Wilsonians in awe of solar eclipse

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For 4-year-old Anna Breen, the hype leading up to the Great American Eclipse was a mystery. She didn't get it.

MoonPie videos and explanations by her dad Rhyan and mom Jessica were lost on the curly-haired girl. Even watching the live feed next to her 5-year-old brother Patrick and hundreds of others at Imagination Station didn't help her grasp the magnitude of the once-in-a-lifetime celestial occurrence.

"She didn't get why it was a big deal," Rhyan Breen said. "It took taking Anna and Patrick outside to see it through the glasses for them to grasp it."

The Breens were among 624 who experienced the total solar eclipse at Imagination Station, which handed out 250 pairs of the eclipse glasses in about 15 minutes and 45 box viewers soon after. Director of Education Justin White said he enjoyed seeing the kids' reactions to the eclipse, which peaked locally at 2:46 p.m. with about 92 percent coverage.

"I heard a lot of 'Oooh, cool' reactions," he said. "I think my favorite, though, was 'It looks like Pac-Man' when it was around 45 percent."

While the bulk of the Imagination Station attendees were under 10 years old, Ace's Ale House paired live broadcasts from NASA with space movies for a fun all-ages event. The north-side business even raised several hundred dollars for Imagination Station thanks to a donation of eclipse glasses from Dr. Scott Dixon and $1 of every pint sold.

"When people have a route to do it, they usually do the right thing," Ace's Ale House owner Steve Davis said. "We had a lady come in to get two pairs and ask how much she should donate. We told her any amount is fine and she chose $75 and that kind of thing happened multiple times."

One-hundred and ten pairs of glasses were handed out at Ace's with some folks sticking around to watch the eclipse at the bar and others heading elsewhere to celebrate the event. As the moon started to cross the sun, some settled into chairs to watch the roughly two-hour event while others caught spurts of it the parking lot before heading inside to enjoy the air conditioning.

"I went and the first time I saw it, I sneezed," said Staci Contri, who watched it with her husband Robert and 7-year-old daughter Maggie. "Right now you can only see a little bit of it, so the wow factor isn't quite there yet, but it is getting exciting."

Jennifer Moreira celebrated her 44th birthday Monday by taking the day off work and heading to Ace's for the festivities with her friend Samantha Maldonado. Moreira purchased 10 pairs of eclipse glasses online, sharing them with others who'd missed the public handouts.

"It was euphoric," Maldonado said. "I was expecting it to get darker, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and I'm glad I got to spend it with (Moreira)."

The birthday girl said she recalled being 6 when the last total solar eclipse was visible in the continental United States, but the 1979 experience was different as her viewing was limited to seeing it with a shadow box.

"Honestly, I don't really remember it," she said. "We didn't have the option of glasses, so we could just look at the shadow on the ground. Things have changed a lot since then."

Breen recalled an annular solar eclipse in 1994, noting how much better the experience is with the eclipse glasses.

"When I finally got to look through the glasses, I understood the awe of it. It was amazing," he said. "WRAL meteorologist Greg Fishel said it best when he saw the totality and said, 'I've always thought science was the discovery of God's creation and if this isn't an example of this, I don't know what is.'"

While Wilson wasn't in the totality path, when the moon totally covered the sun, many spectators commented that the peak coverage locally was similar to an overcast day despite having few clouds in the sky.

"By the time the peak came around, we had 100-plus people outside and everyone was able to spread out with their groups," White said. "People who had glasses were generous to share with others and we had our staff running around sharing their glasses, too.

"It was definitely a great event and the feedback we heard was from folks who were happy with the experience, saying it was well worth the wait."

The next total solar eclipse in North America will be visible from Texas to Maine on April 8, 2024, but will not be as widely visible across the country.