Solar eclipse: Big crowd looks to cloudy skies at Cedar Rapids Public Library

Mother Nature doesn't cooperate, but viewers turn out nonetheless

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Malinda Hartley-McDermott was a young girl in 1979 — the last time a total solar eclipse passed across the continental United States.

So, despite overcast skies on Monday, she showed up early to the Cedar Rapids Public Library for a chance to score a pair of eclipse viewing glasses.

At 9:30 a.m. — three hours before the start of the library’s viewing event and well ahead of the 1:12 p.m. total eclipse peak in Cedar Rapids — she was successful.

“I’ve never actually seen an eclipse,” said Hartley-McDermott, 42, of Cedar Rapids. “It’s amazing. I wish the weather would have been better, though, because you can’t see much.”

That was the general consensus from the large crowd that gathered on the rooftop of the library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE.

Still, that didn’t keep folks from donning their solar shades and looking to the sky, or peering down into homemade eclipse viewing boxes, like those made by Becky Garms, 36, of Marion and her children Gabe, 4, and Eli, 6. Each of them had their own viewing box.

“These work better when it’s bright,” said Becky Garms, as Eli attempted to find the eclipse shadow in his box.

Even though Monday’s much-anticipated viewing was dampened by Mother Nature, the eclipse still brought folks together and triggered stories from the past.

“I remember some type of eclipse when I was a kid,” said Garms. “I got out of school and my mother was a teacher, so that was a big deal.”

For Myrna Cooney, 79, of Cedar Rapids, she remembered the stories her father Walter Lenoch told her as a young girl about the 1918 total solar eclipse.

“He was born in 1901 and he used to tell me about 4 p.m. in 1918 when it got totally dark and all the chickens came in to roost,” she said of her father’s story, noting that animals often act strange during an eclipse.

Perhaps those who traveled the longest distance to view the eclipse were Peter and Francoise Solar — yes, that’s their real last name.

The couple lives in Brussels, Belgium, and is back in Iowa visiting for several weeks. Peter Solar, a graduate of Washington High School, recently attended his 50th reunion.

“This is much more her thing than mine,” he said as his wife used her smartphone to take photos of the sun during the eclipse.

Francoise agreed.

“You read about it in the papers in Belgium,” she said. “It was worth coming up to see.”

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