MOLALLA, Oregon – This small Oregon town of just under 9,000 did little to promote itself as a destination in the path of totality, and by Sunday afternoon, residents weren’t sure what to expect during the eclipse.
But come Monday morning, a thousand people had filled the city’s Fox Park to attend a celebration put on by the public library. People waited in line for Tang and Moon Pies, made crafts and waited for the sky to grow dark.
Chris Miskow and Molly Malone drove down from Portland with their 7-year-old son, Finn, and slept in a Volkswagen van in the library parking lot Sunday night. They were one of two cars there when they arrived.
“All through the night, the parking lot filled up with people,” Malone said.
The family played Pandemic on a picnic blanket with friends as totality approached.
Miskow said they chose Molalla because it “wasn’t in the news,” so they figured it might be less crowded.
Cars lined every street within a three block radius of the park. While most bore Oregon license plates, Washington, California and Arizona made appearances as well.
Library Director Diana Hadley was running around frantically Sunday morning. She hadn’t been sure what to expect and was excited, though she said the crowd was “very overwhelming.”
“We have people from Canada, Alaska, Virginia, New York,” she said, smiling at the thought that so many people chose Molalla to experience the eclipse.
Staff from the library helped children make drawings showing the phases of an eclipse and handed out glasses.
Devon Seale, a library staff member, said he arrived at the park around 7:30 a.m. to start setting up and found the park mostly full of people with lawn chairs and picnic blankets.
Jessica Jensen helped her 3-year-old nephew, Jefferson, glue drawings of the eclipse phases onto a band of construction paper at one of the craft tables. She said the family awoke at 4 a.m. to drive from Portland, but traffic wasn’t as bad as the hype suggested.
Melinda Jensen, Jefferson’s mother, said her family had flown from San Diego, killing two birds with one stone.
“We timed our family visit to be here for the eclipse,” she said.
As the sun dimmed, more eclipse-goers donned their glasses and remarked on the “eerie” feeling in the air. Shadows grew long and the air cooled off with a slight breeze rippling across the grass.
Rather than stare at the sky, one family set out an off-white blanket to watch rippling shadows flow across it as the moon moved closer to blocking out the sun.
At the moment of totality, the park grew dark and cheers began. Even children and dogs stopped moving, briefly overcome by a sunset in the middle of the day. Oohs and ahhs echoed, with more than one person simply exclaiming, “Wow.”
Totality lasted slightly longer than a minute, and most eclipse-goers sat in near-silence, with some pausing to take pictures of the blacked-out sun. When the moon began its journey back across the sun’s face, the change in light was instantaneous. Plunged from twilight into a glowing dawn, the crowd again began to cheer.
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