for a day.

The weather did not cooperate. Eclipse time came. Now and then, the sun partially blocked by the moon appeared, but in my location, as the eclipse progressed, so did the clouds.

Still, it’s not every day that darkness begins creeping in, ever darker and darker.

I walked back and forth from a road that dropped down a hillside into forest and back onto a hilltop road open between fields. I wanted to experience totality — total blockage of the sun by the moon — in the woods and in the open.

Totality caught me in the woods. I was surprised at how dark it got — really dark, suddenly, like a light switch had been flipped off.

I could still see where I was going, but it was dark. Back on the hilltop, I looked east where clouds were more broken and totality had not yet arrived, and it looked like a sunset. It felt good, “amazing,” I texted to a friend.

An owl hooted. People far away shot off fireworks that echoed across miles. I wished they had not done so. Totality seemed cooler without human interruption. 

But then, too quickly, the switch was flipped back on.

Even just a little bit of sun showing brought more normal light back. Dimness did linger awhile. People did not. It had started raining. That and the disappointment of not getting to use the glasses much sent most onward.

Later, I found the Interurban Road crowded with speeding cars. I wondered why.

Driving across I-29 again on Route HH, I discovered why. Traffic headed back south from the band of totality was bumper to bumper and barely moving.

Rain fell hard that night and we had local flooding. Bitter, divisive politics filled the remainder of the week’s news.

A hurricane approached and then landed in Texas, bringing views of incredible hardship to our TVs, a reminder of our Great Flood of 1993.

An eclipse with pleasant anticipation is now just history, something to clip out of the paper and stick in the pages of your Paxton’s Annals. One will visit southern Missouri in 2024. Totality was so unusual, I’m a believer now.

I’ve saved my solar glasses and I’ll be there, if life’s creeks don’t rise too much.

Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at