The cloudy skies and small drops of rain did little to discourage the estimated crowd of 25,000 people at Rosecrans Memorial Airport from watching the total solar eclipse Monday.
Some came from as far away as Australia, India and Mexico to watch the celestial event. Campers, trailers and cars sporting license plates from Texas, Oklahoma and Californa lined up around the perimeter of the 52-acre field. Many more camped across the levee in the parking lot while a steady line of cars and trucks snaked in on the single road leading to it all all day long.
“It seems everybody we come in contact with here are real excited to be here. It’s a happy time and we’re looking forward to the main event,” said Beth Carmichael, director of project development for the St. Joseph Visitors Bureau.
Volunteers snapped photos of people posing in makeshift frames that read “Totality or Bust.”
Media trucks from England, Las Vegas, Texas and other places were set up and ready on one side of the expansive field. People lined up for an early morning or late noon meal from a row of vendors with names like KC Fooditude, Texas Roadhouse, Frank & Babes Humdinger Drive-In and the Shack Shac.
A small group of children set up a small stand in one area and sold cups of Eclipse milk from the Shatto Dairy.
People on bicycles and people with dogs all came to watch the two and a half minute main event, which started at 1:06 p.m.
But the sun played peek a boo from behind the clouds like a shy performer hiding behind the stage curtains for most of the morning. Cheers and shouts of “Oy! Oy! from the crowd cheered the sun on every time it showed its face.
The rain held off for St. Joseph Mayor Bill Falkner and Buchanan County Presiding Commissioner Harry Roberts to welcome the crowd.
“You look out over the landscape and you see all the people having a good time. There’s a lot of friendships being made here and a lot of long-lasting ones I hope. We’re glad to have everyone here,” Mayor Falkner said.
Col Maurbly and his wife came all the way from Australia to see the Midwestern eclipse. It was one of a few total eclipses they’ve seen. It’s not just the sight they enjoy, he said.
“Each one is different. You just enjoy the excitement,” he said.
Richard Yamamodo came from Japan to see another eclipse. The last one he saw was in China. None he saw were perfect. He hoped for perfection this time.
“I’ve never seen a perfect eclipse,” he said.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt even dropped by Rosecrans to welcome the eclipse. He said he has planned six months for this event.
“It’s a great place to watch it and it’s great to see all the license plates and all the people here from other countries,” Blunt said. He also mentioned the visitors were getting a good taste of Missouri hospitality.
“We’re making a good impression on these people,” he said.
At around 12:30 the sun and moon began their tete-a-tete behind dark, raining clouds. The crowd cheered them on with each small glimpse. When total darkness hit, an ecstatic and awestruck murmur came from the crowd.
Then it began to rain harder. People began running for cover and cars headed out.
Arda Mount and her friend Savanah Caron came from Kansas City to see not just the eclipse but the visible planets at the time.
“I love anything having to do with the sun and the moon, “ Mount said.
“I believe with a solar eclipse you can see the planets with the naked eye. I wanted a chance to see that,” Caron said.
But when it started to rain the two friends left for Kansas City.
“I heard it’s sunny down there,” Caron said as she waved goodbye.
But the rain didn’t chase Nirelen Lawndes away. Besides, home was a country away in Australia.
“It’s all right. It’s a good experience. It doesn’t matter,” she said.