- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2017

OMAHA, Neb. — Americans looked to the heavens Monday to watch as the moon chased the sun from Oregon to South Carolina, breaking out in cheers, snapping photos or just staring upward in awe as darkness fell at midday.

“It’s really, really gorgeous,” said Manny Ortiz, wearing his First National Bank eclipse glasses as he gazed at the sky over Omaha. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to see another one of these in my lifetime.”

The much-anticipated total solar eclipse began at 9:05 a.m. near Madras, Oregon, then raced across primarily rural America at 2,000 mph along a 70 mile-wide corridor before reaching near Charleston, South Carolina, at 2:35 p.m.

Crowds estimated in the millions gravitated to the path of totality for an optimal view of the Great American Eclipse, the first to darken the mainland since 1979 and the first to sweep across the continental United States since 1918.

Mr. Ortiz and a half-dozen of his co-workers were among the lucky ones. Wearing matching black-and-green solar eclipse T-shirts, they left their office at First National Bank shortly before lunch to revel in the mania with hundreds of others watching from Turner Park in Omaha, which saw 98 percent totality at 1:04 p.m.

Not everyone was blown away. “Right now it looks like a banana,” said Blake Netherton, who watched with his Creighton University classmate Matthew Strother after scoring eclipse glasses minutes earlier from the Black Oak Grill.

The temperature dropped by about 10 degrees as the moon covered the sun, and while the sky grew dim, it looked more like dusk than midnight.

“I thought it was going to get darker,” said Rodrigo Gonzalez, who took his 5-year-old daughter out of school to watch the event. “That surprised me. Other than that, it was really incredible to see that perfect alignment.”

Rural communities, like Casper, Wyoming, and Kelly, Kentucky, took advantage of their moment in the sun by hosting festivals and concerts. Hotels and campgrounds along the path of totality quickly sold out, prompting small-town entrepreneurs to rent out rooms and even space on their lawns.

With about 200 million people living a day’s drive from the path of totality, however, many Americans chose to drive to their nearest eclipse-viewing point Monday morning, which created widespread traffic headaches.

The Oregon Highway Patrol reported a massive traffic jam on Highway 97 as motorists left Madras, while the Missouri Department of Transportation reported heavy congestion on several roads immediately after the eclipse.

“Eclipse exodus is underway,” the MDOT tweeted. “Be patient if you encounter congestion.”

At the White House, President Trump was joined by first lady Melania Trump and their son, Barron, to watch the eclipse from the Blue Room balcony overlooking the South Lawn.

When a reporter shouted up at him, “How’s the view,” the president responded with a thumbs-up gesture.

At the eclipse’s apex, the president put on a pair of eclipse sunglasses and stood next to the first lady observing the natural wonder for about 90 seconds. Barron joined them briefly as well.

For businesses along the path of totality, the eclipse came as a merchandising bonanza. Shops sold everything from T-shirts to glasses to eclipse doughnuts, while minor league baseball teams cashed in on by scheduling games Monday to coincide with the celestial phenomenon.

In Nebraska, the Lincoln Saltdogs wore special eclipse jerseys and stopped their game to watch the full eclipse at 1:02 p.m. The team reported selling tickets to buyers from as far away as the United Kingdom and Germany, The Associated Press reported.

Others hosting Eclipse Day games included the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Idaho Falls Chukars, Bowling Green Hot Rods, Nashville Sounds, Greenville Drive, Columbia Fireflies and Charleston RiverDogs.

Television scientist Bill Nye, known as the “science guy,” turned up at Homestead National Park in Beatrice, Nebraska, which was also a NASA watch site.

“It’s our best outdoor classroom, our national parks,” Mr. Nye told KMTV-TV in Omaha. “Where else would you want to be?”

• S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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