It’s been a year since the afternoon sun went dark in Columbia, and people are still buzzing about it.
The Capital City was an epicenter of the national phenomena that was the total solar eclipse, laying directly in the path of totality. That was the narrow band of space that stretched from Oregon to South Carolina, where the moon completely blocked the sun, turning daytime to dusk and forming a mind-blowing black and silver corona in the heavens.
The sky went dark at 2:41 p.m. Totality was more than 2 minutes.
An estimated 400,000 visitors flocked to Richland and Lexington counties to watch the phenomena, according to the state Department of the Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
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Hotels were full, restaurants were packed and everyone seemed to have an amazing time.
Here are some of our favorite moments.
A large crowd gathered before the gates opened at Riverbanks Zoo ahead of the eclipse.
The zoo’s 2,000-space parking lot was full, and the zoo logged nearly 9,000 guests. Not a single day record. But the people who came stayed all day.
“So I bet it was a record for the most people in the park at once,” spokeswoman Susan O’Cain said.
Visitors were handed an observation form by staff to jot down any unusual behavior they saw in animals during the eclipse – part of a larger study by zoo staff. They had two dozen students stationed with different animals along with volunteers and the animals’ keepers.
(Of note: The Komodo dragon didn’t move all day. But the tortoises were mating.)
The Siamang gibbons primates on Ape Island, mostly inactive during the hot August day, began calling and swinging from trees as darkness fell. The tiger started roaring. The monkeys started howling. The birds were going nuts.
Then, when totality arrived, the Siamangs went dead silent.
“I’ve never heard of that before, and it may be entirely undocumented,” the zoo’s adjunct scientist, Adam Hartstone-Rose, said at the time.
Spirit Communications Park
A crowd of 9,629 showed up at Spirit Communications Park to watch the eclipse as the Fireflies, Columbia’s minor league baseball team, hosted the Rome (Ga.) Braves, but the ballgame was more of a sideshow than the main show.
As the partial eclipse began, players from both teams (the Fireflies wearing commemorative jerseys) donned eclipse glasses and glanced up from the dugout to take a peek.
The game was halted in the middle of the fourth inning, and players from both teams stretched out on the field to experience the totality.
For the record, the Fireflies beat the Braves 6-5 after a two-out, walk-off homer.
Has Columbia ever seen as much media coverage for one single event?
The Pope perhaps? The first in the South presidential primary?
According to an after-action report from the folks who organized Total Eclipse Weekend, there were an estimated 60 million press coverage views emanating from 1,261 broadcast clips and 633 online press clips.
Columbia and the Midlands were touted as an eclipse destination in dozens of media outlets from The New York Times and the BBC to CNN and Travel+Leisure magazine. And international coverage of the event itself was beamed to Japan, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Canada, even Turkey.
(PBS’s series “Nova” even picked up the S.C. State Museum observatory’s live telescope feed of the totality.)
As the old chestnut goes, you can’t buy advertisement like that.
S.C. State Museum
Speaking of the State Museum, it was THE place to be on a day when almost everywhere was a happening.
An estimated 8,325 people visited the museum during the four day-eclipse weekend, with more than 3,000 jamming the front plaza on the day of the event. The museum sold more than 16,000 pairs of eclipse glasses and gave out an additional 18,500 in other events.
Former astronaut Charles Duke joined Gov. Henry McMaster, state education superintendent Molly Spearman and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. Duke is a Charlotte-born, South Carolina-raised former astronaut who walked on the moon in 1972 — the 10th person ever to do so.
And singer Bette Midler’s husband and daughter flew into Owens Airport and watched from the museum
“We broke every record, particularly retail sales,” said Merritt McNeely, who was the museum’s marketing director at the time and founder and chair of the Total Eclipse Weekend.
But that wasn’t the only place.
It seems every public space was filled to overflowing with crowds: USC’s Horseshoe, the State House grounds, Finlay Park, the Lake Murray dam, Saluda Shoals Park, Main Street, you name it.
And if you were close to Williams-Brice Stadium, you would have heard the USC band play, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
But there were some misses with the hits. Forest Acres and Fort Jackson were two places where clouds spoiled the show.
But one of the best things about the eclipse is how it brought people together.
From up and down the East Coast and even across the pond from Europe, Columbia and the Midlands was a prime destination for out-of-towners eager to catch a glimpse of the celestial show. Visitors from India were at Lake Murray. Chinese guests toured the Columbia Museum of Art.
Then there was Tina Simpson and her sister Lesley Simpson. The siblings from London, England, chose the State House grounds to view the eclipse, part of a wider tour of the South.
The Simpson sisters brought their 16-year-old great niece, Mai Sussex, and 14-year-old great nephew, Eddie Sussex, who were both visiting the United States for the first time.
“We’re having a bit of a road trip through the southern states,” Tina Simpson said at the time.
The families’ trip included stops in Orlando, Jacksonville, Savannah, Columbia, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
“The heat’s a little bit too much for us but we’re enjoying the rest of it,” Tina Simpson said.