CARBONDALE — It was a moment — or a little over two minutes — at least a year in the making for Carbondale.
For some of downtown, a thick, gray cloud obscured the view of the sun in total eclipse, and seemingly for just the perfect two minutes and 38 seconds or so of complete totality.
On the northeast side of downtown, where many had gathered near the "Homegrown Stage" on Washington Street and Family Fun Zone in Town Square, the partial phases of the eclipse were mostly clearly visible. But during totality, clouds blocked the view.
As clouds moved in about 15 minutes before totality, the dismayed crowd booed. As totality came and went, the sky darkened, the crickets and cicadas sang as if it were dusk, and a dusky pink hue was visible on the horizon. But the people who had gathered in hopes of seeing the sun’s corona were mostly quiet.
Meanwhile, on the southeast side of downtown, commonly called The Strip, the clouds parted just enough to allow those gathered there — where the city had set up the “Eclipse Marketplace” — to get a full view of totality.
Jerry Molumby was manning the Carbondale Rotary booth in the Eclipse Marketplace and said some lingering clouds had led him to believe they’d miss totality entirely. But the clouds parted just in time, and he said the crowd gathered there started “howling at the moon.”
Anton Heindel traveled to Carbondale from Waterford, Wisconsin, and missed a direct view of the sun during totality entirely thanks to that cloud.
It’s “sending us a message that we’ll have to come back in seven years,” he said, referencing the solar eclipse that will again put Carbondale in the path of totality in 2024. Heindel said although he didn’t see the sun during totality, he still got an eerie feeling when it got dark and cold in the middle of the afternoon here.
“It’s about the people,” he said, adding that he thought the town had a “good vibe.”
At the Carbondale Civic Center, clouds also obscured the view. But city employees, who have been planning for the eclipse for over a year, were optimistic.
Public Relations Officer Amy Fox said Monday saw more people in Carbondale than Saturday and Sunday combined. The city and downtown businesses offered a plethora of entertainment options for the estimated 50,000 people who were expected to flood to downtown to catch the spectacle in the sky. Fox said preliminary attendance numbers wouldn’t be available until Tuesday, but she said people visited Carbondale from all over the world as well as from within a day’s drive.
Businesses staffed up, expecting large crowds, but it was a slow and steady crowd swell all weekend that crescendoed Monday morning.
“Most people who came to watch it got to see it,” Carbondale City Manager Gary Williams said.
After the months of planning, he said next up for the city is to figure out a way to channel the success of the weekend into future events.
The City Council had decided to allow open containers of alcohol in a specific portion of downtown during eclipse festivities, and all weekend people could be seen walking up and down The Strip with plastic cups in hand.
But despite some anxiety about potential problems, Carbondale Police Chief Jeff Grubbs said “it went awesome,” saying there were virtually no problems related to open containers downtown.
Mayor Mike Henry stood on the platform at the Amtrak station Monday morning to welcome a wave of visitors who had taken an early morning train from Chicago just for the day.
He said the weekend was “peaceful,” and said the police department received fewer calls Sunday night — when overnight crowds were expected to peak — than on a typical weeknight. He said some tents popped up in some “strange places” overnight Sunday, like in random places on the Southern Illinois University campus and on patches of grass near University Mall. City officials were asking rogue campers to move along to approved campsites, where Henry said there was still some availability.
Williams, Fox and Henry all praised the corps of volunteers who put in sweat equity over the weekend, giving directions to turned-around tourists and picking up trash.
Volunteer Justin Zurlinden, who is a RE/MAX real estate agent in Carbondale, stood outside of the Civic Center on Monday to welcome tourists who were arriving on shuttle buses from satellite parking areas.
“The more welcoming we can be, the better,” he said.
Heindel, who had come from Wisconsin, said he was impressed with the town, saying, “everything went together,” and ran smoothly.
As totality ended, a mass of people left town Monday afternoon. Traffic was thick in Carbondale, but appeared to be moving steadily.
For the people downtown who missed totality, some comfort — it all happens again here in seven years.