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As eclipse passes through Buffalo, many agree it's worth the hype

Thousands of eclipse gawkers flocking to public viewing spots across the Buffalo Niagara region couldn't be wrong.

The Great American Eclipse was worth the hype.

"I thought it was awesome," said Donna D'Amato of Orchard Park, who brought her homeschooling family to the Penn Dixie site in Hamburg. "The temperature dropped. It got darker. I felt like I had my sunglasses on, but I didn't."

For Gina Vallone of Buffalo, who watched the eclipse at SUNY Buffalo State, it was a chance to share in a communal way the nation's first coast-to-coast eclipse since Feb. 26, 1979.

"We wanted to experience it all together," Vallone said.

The eclipse began along Oregon's coastline just after noon. It trekked eastward across the United States. The first inkling it arrived in Buffalo came just after 1:11 p.m. -- when daytime stargazers, wearing special solar glasses, began pointing into the sun-soaked afternoon sky.

A sliver of the right side of the sun became obscured first. As the hour wore on, the moon slowly stole more of the sun's light, from right to left.

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At Buffalo State, 1,000 or more people sneaked peeks from solar telescopes, visited space-themed tents set up for the eclipse event, watched through solar glasses or by means of makeshift pinhole viewers they brought along with them.

Buffalo State was designated as one of NASA's official viewing locations for the eclipse.

"Science is cool," said Douglas Riccoboro of Lockport, who is 22.

Riccoboro attended the event with his mom, Ellen, a photographer who made her own eclipse viewer out of a Lucky Charms cereal box, some paper and aluminum foil.

"These things really work," Ellen Riccoboro said.

About 300 people decided Wilkeson Pointe on the Outer Harbor was the best spot to watch the unfolding panoply.

There, they took turns viewing the eclipse through a pair of solar telescopes -- including one that showed sunspots four times the size of Earth. Another allowed viewers to spot solar flares off the surface of the sun.

Experts on hand also demonstrated a few quirky ways to create a pinhole projector to view the eclipse: through the holes of colander and a seven-holed Ritz cracker.

"You see seven crescents," said Jim Lehmann, a member of the Buffalo Astronomical Association's education committee, who led the demonstration.

At Penn Dixie in Hamburg, a dim light cast shadows over the rocky, 54-acre landscape that was adorned with a couple thousand spectators at the time of the maximum eclipse at 2:34 p.m.

That's when the moon was obscuring as much of the sun as it would in Western New York — about 72 percent.

"There's a mysticism to it," said Darius Mallon of Hamburg. "Nearly everything is aligning perfectly."

In some parts of the nation, it did.

The line of "totality" — where the sun is fully obscured by the moon — stretched along a 70-mile-wide coast-to-coast arc from Pacific City, Ore., and Charleston, S.C.

It passed over cities like Casper, Wyo., Kansas City and Nashville.

Here in Buffalo, eclipse enthusiasts started arriving in an open field on the southwest corner of Buffalo State's campus as early as 8:30 a.m. Shortly after noon, the roughly 500 to 600 pairs of eclipse glasses that were being handed out were gobbled up.

"I'm thrilled about so many people taking such an interest," said Heather McCarthy, a host at the college's planetarium. "I think people just want to be a part of it."

There were a couple hundred onlookers at the University at Buffalo as well.

"It gives us perspective on our place in this world," said Owen Langrehr, a student leader of a university astronomy organization.

Lines to get to Penn Dixie were the longest they've ever been, directors at the site said. A day after the Erie County Fair closed, South Park Avenue would be jammed with traffic again — bringing record-breaking crowds to the site known for trilobites and other prehistoric fossils.

"I'm about 99 percent sure this is the largest event we've ever had," said Phil Stokes, Penn Dixie's executive director, who estimated the site attracted nearly 2,500 visitors Monday.

"We had 1,000 sunglasses. We were able to get 600 more," said Stokes. "They were gone by 1 p.m."

Besides watching the eclipse, many tried digging for fossils and looking through one of several solar telescopes available for public viewing.

Sixteen-year-old Filomena D'Amato said she wasn't sure what to expect from the eclipse but decided to give up SAT studying for an afternoon.

"I wasn't sure if I was going to come, but I don't like to miss anything," she said. "It was pretty cool. I really liked it."

Exchange students Len Middelmann and Tom Lerch of Dortmund, Germany, knew what to expect. The two, who attended the Buffalo State event, said a solar eclipse passed over Europe in the not too distant past.

"It happened when we were at school," said Middelmann. "Some people went out of the school and watched it, but it wasn't that spectacular because there were clouds out."

The two teens got a nearly perfect sky in Buffalo to view the event.

During the 2 o'clock hour, there was a palpable sense that something was different.

Dimness of light and drop in temperature seemed real. And, meteorological observation bore that out. During what's normally the heat of an August afternoon, the mercury dipped from 81 degrees in Buffalo to 77 degrees by the time of the maximum eclipse at 2:34 p.m.

Temperatures remained there for about a half hour, before rebounding to 81 degrees just before the moon gradually gave back all of the sun's light by 3:51 p.m.

The show was all over. Until 2024.

That's when -- on April 8, 2024 -- the next full eclipse will pass over the continental United States from Texas to Canada. Buffalo will be at the center of it.

The line of totality, which stretches from Texas to Maine, will pass over Buffalo.

"Save your glasses for '24, because in 2024, the center line rips right up the Thruway," Lehmann said.

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