Eclipse in NH and Maine: Crowds thrilled by show in sky

Ian Lenahan Margie Cullen
Portsmouth Herald

Sunny weather has graced the area, Monday, April 8, ideal viewing conditions for the eclipse. A total eclipse of the sun appeared in the skies above the United States, from southern Texas to northern New Hampshire and northern Maine.

The rare event − where the shadow of the moon plunges a narrow strip of land into darkness in the middle of the day − is an astronomical experience that was accessible to millions of people.

More:Tiny NH towns brace for eclipse chasers to arrive for 'once-in-a-lifetime event'

Large crowds are visiting northern New Hampshire and Maine, where the path of totality provided views of the first total solar eclipse since 1959 in the two states. A total solar eclipse will not be visible in this region again until 2079. In Seacoast New Hampshire and Maine, the eclipse brought about 94%-96% obscuring of the sun, depending on location.

Portsmouth library eclipse party draws a crowd

Hundreds gathered outside Portsmouth Public Library to view the peak of the roughly 95% eclipse in the Seacoast, which occurred at 3:30 p.m.

The light sky dimmed, darkening slightly and creating a hazy perceptive as the temperature showed 56 degrees Fahrenheit on an outdoor thermometer.

The slight chill slowly ended as the moon left its positioning in front of the sun. The moon moved straight up.Viewers speculated whether they’d be alive for the next total solar eclipse to cross over New Hampshire in 2079.

“It’s wonderful,” library director Christine Friese said. “There’s a whole lot of community here that aren’t regulars.”

The library ordered 1,000 pairs of glasses ahead of the eclipse, passing out 800 before saving the rest for the watch party.

Ian Lenahan

Dover library crowd thrilled by eclipse

Stephanie Dornsife and daughter Caroline Dornsife observing the solar eclipse at the Dover Public Library Monday, April 8, 2024.

The front lawn of the Dover Public Library was filled with more than 200 people, some with eclipse glasses, some with boxes and some prepared with both. Surrounding areas of open grass saw families with lawn chairs, blankets and snacks.

What exactly is a solar eclipse?

"It's when the moon covers the sun," 6-year-old Rory Engelman happily said. Engelman was with his siblings and mother, Rachel Engelman.

"It's really exciting that it's going to be almost a total eclipse," Rachel Engelman said. "I remember when I was about 7 there was one ... but it wasn't quite as fully eclipsed, so I'm really excited."

Rachel Engelman and son, Rory Engelman enjoying the solar eclipse at Dover Public Library

Tina Harris, who works at the library, talked about the large turnout.

"There's a lot more people than I thought," she said. "I'm seeing little kids all the way to up to grandparents excited about looking (at the eclipse)."

South Berwick, Maine, resident Stephanie Dornsife said it's very cool to experience with her children.

"It's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime event to have it come right through the area that you're living in and not having to get on a plane and travel," Dornsife said. "This is the first one I've had the opportunity to experience."

Nine-year-old Caroline Dornsife, daughter of Stephanie, came prepared with a homemade shoebox with foil, and glasses, too.

"I guess the sky getting dark," Caroline said on what she's looking forward to the most.

Brandon Brown

Eclipse a hit in Sanford: 'I won't live to see another one'

SANFORD, Maine — All across the city, families, friends, and coworkers gathered in front of their homes and workplaces on April 8, donned special glasses, and turned their eyes to the sun as it vanished behind the moon.

Debbie Bernier, who works at the local Department of Health and Human Services office, stood with a few of her coworkers at the entrance of Main Street Marketplace and snapped photos of the eclipse, which could be seen in the west, in the sky beyond the steeple of the North Parish Congregational Church.

Debbie Bernier, left, Sheri Lietz, Cassandra Veilleux, and Candice Colman, all of the Department of Health and Human Services offices in Sanford, Maine, watch the eclipse from the entrance of Main Street Marketplace on Monday, April 8, 2024.

“It’s really cool because I won’t see it again,” Bernier said. “I won’t live to see another one.”

Bernier followed the eclipse’s progress on an app she downloaded onto her phone. The app told her what time the eclipse would begin, the percent of the totality Sanford would experience, and the kind of weather changes – a drop in temperature, a wind picking up – she could expect.

“You can already feel it starting to cool down since we came out here about half an hour ago,” said Sheri Lietz, one of Bernier’s coworkers.

Fellow DHHS colleague Cassandra Veilleux said she was able to get some stark shots of the eclipse by placing a pair of special glasses over her phone’s camera lens.

Those special glasses were a hot commodity, of course – and as the eclipse approached, they became a rare one too. One local supermarket ran out of the glasses on Saturday, an employee stated. A local library posted a sign on its front door announcing it too was out of glasses. Inquiries on social media early on Monday afternoon directed people to the 7-Eleven in Springvale.

But then people with special glasses proved willing to share. At Ronel J. Dubois Insurance Agency, Michele Dubois, her wife, Renee Seinfeld, and their colleague, Jen Tuck, happily loaned out their special glasses to anyone passing by who wanted a glimpse at the eclipse.

Dubois said she knew she needed the glasses for protection but was surprised when they afforded her a stark look at the eclipse as it was happening. She shared her glasses with a pedestrian who was passing by her office.

“She said we were the second group of people that let her look through their glasses,” Dubois said.

Shawn P. Sullivan

In Portsmouth: Eclipse 'something I haven't seen before'

Barbara Sadick, who remembered a solar eclipse from her youth in the 1960s, attended Portsmouth Public Library's eclipse viewing event.

Sadick’s teacher back then organized the students to making pinhole projects in the classroom.

“It was drilled into us that you must not look at it,” she remembered.

The hours leading up to the eclipse were a family affair. With her three children in tow, Gabriella Mukakabono of Dover noted she homeschools her kids and works to tie in current events with their curriculum, in addition to visiting the ocean and nearby science museums.

The four took a break from learning at home to spend the afternoon outdoors, watching the eclipse near its peak of 95% totality in Portsmouth.

“It’s a way to teach them that I love,” she said. “Whatever subject, there are different ways to apply it to the city you live in.”

Jeff Tavares, an Eliot, Maine resident, was another early guest, passing up on the opportunity to witness the eclipse in totality from his brother’s home in Burlington, Vermont, to stay closer to home.

Even though a portion of the sun will be visible, the chance to witness it in Portsmouth was too good to pass up.

“It’s something I haven’t seen before,” he said.

Ian Lenahan

Verrill double murder trial jury calls it quits early to see eclipse

The jury in the Timothy Verrill double murder trial had still not reached a verdict Monday afternoon at Strafford County Superior Court in Dover, and its members requested to leave early, at 3 p.m., because some members wanted to make sure to see the solar eclipse.

The jury was granted its request, and it got instructions from the judge on how to work through its difficulty in reaching a verdict.

More on this story:Timothy Verrill jury ends day early to see eclipse: What the judge has to say

Eclipse through eyes of 8-year-old

Eight-year-old Samuel Vascao was one of the first at the Portsmouth Public Library eclipse viewing event to exclaim it had begun, at approximately 2:15 p.m.

With the help of his mother, Anne Vascao, the Portsmouth elementary schooler held the glasses up against the camera lens of an iPhone, showing the moon beginning to block the beaming sun.

“It actually works! That’s cool,” Samuel Vascao said.

Many within the large crowd on Parrott Avenue donned their sunglasses to watch the moon creep closer to its peak, as seen from Portsmouth. Some in the crowd trickled over to Leary Field to take in the eclipse from the ballfield while inside the library, visitors watched the total eclipse from the NASA livestream and solved eclipse word searches placed out by library staff. 

A Brazil native, Anne Vascao marveled at the fanfare astronomical events bring about in the United States, saying they don’t receive the same level of attention in her native country. 

Next to her, Samuel Vascao smiled almost as brightly as the sun while looking up through his glasses. 

“He was so excited he’d be able to get out of school for this,” she laughed.

Ian Lenahan

Portsmouth library eclipse party viewers get creative

Hundreds of Portsmouth Public Library eclipse watch party participants gathered outside on the field next to the city middle school building, safely gazing up through protective glasses and casting silhouettes of the sun at ground level. 

One attendee was doing so with an empty Cheerios box, while city resident Diana Frye used a certain family heirloom - a passed down colander - to bring the celestial event to life.

A crowd gathers outside Portsmouth public library to view the eclipse Monday, April 8, 2024.

“We’re reconnecting with nature,” she quipped.

Fellow Portsmouth resident Francis Corminer became a popular fixture of the library festivities, drawing other attendees over as he reflected the shadow of the sun onto a white poster board using a telescope, manila envelope and sticks. 

He used the same setup for the 2017 eclipse, though this time around two dots appeared on the shadow of the sun he was reflecting. 

“I haven’t seen sunspots like this before,” he said.

Ian Lenahan

Eclipse good for business in northern NH

Vendors like Better Day Donuts and Shrubby’s Smoke Shack lined Main Street in Lancaster, New Hampshire. The town of Lancaster invited the food trucks from Dalton and Bethlehem, respectively, to be a part of the event and take advantage of the eclipse crowds.

It was Better Day Donuts’ first set up of the season, and workers in the van said they’ve seen “thousands of people.” Kerry Bushwell of Shrubby’s Smoke Shack said business has been comparable to what they get at fairs in the summertime.

Kerry Bushwell of Shrubby’s Smoke Shack says eclipse visitors have been good for the food truck business in Lancaster, New Hampshire, Monday, April 8, 2024.

April is usually “dead" time for the food truck business, she said, and it follows a “questionable” snow season.

Bushwell said Sunday is when she started seeing the eclipse traffic come in to town.

“I think people who are coming up here for the eclipse are people who are curious and they're like adventurers, they want to try something new,” she said. “It’s good for our food trucks.”

Margie Cullen

Eclipse glasses demand exceeds supply at Portsmouth library

The Portsmouth Public Library's sign seen Monday morning April 8, 2024 reflects the high interest in eclipse.

The phone lines at Portsmouth Public Library were ringing off the hook Monday morning, hours before the total solar eclipse was set to take place.

Celestial-minded callers had a common question, according to library director Christine Friese: Was the library still handing out certified eclipse glasses?

The answer by late Monday morning, was the library is no longer handing out eclipse glasses to the public. The library’s remaining stash will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at its eclipse watch party from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday.

“We were averaging about three calls a minute,” Friese joked.

A sign was posted in front the library’s entrance Monday morning informing guests the glasses were no longer available.

Eclipse glasses must be certified by the International Organization for Standardization for use during the event. Proper eclipse glasses will be marked ISO 12312-2, according to Dartmouth Health.

Ian Lenahan

Eclipse viewers set up early in sunny Lancaster, NH

Shannon Myers, right, and Eric Perryman, left, were among a group of early arrivers for the eclipse Monday, April 8, 2024 in Lancaster, New Hampshire, which is in the path of totality, making it an ideal place for viewing the eclipse.

Several hours before the eclipse was set to begin, the energy was high in Lancaster, New Hampshire. After weeks of rain and snow, the sun was bright in the sky, with zero clouds impeding its rays. Lancaster is in the part of northern New Hampshire that is in the eclipse's path of totality, meaning the area where the sun will be 100% obscured. And it is attracting visitors from all over.

At 10 a.m., the streets were already full of people and cars. License plates revealed travelers from as far as New Jersey, Virginia and Kentucky.

Shannon Myers sat with family and friends in lawn chairs in front of the Passumpsic Bank in Lancaster. They were from various towns in Massachusetts, and were visiting their home in Bethlehem to be closer to the eclipse. They had set up their station of lawn chairs and blankets at 9 that morning.

“We thought it was gonna be crowded as soon as we got here,” said Myers. “But sounds like they’ve been really friendly. Like, it seems like everyone’s happy that people are in Lancaster.”

While they said they wouldn’t describe themselves as “eclipse chasers," Eric Perryman, said he’d been planning this trip for a couple of years.

“But you never know what the weather’s gonna be like,” he said. “Seems pretty lucky so far!”

Margie Cullen

Portsmouth NASA ambassador enjoying view in northern NH

Local NASA Solar System Ambassador Tom Cocchiaro, a Portsmouth resident, is witnessing the third total solar eclipse of his lifetime. And for the second time, he’s watching from a spot where the weather is better than predicted.

Cocchiaro is watching the North American eclipse from Pittsburg, New Hampshire, near the Canadian border, with representatives of Plymouth State University, local students and their families, and school staff. Pittburg is in the eclipse's path of totality.

In 2017, he traveled to Greenville, South Carolina to watch that year’s eclipse. Unlike prior forecasts, the sky cleared and the sun shone before the eclipse became visible.

He's getting sunny weather again.

“This is strike two for me where it wasn’t supposed to be good to see the eclipse but it ended up being perfectly sunny skies,” Cocchiaro said in a phone call Monday.

As the moon fully blocks the sun Thursday afternoon from his view in Pittsburg, Cocchiaro noted three planets - Mercury, Venus and Jupiter - may be visible during the peak of the eclipse in Pittsburg, in addition to the so-called “devil comet,” formally known as Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks.

During the peak of the eclipse in Pittsburg, viewers will be able to briefly remove their eclipse glasses to witness the historic moment of totality, Cocchiaro said..

“Unfortunately, they’ll have to watch with their solar glasses because there won’t be any time in Portsmouth when you’ll be able to take your glasses off,” Cocchiaro said of Portsmouth skygazers.

The first total solar eclipse of Cocchiaro’s life occurred on July 20, 1963 in northern Maine, when he was 9 years old. He and his family were returning from a trip visiting relatives in Prince Edward Island.

It was a moment in time that sparked his lifelong curiosity.

“I was glued to the rear window of our big Buick and to a 2x4 inch piece of welder’s glass we had purchased for $1 at a gas station along the way,” he recounted. “As the eclipse progressed I kept my family updated on progress until the sky started to darken and I yelled to my dad to stop the car… Turning back to the sky I was amazed to see the glowing halo around the moon’s shadow and a sky full of stars. The atmosphere was dead calm and there was no sound, and in the distance, you could see what you might call a 360-degree sunset as the horizon was lit all around. (It was) the most amazing experience in my life to that point.”

Ian Lenahan

Near perfect weather for eclipse

Hunter Tubbs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, said conditions are close to perfect, aside from a very high level, thin cloud cover possible to the west.

"Overall it looks to be mainly sunny and warm," Tubbs said early Monday morning on the forecasts for northern New Hampshire and Maine. "It can't get much better than what we're expecting. It's likely going to be one of the clearest spots for the path of totality in the country."

When is the solar eclipse?

Learn more: What is the path of totality for the total solar eclipse? Follow as it crosses the US.

Lea en Español: ¿Cuál es la trayectoria de totalidad del eclipse solar total? Siga mientras cruza México y los EE. UU.

How do I know solar eclipse glasses are safe? How can I view the eclipse safely without glasses?

If you buy or are given eclipse glasses, be sure they are made by companies the American Astronomical Society has certified as safe.

NASA does not certify glasses, so be wary of any manufacturers claiming that to have the space agency's approval.

Eclipse glasses should all have the "ISO" (International Organization for Standardization) icon. The glasses also must have the ISO reference number 12312-2.

If you cannot find certified glasses, there are other ways to view the eclipse, including with a shadow box you can make yourself. Whatever you do, don't look at the sun without proper protection.

Learn more: What happens if you look at a solar eclipse? A viewing guide for this year's sky show.

Lea en Español: ¿Qué pasa si miras un eclipse solar? Una guía para ver el espectáculo celeste de este año.

How does an eclipse work? How often do eclipses occur? Where can I learn more about the science?

A total eclipse occurs when the moon appears the same size as the sun and blocks the entire disk, leading to a period of darkness lasting several minutes. The resulting "totality," when observers can see the outermost layer of the sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, confuses animals – nocturnal creatures stir, and bird and insects fall silent.Learn more: A total solar eclipse will cross the US in April: Here's where and when to see it

Lea en Español: El eclipse solar total cruzará EE. UU. en Abril: dónde y cuándo verl

Reporting by Ian Lenahan, Margie Cullen and material from USA TODAY is used in this report.