There was still an hour to until totality, but what’s known as “first contact” had been made, and people with those highly, highly sought-after eclipse glasses were checking out the sun every few minutes, watching the moon’s relatively slow creep across the bright orb you usually aren’t supposed to look at.
They were waiting the big moment that has bolstered economies in small towns across the country and caused a headache for people in Colorado who just wanted to go to Grease Monkey to get an oil change rather than see people fight over orange glasses.
A bunch of kids from the Boyd County School District nearby were gathered on a hill. They were wearing matching t-shirts and, as teenagers tend to be, weren’t particularly enthused.
A big group of students got to see the eclipse today in lieu of school. pic.twitter.com/uDVYcMw4Zy— Allison Sylte (@AllisonSylte) August 21, 2017
“Yeah, I get to miss school, but I have better things to do than look at the sun,” one of them said.
That wasn’t quite the sentiment shared by thousands of other people, who parked on the fairgrounds and camped out on the surrounding sand hills to watch a celestial event that lasted for two minutes and 33 seconds.
One couple, Penny and Richard, came out from Sterling, Colorado. It was a three hour drive, but they’re retired and say they have time for this kind of thing. They were originally going to go to Alliance, Nebraska (the home of “Carhenge”) but figured it would be too busy and came to Stapleton instead.
PHOTOS: Seeing the eclipse from the path of totality in Stapleton, Nebraska
The night before, they camped in a nearby state park. And unlike the throngs of other people who had expensive camera gear set up, it was just them in their camping chairs in front of their car.
“[We were told] don’t worry about the cameras, just enjoy it,” Richard said.
“And we’re going to enjoy it,” Penny responded.
We talked to a bunch of different people who came to watch the eclipse. You can meet them in the video below:
Folks in Stapleton, Nebraska have been preparing for this event for two years, according to resident Laura Holwell.
“Our neighborhood, heck, our town, is normally very quiet,” she wrote in an email.
PHOTOS: This tiny town will get a whole lot bigger for the eclipse
She says in the last three days, she’s seen more traffic than in the past 10 years she’s lived in this town of 305 people around 25 miles from North Platte. A trip to the gas station for snacks that normally takes her husband 10 to 15 minutes took more than an hour.
Laura says she saw tourists walking around -- a sight this town isn’t quite accustomed to.
“It is still quite a bit of excitement, though probably not anywhere near quite what was expected,” she says.
People on horseback were tasked with controlling traffic as hundreds of people pulled into the Logan County fairgrounds. There was a rodeo the day before -- they actually pushed it forward a day to take advantage of the influx of people, who flooded nearby hotels and put campsites at a premium.
The big moment
Totality happened at 12:53:59 p.m. Like New Year’s Day, there was a countdown, and also like New Year’s Day, there was cheering.
There was not, however, confetti.
I got to chat with Doug Duncan, the director of the Fiske Planetarium at CU Boulder, a few weeks ago. He has talked to more media outlets than you can count about the Aug. 21, 2017 eclipse, and says at this point, he’s seen 11 of them himself.
His piece advice for me was, in addition to looking at the eclipse itself, to look at the crowd, to watch them scream and to see the shock on their faces as something incredible happens.
I followed his advice, but was so excited about how cool totality is that I did not take a very good video:
My boss did a better job capturing the moment that thousands of people from all over the country and even the world (we chatted with a couple from Wales) saw something that few people see more than once -- if ever -- in their lifetimes.
It was just before 1 p.m., but it looked like twilight. What was once a muggy, hot Nebraska day got downright comfortable. The sky turned into a fierce orange on the horizon, and even in this contentious world where few people can agree on anything, for roughly two minutes and 30 seconds, everyone in that field in rural Nebraska could agree that what they were seeing was freaking cool:
There was another countdown, and it was over. It looked like midday again. Unfortunately, it got hot and muggy again, and thousands of people got in their cars and drove home after that two minute and 33 grand finale.
Stapleton Nebraska experienced what was possibly its first traffic jam.
It took us twice as long to get back to North Platte than it should have.
We couldn’t get a cellphone signal for hours - making the tweeting, Instagramming and Facebooking we were planning to do from the path of totality pretty tough.
But those two minutes and 33 seconds were worth it.
So worth it I even saw that kid with better things to do on his Monday cheer with the rest of us.