Andrea Webber spent several minutes Sunday creating a painting of what she imagines the sky may look like during Monday’s total solar eclipse.
“It’s a free souvenir,” she said of creating an image of an event that led her to travel to Columbia from Manchester, Conn. “It’s fascinating to do something that I won’t ever do again.”
Webber was one of dozens of visitors who dropped by the Columbia Museum of Art for an activity that attracted adults like her as well as youngsters.
“For whatever age of child you are, it’s been very much fun,” museum docent Joyce Leaf said.
Other visitors wandered through downtown to get a sense of the area before turning their attention to the eclipse.
Steve Pouliot called it a happy coincidence that he came from the West Coast to watch the solar eclipse at the University of South Carolina.
“I went to the other USC (University of Southern California), so that makes it intriguing,” he said as he joined out-of-towners at gatherings downtown.
For Pouliot, it’s worthwhile to travel across the nation to view an event he considers almost spiritual. “It’s an opportunity for someone my age – the mid-60s – to connect with the universe,” he said.
To others, it’s a chance to view something in person that they’ve seen in photographs and illustrations.
Ryan Rexroth came from Washington, D.C., to watch something that he studied in college. “I’m ready to see something I’ve only seen pictures of,” he said.
Curiosity brought Ben Faircloth from Fort Myers, Fla. “I’ve always loved space things,” he said.
Parking lots at the South Carolina State Museum overflowed with out-of-state vehicles while a line of people encircled its planetarium showing short films about astronomy.
Crowds expected to total 3,000 are 10 times those of a normal Sunday, museum marketing director Merritt McNeely said. That has been typical for many pre-eclipse events, she said. “So far, all around the area, events are filled to the gills, some more than organizers thought.”
Traffic on major roads in the Midlands picked up by Sunday afternoon, as more visitors started to arrive, officials said. “Things are heavy but moving,” said Derrec Becker, spokesman for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division.
Some predictions suggest the Columbia area’s population of just over 700,000 may double for the eclipse, which is scheduled to start around 2:41 p.m. Monday and last about 2 minutes and 30 seconds, one of the longest periods on the East Coast.
State and local law enforcement officials are gearing up to keep traffic moving, with 160 extra state troopers assigned to patrol the length of I-26 that is roughly the path over which the eclipse will pass. Extra crews are in place to assist with vehicle breakdowns.
In the city of Columbia, officers will be stationed at various major intersections that are expected to see heavy traffic.
Police warn congestion is likely Monday, when some visitors may depart the city after the eclipse as the afternoon commuter rush hour begins. That traffic could continue, as many visitors also are expected to spend the night and leave Tuesday instead.
As of Sunday, there were no planned street closures Monday in the city of Columbia, and the S.C. Highway Patrol was not planning lane reversals, as is done during heavy traffic for USC football games. But officials with both agencies said they would monitor traffic and have contingency plans.
Local hospitals are gearing up to handle more demands for health care, particularly for heat-related illnesses such as dehydration and exhaustion. “We know we have to be prepared for that type of surge,” said Dr. Steve Shelton, medical director of emergency management for Palmetto Health.
Additional personnel will on duty Monday at the system’s three campuses, with more on standby. Cots have been added in some areas and a tent is set up at Palmetto Health Richland as an extra site for medical attention.
Meanwhile, tourism officials scored early successes in making a good impression that they hope will bring some eclipse-watchers back to the Midlands.
“Everything seems interesting and everyone is friendly,” said Monaliza Edralin of Virginia Beach, Va. “I’m sure we’ll be back.”
Excitement over the eclipse was shared by some area residents who joined in painting at the Columbia Museum of Art. Marquel Grant of Columbia, who dreamed of being an astronaut, hopes to catch a glimpse during a break from work at a local store Monday.
“I’m going to find an excuse to go outside and see it,” he said.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
How far would you go to see a total eclipse?
Some people are coming to Columbia for Monday’s big viewing in the path of totality from as far as 8,000 miles to see it. While the official numbers are still to come, we thought it would be fun to see where visitors booked at some of Columbia’s eclipse events are traveling from. Here’s a sampling.
SC STATE MUSEUM
The museum’s eclipse day event Monday – which is a sellout with 3,040 tickets purchased– is drawing visitors from 23 states and Washington DC, as well as eight countries, marketing director Merritt McNeely previously said. Those countries include the United Kingdom, Italy, Hong Kong, Norway, Sweden, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
Monday’s Total Eclipse of the Park is expecting an estimated 9,000-10,000 guests, said Abby Naas, vice president of marketing and public relations for the Fireflies. So far, visitors from at least 34 states, including Washington, Montana and North Dakota, have purchased tickets.
Six hundred tickets have been sold, with guests coming from 16 states – including California, Maine, Vermont and Louisiana – and two countries (Israel and the Dominican Republic), according to Anna Kate Twitty, director of marketing and communications. The highest out-of-state visitor count is from North Carolina.
SC STATE FAIRGROUNDS
Roughly 3,000 parking spots and at least 75 RV spots have been reserved, organizers say, with visitors coming from Nova Scotia, Lithuania and Great Britain, along with U.S. states including Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
SODA CITY ECLIPSE VIEWING FESTIVAL
The event at the Historic Columbia Speedway has visitors from 29 states so far, organizers say, including the entire Eastern seaboard and as far away as California and Oregon.
SALUDA SHOALS PARK
Among three planned weekend events, Sunday’s Summer’s End Solar Run has 184 pre-registered runners, with 48 out-of-staters from 10 states and Washington DC, according to Dolly Patton, Saluda Shoals Foundation director.