Ready. Set. Eclipse.

Barnwell County observes solar eclipse

  • Amyiah Pettway and Noah Bodiford were among a couple hundred people who gathered at Lemon Park to watch the eclipse.

“This is my first time seeing an eclipse,” said 9-year-old Blaize Jackson. “I’m pretty excited.”

Blaize was one of millions of people in South Carolina who were excited to view the first solar eclipse in decades on Monday, August 21.

He joined his father Daniel and sister Brooke, 7, at Barnwell State Park to make pinhole viewers and watch the eclipse through solar glasses. Others attended a solar eclipse party at Lemon Park in Barnwell sponsored by the Barnwell County Public Library and the City of Barnwell’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“The library and parks and recreation department were pleased to partner and provide the community the chance to have a safe viewing event for this historical event,” said Tricia Gordon, the library manager.

Ernie and Sarah Pirkle of Savannah, Ga. drove to Barnwell County, bringing their daughter Gena James and three grandchildren for the event which coincided with Ernie’s 71st birthday.

“We wanted to get near enough to see the eclipse but not drive too far,” said Sarah Pirkle. Barnwell State Park fit the bill.

Sarah Grace James, 6, and her brothers Branson, 11, and Davis, 13, each wore their unique solar eclipse T-shirts for the event.

The family watched as the day turned to twilight and then, in a matter of seconds, started getting light again.

While the experience of near-totality was brief, the overall experience was memorable for the family. “I thought it was awesome,” said Gena James. “It was amazing that just a sliver of light created daylight. Also, it certainly cooled things off.”

The early afternoon had been hot and humid. Those attending found shade under trees or picnic shelter. Some cooled off with a swim in Lake Brown.

At the park, storm clouds threatened but held off from covering the sun until the eclipse had passed. Elsewhere in the county, the viewing was mixed depending on cloud cover.

As totality neared, the air cooled, a star appeared and odd half-moon shadows formed under the trees.

Whether you looked up, down or around, the solar eclipse was memorable. At 2:43 p.m., the park was bathed in shadow but just as quickly as the light dimmed it regained strength.

“It was a great experience with the children,” said James.

Brandon and Andrea Still of Hilda traveled to Gaston with their family to get as close to the center of totality as possible. As the light dimmed, “I could feel the excitement and anticipation building as I saw the diamond ring shine and then become dimmer,” said Brandon of experiencing totality, “the most spectacular sight I’ve ever seen.”

“I felt as though I was looking at the face of God; the beauty and majesty of his creation. I looked at my boys and see the priceless wonder on their faces,” said Brandon, who had tears flowing from his eyes. They were tears of joy as, he said, he saw Psalm 19:1 come to life: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

Earlier in the afternoon, rangers at Barnwell State Park had set up supplies for children and adults to create their pinhole viewers, something that Alonzo Johnson, 72, and his granddaughter Meagan Livingston, 12, enjoyed creating together.

Some families and couples set out picnic lunches. Others, like Harriet Stephens and her friend Clyde Reed of Williston, strolled around the grounds and enjoyed the afternoon. Kayakers paddled to the middle of the lake to peer up at the sun.

“The atmosphere here is nice,” said Stephens. “It’s nice and quiet.”

James Kearse and his wife came to the park to not only watch the eclipse but also to celebrate their 28th wedding anniversary. The day was memorable for them.

Witnessing the eclipse was also special for Leigh Stanley because August 21 was also her birthday.

“The last eclipse was in 1979 when I was born and it returned 38 years later on my birthday. The kids thought this meant I was lucky so they have been trying to get me to purchase a lottery ticket all day,” said Stanley, who watched the eclipse outside her office with her children and a co-worker.

Craig and Trina Wix closed their dental practice, Palmetto Dentistry in Barnwell, and kept their daughters out of school in order to view the eclipse with friends at Daniel Island. “We are hoping our girls’ first solar eclipse was a learning experience that they will never forget. I know I will never forget it,” said Trina.

Clint Lauderdale of Cullman, Alabama, “just decided yesterday” to make his way to see the eclipse. “I have to be in Columbia tomorrow for business but didn’t want to get caught in the traffic.”

He looked at his GPS map, searched the internet and decided upon Barnwell State Park. Sitting in an umbrella chair underneath a shade tree was the perfect spot to wait for the eclipse to begin. Every 15 minutes or so he would don his solar glasses and check the progression of the sun.

The “totality” lasted only seconds which surprised Lauderdale. “I thought it would last longer,” he said, but indicated he still was impressed by the eclipse.

It will be a while before another total solar eclipse will cross the United States. It will be in April 2024 but South Carolina won’t be in its path.

For many scanning the skies Monday, it was a once-in-a-lifetime event that was brief but memorable.