Eyes On The Skies

North County Experiences Total Solar Eclipse At Pier

Some wore clothing and trinkets in honor of the eclipse. P-J photo by Braden Carmen

Clouds covered the sky in the hours leading up to the three minutes that people across the county and beyond had been waiting for on Monday afternoon. But right on schedule, at just after 3:17 p.m., the Dunkirk City Harbor turned from day to night.

The sky turned from a cloudy gray to pitch black, as a cool breeze swept across the hundreds lining the shores of Dunkirk to witness a once in a lifetime event, the total solar eclipse.

At the Dunkirk Pier, after the duration of totality passed, City officials commenced a press conference to announce upcoming events this summer. But as Dunkirk Mayor Kate Wdowiasz and Festivals and Events Coordinator Ryan Hall spoke to the crowd, the clouds parted and revealed the sun, partially covered by the moon, to a round of applause from the many onlookers rushing to cover their eyes with glasses.

“It was very exciting, especially when everything went almost pitch black, then to see it start to get light again,” Wdowiasz said. “It was great that we got that little peek of the sun that came out, so that we could see some of the eclipse happen.”

Leading up to the total solar eclipse, Chautauqua County Emergency Coordinator Noel Guttman said, “People are coming. There are going to be a lot of people in our area.”

Point Gratiot beach in darkness. P-J photos by M.J. Stafford

Early Monday, it wasn’t clear whether that was actually the case.

Marv Cummings, Senior Communications Officer for the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office, reported that as of 11:30 a.m. Monday, operations in the County were relatively normal, with only a slight increase in traffic.

At noon, there was not much activity around the City of Dunkirk. There were only a handful of cars parked at Wright Park Beach, with only one boat observed out on the lake and one person walking along the shore.

The Dunkirk Pier was not much busier, with just six people sitting in chairs in the audience as a band played. The Pier was blocked off to deter traffic from parking, but still, finding a place to park was not a challenge. The parking lot across the street from the Clarion Hotel was less than halfway full by noon.

Eclipse Fest at the Clarion Hotel began at 11 a.m., but shortly after noon, there were not many guests gathered outside. While television crews set up for live shots with the harbor in the background, only a few guests looked on, while others sat and enjoyed their lunch on the patio.

Point Gratiot beach before the total eclipse . P-J photos by M.J. Stafford

But by 2:30 p.m., the people came out in droves. Hundreds were stationed around the Dunkirk City Pier and the Clarion Hotel for Eclipse Fest in the City, and although it took a while to see a payoff, the crowd got what it was waiting for by the end of the afternoon.

“It’s really great to see all the people that have shown up to the City for the event,” Wdowiasz said.

Dunkirk’s Point Gratiot Park was busier than a Saturday in summer. Parking in the center of the park was at a premium by 1:45 p.m., well before totality. There was still plenty of room to spread out.

For most, it was a fun spring afternoon in the park. A few spectators appeared to be taking things more seriously, deploying a wide array of telescopes and cameras.

The eclipse began at 2:03 p.m. but with heavy cloud cover, there was no change in the sky evident — at first.

Dunkirk’s waterfront during a time of anticipation and darkness. P-J photos by Braden Carmen

About 2:45 p.m. it started to get noticeably darker, though very slowly at first.

At exactly 2:49 a cheer went up and people started pointing at the sky. The partially eclipsed sun had finally broken through the clouds, looking like a crescent moon.

The moment didn’t last long — the clouds again overtook the abbreviated sun in a couple minutes.

The darkening of the sky quickly accelerated at about a quarter after 3, as “totality” occured. It looked like the heavens were hit by a dimmer switch.

The sky over Lake Erie turned red, then yellow. Street and pavilion lights flipped on. A large dog barked nervously.

At 3:21 p.m., the dimmer went back up. By 3:30 p.m., throngs of people were already leaving the park.

The total solar eclipse was billed as a “planned emergency” by Guttman and other County officials. At least as far as Dunkirk was concerned, the County was more than prepared for the event.

“After over a year of planning, I don’t think we could have asked for anything to move any smoother than it already has. I think our Police Department, our Fire Department, our DPW, everybody came together,” Wdowiasz said. “… I couldn’t be more proud of the team.”

OBSERVER Staff Writer M.J. Stafford contributed to this report.


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