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Hundreds gather at Chicago’s Grant Park and along lakefront to view solar eclipse

On Monday afternoon, April 8, it wasn’t just nice weather prompting crowds to gather in Grant Park — collectively they were looking up to observe a rare celestial event.

A near-total eclipse over Chicago drew hundreds to the park and elsewhere along the lakefront to see the solar spectacle and celebrate how they saw fit.

The moon on Monday blocked almost 95% of the sun — the most eclipse coverage Chicago has seen since 2017. Both times the totality path came through Southern Illinois.

According to NASA, the next total solar eclipse that can be viewed throughout the contiguous United States will be in 2044. 

The magnitude of this event drove South Loop residents and commuters alike to Grant Park to experience the eclipse.

Students and residents in Grant Park wait for the total eclipse to begin on April 8, 2024. | Photo by Zahra Sandhu.

One such gathering was a viewing party hosted by Columbia College Chicago’s student newspaper, The Columbia Chronicle. When journalism Professor Jackie Spinner and biology Professor Elizabeth Davis-Berg realized late last week there wasn’t an event for the eclipse on campus, they worked to pull one together.

“For most of us, this will be the [only eclipse] in our lifetime we can get to [because] you can’t always travel,” Davis-Berg said. 

With a budget less than $100 and 45 eclipse glasses on hand, the pair released flyers Friday, not realizing how many people would show up. 

“It was special seeing everyone enjoying the science,” Davis-Berg said. “Everyone was just talking about the eclipse, the event and just getting to be together.”

Junior journalism major Adriah Hedrick said she was excited to have the community experience.

“This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I’m just excited to experience it in Chicago,” she said. “It was hard to see [the 2017 eclipse], so this feels more real.” 

Outside of the Columbia gathering, many Chicagoans took it upon themselves to create a unique experience for the eclipse. 

By Buckingham Fountain, gatherers were seen enjoying picnics, sporting eclipse glasses, and using homemade pinhole cameras.

Jay, Matt and Abby, aviation engineers in South Loop who chose not to share their last names, brought a folding table and snacks with them. “Officially, we’re having a meeting,” said Matt.

A group of spectators look up to the sky to see the eclipse. | Photo by Zahra Sandhu.

“It’s actually the first eclipse I’ve ever seen, it’s a pretty good experience,” Jay said. 

For some, eclipses represent a shift in energy, significant moments, or provide new ideas and perspectives.

Samantha Kozloff’s interest in the scientific and spiritual aspects of the eclipse prompted her to join the crowds at Grant Park. The 49-year-old Chicagoan made sure her schedule was clear for the day to enjoy the environment and energy of not only the eclipse, but the people who came together to view it.

“I consider myself to be a naturalist,” Kozloff said. “I find any higher power in nature, and this is such a spectacular event. You have to experience it, the energy is phenomenal right now; look at everyone gathering here, this is beautiful. So many different people come out just to see this.”

Diondre Dunigan, sophomore music major at Columbia, finds a strong bond between his craft and the nature around him. He took advantage of this rare natural event to inspire his songwriting.

“As a musician, I like to write during special and astrological events,” he said. “I thought it’d be cool to come to the park and write and see what happens. I’m trying to write a song about the eclipse, so that adds a little bit of inspiration. Also, just being around a lot of people gives a lot of places to draw inspiration from.”

Larry Boswell Jr., 26, a resident from the East side said “different celestial bodies impact us in different ways.”

“The moon impacts the tides and the sun gives our plants life, both coming together on the same day is what brings us all here,” he said.

A Columbia student looks through a pinhole camera made from a box of cereal. Many similar devices were seen throughout Grant Park. | Photo by Zahra Sandhu.

But, most people didn’t need a deep personal connection to enjoy the eclipse. Simply marveling at the beauty and magnitude of the moment was enough for many.

After a long winter, and on a warm day too, the eclipse helped give Chicagoans something to help keep their heads up. 

Additional reporting by Columbia College journalism students Aidan Johnson, Lilia Labertew, Kaitlyn Mahan, Lizeth Medina, Sofía Oyarzún, Martin Ruiz, Zahra Sandhu and Greer Stewart.

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