How the Berkshires caught a glimpse of the solar eclipse

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PHOTO GALLERY | The Berkshires looks up

PITTSFIELD — Homemade viewer in hand, 6-year-old Noelle Huntley pointed the simple telescope toward the solar eclipse playing peek-a-boo with the clouds on Monday afternoon.

"I saw the moon ... cover the sun," the Lenox youngster excitedly told an Eagle reporter.

"You were the first to see it through the box," noted her mother, Rachael Huntley.

Noelle, her sister Delilah and their mom were among the hundreds outside the Berkshire Athenaeum on Monday afternoon for a glimpse of the eclipse.

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The city's public library hosted a celestial celebration that included showing kids and adults how to convert a cereal box into a telescopic sight to view the moon blocking out about 66 percent of the sun. Athenaeum staff also rotated 100 pair of special glasses among the estimated 350 people looking to safely gaze into the sky at the height of the eclipse between 2:30 and 3 p.m.

"The 100 glasses were all we could get and we bought those weeks ago," said Director Alex Reczkowski.

Weather permitting, the entire continental United States saw at least a partial eclipse, with a total sun blackout along 70-mile swath in 14 states from Oregon to the South Carolina coast.

In the Berkshires, a two-thirds or better eclipse was detected, provided the clouds didn't get in the way. Across the county, people used special glasses, pinhole cameras or other makeshift means to view the celestial event.

The Athenaeum's community outreach librarian, Alex Geller, was impressed by the turnout that can only help boost interest in the learning resource facility.

"Libraries are not just about books, but community engagement," he said.

Neal Weber said he felt the same way."There aren't many community events that you can share with the entire country," said Weber, who was part of an estimated crowd of around 300 gathered on the front lawn of the Mason Public Library in Great Barrington.

The library provided safety glasses to watch the eclipse and local amateur astronomer Rick Costello was on hand with his telescope to view the moon's shadow move over the sun shortly before 3 p.m.

"This is better than expected," Costello said. "Finally, a clear day for an astronomical event."

Dr. Tasha Allston, who was visiting family in the Berkshires from her home in Atlanta, said the turnout was "phenomenal." She told The Eagle it made her happy for the community she grew up in.

"It's a fantastic display of different cultural and racial backgrounds coming together for a positive reason," Allston said. "It shows we're more alike than unalike."

Library Director Amanda DeGiorgis told The Eagle that the turnout was well in excess of the library's projections when they planned the event last month. The library expected about 100 people — until Monday.

"I'm excited — and overwhelmed," she said. "We've been fielding phone calls non-stop since the morning."

Selectman Ed Abrahams, who is a member of the Friends of the Library, told The Eagle that he thought the library's staff did an "amazing job" getting people together and facilitating the event. Fellow member Holly Hamer agreed, and added that the turnout was impressive.

"I don't think there's been a better event here," Hamer said.

Those in attendance were instructed to share one pair of glasses per every 10 people. That led to a lot of sharing and generosity amongst the attendees as people passed the safety glasses around to strangers and friends and family alike.

"It's a great sign that people are sharing, groups are willing to share," Sandisfield resident Pam Riiska said.

And some people had brought their own homemade viewing devices.

Jim Caron and his grandson Marley built a viewer from an Amazon cardboard box. They looked up the instructions online and modified the viewer a little bit to make it longer.

"I did this when I was 9 or 10 for an eclipse," Caron said. "It's kind of cool to do it again with the next generation."

In North Adams, the courtyard in front of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art filled with employees of the offices in the complex and museum visitors who wanted to get a glimpse of the eclipse.

Ellen and Ed Shaughnessy, who were in the city for a visit, brought eclipse glasses with them.

"It's completely amazing," Ellen Shaughnessy said. "Obviously I've never seen one."

Amy and Marc Magid are from Long Island, N.Y., but are regular visitors to North Adams and Mass MoCA. They made the trip to celebrate Marc's 55th birthday and view the eclipse, which they watched from outside the museum on Monday.

Ross Betti was outside in the Mass MoCA courtyard with a pinhole projector he had from a box that he borrowed from a neighbor the previous night.

"I completely missed out on the eclipse glasses," Betti said.

Lauren Smachetti got into work before 6 a.m. so she could be back home in time for the eclipse, which she viewed from the patio outside Bright Ideas Brewing.

Jim Lipa also took time off of work Monday and used one of the five pairs of eclipse glasses his daughter had purchased online.

"They're also productivity detractors," Lipa joked

Back in Pittsfield, Jonah Tarlo, 9, was on his first day of vacation with his family from Brooklyn, N.Y., anxious for a firsthand look at a solar eclipse in action.

"I've seen a lot of eclipse pictures, but I wanted to see one in person," he said. "Pictures aren't the same."Matt Labbee's affinity for astronomy goes back to his Boy Scout days when he made a viewfinder to look at a partial solar eclipse some 25 years ago. On Monday, he and his wife, Meghan, from Adams, their 6-month-old son safely covered in a stroller, recreated the crude telescope made from a paper towel tube with aluminum foil at one end and wax paper at the other. The tube is slipped through a hole cut into a sturdy paper plate that acted as a shield against the harmful effects of looking directly into the eclipse.

"I'm here because I got a big kick out of doing this the last time," Mr. Labbee said. "I like the unknown of what's out in space."

For several eclipse enthusiasts, the sun and moon playing hide-and-seek provided a welcome respite amid turmoil and division in recent days. The viewing outside the Wendell Avenue entrance of the library was just beyond Park Square, the scene of two large rallies condemning hatred and white supremacy in the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va.

"It's a coming together of people of all ages for something positive," said Sandra Rifkind, who was visiting from New York City.Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.

Staff writers Eoin Higgins and Adam Shanks contributed to this report.


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