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Vermont's total solar eclipse brings surreal beauty, joy and tears

The "diamond ring" phenomenon at the end of the total solar eclipse over Burlington.
Zoe McDonald
Vermont Public
The "diamond ring" phenomenon at the end of the total solar eclipse over Burlington.

Atop still snowy peaks and sandy lakeshores, at shopping center parking lots and fenced-in backyards, outside of overrun dive bars and in the middle of crammed town greens, Vermont paused in collective wonder on Monday afternoon.

Many thousands of out-of-staters and locals shared the skinny causeway across Malletts Bay, the resorts at Jay Peak and Bolton Valley, fields in Glover, the statehouse lawn in Montpelier, the town common in St. Albans.

Not a flood, or a pandemic, or an election, it was a shared experience that, if fleeting, was for once joyful.

Though the onset of the three minutes felt almost ominous. Long shadows crept across lawns, cardinals and finches darted frantically from tree to tree, mosquitoes started to swarm, and the air suddenly chilled.

Everywhere, people looked up at a false night, and struggled to give voice to the emotions it unloosed. The secular and the devout all uttered “oh my god,” and cheered and cried and hugged and clapped and chuckled.

At a hunting camp in Hardwick, a dairy farmer who recently buried his longtime partner said it felt like being in two different worlds, or like the sun had set in all directions. At the town common in St. Albans, a Massachusetts man handed a ring to his partner of seven years, who said he is their everything. In a Morrisville backyard, an 11-year-old girl said it looked like someone had taken a bite out of the sun, while the rest of her family stared at Mount Mansfield, which gathered the kind of dark blue clouds that suggested weather was on the way, and joked about whether their rooster would crow when it was over.

And in a quiet neighborhood in Burlington, a blond haired 6-year-old boy, told of the rarity of these three minutes, struggled with an adolescent’s distorted sense of time.

His summers still feel eternal, and he can’t yet comprehend that, the next time this happens here, his own fleeting time on Earth could be drawing to an end.

But as the mid-day darkness became total, he took off his flimsy plastic glasses, and stared at the silver and purple sky. He jumped on his swing, and then a tree stump, to try to get closer to it. He said it made him feel happy, if a little scared. And when the light had returned, and the cheering had died down, he hopped down from the stump, picked up his baseball bat, and asked his dad to throw him a pitch.

A person stands waist deep in water, silhouetted by sunset-like lighting.
Lexi Krupp
Vermont Public
Jane Kuntzman, from Brooklyn, New York is a senior at University of Vermont. She watched the eclipse from the lake at Leddy Beach in Burlington. She was with her dad Gersh Kuntzman and his fiancé, Angela Stach, who traveled from New York City by train.

Vermont’s three minutes of totality somehow seemed to surpass the expectations of the tens of thousands of locals and out-of-staters who partook in the once in a lifetime event.

On the Burlington waterfront, where people started arriving early this morning to stake out prime viewing locations, tourists seemed to outnumber locals.

“This is just unbelievable,” said 71-year-old Marie Nitsky of Acton, Massachusetts. “Never would have imagined that I would get here, but my friends all said, ‘C’mon you gotta go!’ And I’m glad I’m doing it, ‘cause I won’t be alive for the next one, for sure.”

A man wears solar eclipse glasses and looks up toward the sky
Lexi Krupp
Vermont Public
Zachary Schultz, 20 drove up with his dad, James Schultz, 59 from Ronkonkoma, New York. They camped behind a church in upstate New York last night, left at 6:30 a.m. and arrived in Burlington in the morning. The trip was a birthday present for Zachary. They set up a picnic at the parking lot of North Beach in Burlington to watch the eclipse. He tested out his eclipse glasses this morning.
A couple wears eclipse glasses over normal eyeglasses in a park with a crowd behind them
Liam Elder-Connors
Vermont Public
Bob Maclay and Karen Lundry traveled from New Jersey to watch the total solar eclipse in Burlington.

State officials estimated that 160,000 could come to the Green Mountain State — which lucked out with some of the best weather for eclipse viewing in the country. Many visitors said they changed their plans last-minute to travel to Vermont due to the good weather.

Karen Lundry and Bob Maclay came from New Jersey to watch the eclipse in Burlington. As the sky went dark, Laundry exhaled in wonder.

"I'm really happy to be here," she said. "I'm in awe of nature, and the various things that happen in nature. ... it's incredible."

Maclay nodded in agreement.

"I'm impressed," he said. "I was not that eager to do this, but she kept me going and now that I'm here, I think it's great."

What looks like sunset sets over a large body of water in the afternoon.
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
During totality near the Moran plant at the Burlington waterfront.

Burlingtonians Katie Sobalski and Amanda Giuliano watched the eclipse from nearby. They stopped by a neighborhood bar that was grilling on the sidewalk to grab a hot dog on their way home.

"I cried. And I laughed. Yeah. It... it's hard to put into words," Sobalski said. "It was pretty amazing."

The city was immersed in darkness for a few minutes as the moon passed in front of the sun around 3:30 p.m. Giuliano said the light was what was most striking.

"I think the moments leading up to it were surreal. The lighting changes, and it was unlike any lighting I've ever experienced in my life, like something you can only see on set or manufactured," she said. "And then when it actually happened, it was... I had like a genuine giggle that was only brought on prior by, like, a roller coaster."

See more of Vermont Public's reporting from eclipse day here.

A few miles north, Eileen Fitzgerald, 26 of Burlington, saw the eclipse from Leddy Beach in Burlington.

“Words fail. I can’t put words to what we just saw,” she said. “I feel so lucky to see it on a beach with other people. I'm going to cry, I'm sorry. It was like a unifying experience seeing the sun disappear for a couple minutes. Oh my god. And with the sunset colors on the horizon. I’ve never seen anything like that. It was incredible. And to be on the lake for it, too. We’re like the luckiest people in the world right now to have seen that here.”

People sit on orange-red steel beams of a former building, some wearing shorts
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
People sit on the exposed beams of the old Moran Plant on Burlington's waterfront and look at the eclipse as totality wanes and the light returns at 3:31 p.m.

Misha Iver of Burlington watched the eclipse after wading into Lake Champlain. She was there with her 5-year-old daughter. Iver had a mastectomy last year, so she was a little nervous about going topless in the lake in front of so many people. But she was so glad she did.

“I always jump in the lake through the winter, so it was, why not?” Iver said. “But then when this darkness came, it just felt something surreal. … I’m not a religious or spiritual person, but it was almost close to that. So beautiful.

“Usually the lake, of course, is very cold,” Iver continued. “Usually it’s so paralyzingly freezing. But because of such a unique distraction, and I was overwhelmed and amazed, that even cold didn’t feel like cold. And it is cold. So I was just standing there, and it is a whole beach of people. And I didn’t even care how strange I look, maybe. Totally, totally worth it.”

People gather on the lawn of the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier to watch the total solar eclipse on Monday.
Bob Kinzel
Vermont Public
People gather on the lawn of the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier to watch the total solar eclipse on Monday.

Several thousand people gathered on the Statehouse lawn in Montpelier, which is still recovering from July’s floods. There was a festive atmosphere with a DJ playing music, food vendors, and jugglers and dancers.

Bilma Reyes came all the way from Puerto Rico because she wanted to view a total eclipse in her lifetime.

“I really felt so emotional — it's evidence of the greatness of our universe — and it made me feel like I was going to cry,” Reyes said.

Two adults and two children smile while standing in front of the entrance to an RV.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Vermont Public
The Newman family drove up from McLean, Virginia, in a rented RV to watch the eclipse from the Green Mountain Mall parking lot in St. Johnsbury. The family was considering driving to Texas or Ohio, but they headed to the northeast after reading the weather report two days ago.

In St. Johnsbury, more than 500 cars filled the parking lot of the Green Mountain Mall ahead of the eclipse.

Ryan Brererton flew out from Utah to witness the event with family from Boston. As the sky darkened during totality, the temperature in the air also dropped from 63 degrees Fahrenheit to 58 degrees.

I could actually tell that the environment had changed,” Brererton said. “It kind of quieted for a minute. And it’s just neat because this is so occasional but it’s very kind of cosmic in proportions, and how many more times will I have such a chance. It’s cool.”

The owner of the mall also opened the parking lot up to RVs, and about a dozen campers were parked there overnight leading up to today's festivities.

People are set up to watch the eclipse from Stowe Mountain Resort on Monday.
Stowe Mountain Resort
People are set up to watch the eclipse from Stowe Mountain Resort on Monday.

Ski resorts, riding the momentum of late-season snowstorms, capitalized on the opportunity that the eclipse brought them.

Bolton Valley Ski Resort President Lindsay DesLauriers said she was nervous about how today would go, and capped ticket sales and limited promotion.

“We really didn't know what to expect,” DesLauriers said. “We over, over planned. We have so many people out managing parking. We were really nervous that there was going to be a level of demand that would be unmanageable for us.”

But it came off smoothly, she said.

“So we're actually really pleased with this result,” DesLauriers said.”There's a lot of people here, it's a party. It's a festival atmosphere, but it's manageable for us. And that was really what we were hoping for.”

Steve Wright, president of Jay Peak, said they too enjoyed big but manageable crowds, great skiing and a raucous atmosphere.

Three people sit outside in some darkness with a large sun replica. They look up and point at the sky.
Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
Julia Hewitt and David and Marianne Book, from left, are all a part of the Worcester Historical Society. They look at the planets that became visible during totality at 3:27 p.m., at an eclipse event at Ladd Field in Worcester Monday.

Other visitors chose more out of the way spots. Nikita Zuev, of Worcester, Massachusetts was looking for a small town to experience totality, and was amused to learn that there is a Worcester in Vermont. He decided to make it his viewing spot. “It felt like I was a kid again, to be honest,” Zuev said.

He was one of about 200 people, mostly locals, who set up lawn chairs and blankets at Ladd Field in Worcester, for an eclipse gathering hosted by the town historical society

The crowd broke into a spontaneous round of applause when the sun reemerged from the moon’s shadow after 2 minutes and 15 seconds of totality.

“I think it just makes me feel just connected to the universe,” Worcester resident Max Barrows said. “It’s one of those things that just makes you feel connected to what the universe brings.”

A group of five older people in chairs on a sidewalk don eclipse glasses and hold cups of prosecco.
Marielle Blais, Dennis Marden, Maureen Waters and Beth and Bernie Carr, all of Brandon, Vermont, watch the eclipse with eclipse glasses and cups of prosecco on Monday, April 8.

Sabine Poux, Howard Weiss-Tisman, Peter Hirschfield, Lexi Krupp, Erica Heilman, Lola Duffort, Nina Keck, Liam Elder-Connors, Mikaela Lefrak and Bob Kinzel contributed reporting.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Mark Davis has spent more than a decade working as a reporter in Vermont, focusing on both daily and long-form stories. Prior joining Vermont Public as assistant news director, he worked for five years at Seven Days, the alt-weekly in Burlington, where he won national awards for his criminal justice reporting. Before that, he spent nine years at the Valley News, where won state and national awards for his coverage of the criminal justice system, Topical Storm Irene, and other topics. He has also served as a producer and editor for the Rumblestrip podcast. He graduated from the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

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