Thousands gather at UWM to watch solar eclipse

Posted at 6:47 PM, Aug 21, 2017

The day finally came for the country wide solar eclipse and it did not disappoint, and at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, more than a thousand people showed up to enjoy the spectacle in the sky.

“This is the first eclipse I’ve ever seen,” said Derek Palecek, Planetarium Associate with UWM. “The last total eclipse in the states was back in 1979, way before I was born. We’ve been planning for this for nearly two years. Now, that the day is here, we’re very excited.”

UWM was selling solar eclipse glasses to those who wanted them but ran out quickly. However, everyone in attendance was sure to get a glimpse of the celestial event, thanks to a shining example of the good on the ground.

Strangers were handing the glasses back and forth to share the moment. In a world full of difference, everyone was together to take in the show.

“When we talk about the beauty of Milwaukee, the spirit of what we can become, we talk about changing the narrative, this is it,” said Ramel Smith of Milwaukee. “Seeing all of us together, helping each other out, looking at something together is beautiful.”

Smith had his three children with him to enjoy the event.

“I’m excited today that the moon is going to cover up the sun,” said Noah Smith. “We get to look at the sun with the glasses.”

“This is a box and some lady gave it to me,” said Skye Smith. “She told us how to use it. The sun has to be behind you and you look through this hole and the sun will come through and you can see the moon.”

The kids weren’t the only ones who were excited. Ramel Smith was just as giddy as his children.

“You’re a big kid too,” said Ramel Smith. “You say it’s for the children but you’re trying to get the glasses on. It’s a great time for everybody and it’s a spirit of community here.”

The excitement is something Katy Rollins has felt before. She was a college student during the last total eclipse in 1979 at MATC.

“I looked through the stairway at MATC through a prism to see the eclipse,” Rollins said. “I was thinking, oh the next one is so far away.”
In the blink of an eye, Rollins was at her next solar eclipse. This time, cane in hand, she was a bit older but no less excited.

“I’ve had a good time in the last 30 some years,” Rollins said. “It seems like it went by faster than I thought it would. You go with what you got. I’m enjoying being at a picnic and having other people around me, especially the children looking forward to more eclipses in their lifetime.”

The lights almost went out on Monday’s eclipse before it started. Cloud cover and rain made it nearly impossible to see the remarkable event for 10 to 15 minutes. However, the clouds parted and the sun sort of shined through.

There were even some study abroad students from China, visiting at the perfect time for this once in a lifetime event.

“It’s very unique,” said Cheryl Cao, a Chinese freshman at Pius High School. “I’ve never been to a place that can see this. It’s like I’m in the galaxy. Just near the moon and the sun.”

As everyone looked towards the heavens, you could hear the “oohs” and “ahhs” of something spectacular.

Something spectacular they won’t soon forget.

“It’s a very special thing,” Palecek said. “The last total eclipse was in 1979. The last eclipse that spanned from West Coast to East Coast was back in 1918, so nearly 100 years ago. This is very rare and very exciting.”

While the entire country had eclipse fever, those with the special viewing glasses may not want to toss them in the trash yet. The next total solar eclipse is scheduled for April 2024, just seven years away.