‘Best two minutes of my life’

Published 10:10 pm Monday, August 21, 2017

For some folks from Suffolk, the partial eclipse viewable from the city limits just wasn’t enough to cut it.

Several area residents traveled to the path of totality — many to various areas of South Carolina — to experience the spectacular event.

Laura and Robert Burnett headed to their former neighbors’ place in Greenville, S.C., and skipped the hotel. It turned out to be a convenient arrangement, as most hotels in the path of totality have been sold out for months.

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The Burnetts, who are self-described “space nerds,” have been planning the trip for five years, Laura said.

“We have a telescope,” she said. “NASA license plates — yeah, that’s us. Currently, I’m wearing a NASA shirt that says ‘Rocket Scientist.’”

They’re not really rocket scientists — Laura is a medical assistant, and Robert is a manager at the Lowe’s in downtown Suffolk. They live in Smithfield.

The couple drove about 15 minutes west to get more time of totality, Laura said. They parked in a Lowe’s parking lot and waited.

“It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” Laura said. “It was incredible — the best two minutes of my life. They go so slow but so fast.”

Laura said all of the things predicted happened during the total eclipse.

“During totality, we could see a couple of stars,” she said. “You could hear the crickets chirping.”

The streetlights in the parking lot turned on about eight minutes prior to totality, Laura added.

“It’s almost like you were wearing a pair of sunglasses, so it’s that tint where it’s kind of dark but still bright,” Laura said of the moments leading up to totality. “It was well worth the 16-hour drive round-trip.”

Robert was at a loss for words to describe the event.

“It was the most awe-inspiring … yeah,” he said, his voice trailing off.

One thing all those present noticed was the lack of traffic on the busy road near where they were parked, Robert said.

“There was nothing — no traffic, nobody moving,” he said. “Everybody stopped for probably 10 minutes — the five minutes before and the five minutes after.”

The Burnetts are already planning a trip to the path of totality for the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse, which will be visible across parts of the Southwest.

The Salerno family — David, Angie and Ariel — also traveled to South Carolina to see the eclipse.

They didn’t plan the trip nearly as far ahead as the Burnetts. After some trouble, they finally found a hotel in Florence that had rooms available, and they drove from there to West Columbia, where an event called the Solar West Fest was happening.

“It was a cute little park, and they had food and games and chalk the kids could draw with, and it was right along the river,” Angie said.

During the total eclipse, they heard birds chirping.

“It was really cool, because it went totally dark, and things were different,” Angie said.

Briana Carr, whose father, John Carr, is the publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald, was able to view the total eclipse from her vantage point at Clemson University in South Carolina. She is an event producer for Flourish Events, which produced eclipse-related events at Clemson.

“I came out right before the sun was totally behind the moon,” she said. “It was weird, because you go outside, and it’s dark in the middle of the day, which you don’t expect.”

Carr said a lot of people viewing the event near her were affected emotionally by the sight.

“A lot of people were crying,” she said. “A lot of people were in awe and shaking. It was really special, because it came all the way across the United States.”

Among the events Carr produced were talks by scientists and other experts, eclipse bingo and the launch of a balloon that rose 10,000 feet into the air, in addition to other science experiments.

Attendees were provided free eclipse viewing glasses for the event, Carr said. In all, they gave out about 40,000 glasses in advance, as well as on Monday.