"This is cool!"
Those words were uttered by more than a few people as the sky became dusky at around 2:43 p.m. Monday afternoon at Oliver C. Dawson stadium on the campus of South Carolina State University.
Thousands of people from as far as Argentina, Germany, Canada, Jamaica, as well as New York, Maryland, Massachusetts and Ohio converged upon the stadium for the total solar eclipse. The eclipse occurred from coast to coast across a portion of the United States, with Orangeburg County sitting its direct path.
The last time South Carolina was in the path of totality for a solar eclipse was on March 7, 1970.
Orangeburg resident Charles Smalls, 57, was among those who marveled as the moon eclipsed the sun.
"I thought that it was amazing. It is something really to see. I even bought me a total eclipse T-shirt. I had a blast," he said.
He didn't remember the eclipse of 1970 very well and "I wanted to see how a total one really actually looked. It's amazing the way they made the glasses to be able to see that."
Thousands of solar safety glasses were handed out at the stadium.
He hopes to live long enough to see another eclipse, but acknowledges he can only hope.
"I may not. I ain't that old, but I hope I be here 35 more years," Charles said, laughing.
Dan and Anne Staub of Philadelphia were staying at a hotel in North Charleston. They drove up to S.C. State to view the eclipse because the Lowcountry skies were supposed to be cloudy Monday.
"It's exciting. We've never been here and probably won't be here again, but we're happy to be here now,” Anne said.
She said it is likely a once-in-a-lifetime event for her and her husband.
"We're both over 60 and there is another one in 2024 but, you know, we'll be older and this is working for us. It's a good time for us,” she said.
Dan said, "We thought this was our time to do it. The kids are all gone. We're all by ourselves and we've got nobody to keep us still."
Barry and Cheryl Stadtler of Deland, Florida, drove hundreds of miles to Orangeburg to view the eclipse.
They were accompanied by their daughter, Rachel, who said, "We were going to Summerville, but it was a pretty heavy cloud cover, so we thought we'd come to here to the stadium and this big event going on."
Rachel said she didn't want to miss the spectacular event.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience to come here to see the full eclipse. We would have seen like 80 percent from where we live, so a full eclipse would have been much cooler to see," she said.
Cheryl said, "I actually loved coming to the university. I didn't actually think I would with all of the people, but it was fun and seeing the band and all the students was really good. It was a great spot for us to end up at." Her daughter added, "The band was real good."
Orangeburg resident Claflin Kennerly was accompanied by his daughter, Cherrell, and her 5-year-old son, Meljavone.
Cherrell said the event was a learning experience for her young son.
"He's in first grade and this is a good experience for him. This is my first eclipse. I'm just like, 'Wow,'" she said.
Claflin said, "The only time I've been out here in all this heat was watching a football game, but I'm so happy to be here because of history being repeated again. I remember the one in 1970 quite vividly. I watched it at home.
"I'm just so delighted to see so many people here. It brings people together for a good cause. It's a scientific type of event and all people need to know about science and about each other, and this is one good way to bring us closer together."
Those attending the event were able to watch a balloon launch conducted by a group of University of Alabama students. They planned to record a video of the solar eclipse as part of a nationwide science project led by NASA.
Students Evan Terry, Chandler Nichols, Annelise Frank and Wesley Cooper said they were excited about the eclipse and the project.
Evan said, "Personally, I think that this is a chance for everybody to put their differences aside and watch the eclipse together. It's probably the one day out of the last several months where people aren't bickering and something else is dominating the news."
Chandler said, "It's good to see people so excited about space again. I mean, we've got a lot to look forward to in the next 20, 30, 40 years and this was really special for us. Even if we're not all aerospace majors, we all have an interest in space exploration and research. So this has really been a big step for the team."
Annelise said, "It would be great if some little boy or girl out there saw the eclipse and decided that's what they wanted to study when they grow up." Wesley added, "They could be the first person on Mars or farther."
S.C. State President James Clark said, "To me, with an engineering and science background, this is particularly interesting and special because of our scientific work, our research work and our collaboration with other universities' work for a unique, once-in-a-lifetime project. It is being made available to the entire community."
"That's what a university like this can do, one that's reaching across all kinds of boundaries and across all kinds of states, collaborating with NASA, collaborating with other universities. We can bring something very special here to the city, county and area of Orangeburg," he said.
S.C. State serves as South Carolina’s lead institution for the Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment project. The university, along with six other sites in the state, recorded images of the sun before and during totality. The combined images collected from the approximately 70 sites across the country, from Oregon to South Carolina, will provide a 90-minute video of totality.
S.C. State physics professor Dr. Donald K. Walter served as the state’s lead scientist, coordinating teams from Clemson University, Lander University, Coker College, Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College and two citizen-scientist sites.
Miles McKay, a 2016 S.C. State graduate who now works as a research and instrumentation analyst at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, was also part of the Citizen CATE project at S.C. State. He and Walter were fortunate enough to see an eclipse as part of research work in Indonesia.
McKay said, "An eclipse is very magnificent. When I saw one in Indonesia, from that day, I thought that was one of the best things that I've ever seen.
"So I'm back here wanting to get hopefully some more data, learn some more about the sun as well as see the eclipse. That's why we put so much time and effort into this."