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Though Not a Total Eclipse in Maine, Many Pause to Observe the Rare Celestial Event

This image was taken at 2:43 pm pm in Lewiston. The peak of the Maine viewing portion of the eclipse was approx. 2:45pm with 60% coverage of the sun by the moon.
Mark Vogelzang
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Maine Public
This image was taken at 2:43 pm pm in Lewiston. The peak of the Maine viewing portion of the eclipse was approx. 2:45pm with 60% coverage of the sun by the moon.

Maine was not in the path of the full solar eclipse this time around, but plenty of people in Portland turned out to catch a peek of a partial eclipse this afternoon. Hundreds took a brief pause in their day to watch the moon gradually cover a little more than half the sun. Though observers here were not in the path of totality, for many, the experience was worth a look.

The partial eclipse started to draw a crowd to Monument Square well before the moon crossed in front of the sun. Some, like Phyllis Reams of Portland, came in the hopes of scoring a coveted pair of protective eclipse glasses that the Portland Public library was handing out. Knowing Maine won’t see another solar eclipse for another seven years? Reams didn’t want to miss this one.

“I’m old enough I probably won’t be around, so this feels like it’s kind of my last chance to see one,” Reams says.

Reams was one of the lucky ones to snag a pair of glasses. The library ordered 500 back in June but within days its stock dwindled to the point that librarian Meg Gray had to hoard some in her desk.

“So we only had about 90 to give away today, and I think they were gone within a minute,” Gray says.

But those without glasses came up with their own creative solutions.

Hannah Duston (l.) and Alice Hornstein (r.) viewing the solar eclipse through cardboard boxes.
Credit Patty Wight / Maine Public
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Maine Public
Hannah Duston (l.) and Alice Hornstein (r.) viewing the solar eclipse through cardboard boxes.

“All it includes is a shoe box, a piece of white paper, tin foil, tape, and some spaghetti to poke the holes with,” says Hannah Duston.

Duston and her mom Alice Hornstein each made solar eclipse viewing boxes, also known as the classic “pinhole projector” as a back-up. It was Duston’s first chance to see an eclipse.

“I just needed to see what it was about of course, because everyone’s talking about it, and you want to see what it actually does and what it does to the sky,” she says.

Others grabbed whatever supplies they could find in their office to create a makeshift viewer. Leah Robertson was one of a few staffers from the Portland Symphony who used two paper plates — one punctured with a tack to make a tiny hole — to let the image of the eclipse shine through onto another plate she held in her other hand.

Portland Symphony staff use paper plates to view the solar eclipse in Portland's Monument Square. Charlotte Gill (l.), Leah Robertson (c.), Samantha Scarf (r.)
Credit Patty Wight / Maine Public
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Maine Public
Portland Symphony staff use paper plates to view the solar eclipse in Portland's Monument Square. Charlotte Gill (l.), Leah Robertson (c.), Samantha Scarf (r.)

“It’s really really beautiful to see the crescent getting smaller and smaller,” Robertson says. “I really didn’t think this was going to work, and I’m surprised that it did. Someone did come up and help us in Monument Square, which was nice, because we had the plates and we had no idea how to use them.”

As the crowd in Monument Square grew, everyone was passing around shoe boxes, glasses, or whatever viewer they had to make sure no one would miss out.

“It’s awesome in the true sense of the word,” says Louise Davis of Portland.

She described what it was like to see the partial eclipse through her special glasses, six year old Sidney Rousseau wandered over and looked up at her expectantly. Davis bent down, and put the glasses on her.

Passing around a serving platter punctured with holes to get kaleidoscope-like indirect view, Ted Rand of Portland called watching the eclipse unfold.

“We live so separated from nature, and this is like the ultimate of a natural phenomenon,” Rand says. “It’s wonderful.”

At 2:45, when the partial eclipse hit its peak, the crowd gave it a round of applause. Susannah Sanfilippo of Portland says she came out as much for the eclipse as for the communal feel.

“We need a reason to get together that’s not political,” says Sanfilippo. “Just a reason to be with people and enjoy the amazingness of mother nature.”

If you missed seeing the partial eclipse, not all is lost. A total solar eclipse will hit northern Maine in the spring of 2024.

Hannah Duston (l.) and Alice Hornstein (r.) viewing the solar eclipse through cardboard boxes.
Credit Patty Wight / Maine Public
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Maine Public
Sammy Anderson views the solar eclipse through special glasses.