As the moon’s shadow passed across the countryside, things looked dim, literally and figuratively, for about 100 Wichitans.
They had traveled more than 200 miles to a sprawling field near the Missouri River to see a glimpse of totality, to watch the moon block the sun in a total solar eclipse.
Instead, they got rain and clouds that obscured much of the view of the partial eclipse early Monday afternoon.
But then the clouds cleared – enough for a brief glimpse of a total eclipse.
They cheered, along with others who had gathered here for the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse since 1918.
“To hear thousands of people, it was like being in a stadium,” said April Lucas.
The field was shrouded in darkness, with light on the horizon in more than one direction.
“It looked like a sunrise but it was all the way around,” Lucas added.
“Seventy miles it’s dark. And outside of the 70 miles, there’s still light.”
In total, 107 people traveled in two buses that left Wichita around 5:20 a.m. Monday. Wichita State University’s Office for Workforce, Professional and Community Education organized the trip to Missouri.
Both buses received a presentation about the eclipse from Caleb Gimar, an educator at the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson.
They made it to Atchison, along the Missouri River, shortly before 8:30 a.m. to have brunch at Paolucci Restaurant. Atchison was buzzing about the solar event.
“Everybody’s in on the action,” said a waitress sporting an eclipse T-shirt.
Atchison, like St. Joseph, fell in the path of totality, a roughly 70-mile wide path that stretched from Oregon to South Carolina where it was possible to see a total solar eclipse. Only the far northeastern corner of Kansas was in the path.
The two buses made their way to St. Joseph, joined by a steady stream of cars and RVs that wound through fields to the entrance of a massive field.
Hundreds had parked nearby in the field to see the spectacle. The license plates were diverse: Texas, Oklahoma, California, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and so on.
People flew kites, set up tents, and threw Frisbees. It was part festival, part tailgate.
The WSU group arrived around 11 a.m., setting up lawn chairs and blankets for a interstellar picnic.
And then they waited.
The moon began to block the sun before noon. People craned their heads skyward to look at the partial eclipse through protective glasses. They also lined up near Gimar to look through a special telescope.
But then clouds and rain drifted into the area.
“I didn’t think it was going to stop raining,” said Tony Bamberger.
The area plunged into darkness as totality arrived shortly after 1 p.m. People cheered as they glimpsed the eclipse through the clouds, albeit for a few seconds.
“It wasn’t a leisurely look but we definitely saw what we came for,” said Karl Koenig. “It got dark and it got light again so quickly.”
The group stayed at the field until 2 p.m. before continuing on to museums in St. Joseph. They were scheduled to get home around 9:30 p.m. Monday.
“It would have been pretty disappointing (to not see totality),” said Nancy Weber. “We’re just fortunate.
“We had our own little miracle with the sun,” she added. “It’s something to remember.”
After the total eclipse ended, someone in a nearby group yelled at the sky to “rewind” the moment.
Another eclipse will pass through the United States in April 2024. The next total eclipse to go coast-to-coast will be in August 2045.
But many on the trip emphasized that Monday’s eclipse was it for them.
“This is the only one in our lifetime,” said Nancy Koenig, 70, said of her and her husband, Karl, 71. “It was so worth it to feel and see that darkness for the time of totality.”
“It was just something we will not be able to experience again.”