Within a matter of moments, a crowd of about 1,200 at Weiser’s Memorial Park witnessed the sun instantly vanish Monday. The only evidence that it was still there was a glowing outline behind the moon.
The show got underway about 10:12 a.m. All eyes on the grassy hill turned toward the sky in the small town northwest of Boise.
Dusk arrived at 11 a.m., when temperatures dropped several degrees. By 11:20 a.m., it felt like dusk. Dogs began howling and street lights flickered around the grassy field. At 11:25 a.m., there was total darkness.
Crowds cheered when the sun finally broke through the moon’s grasp at 11:28 a.m.
For two minutes and five seconds, the Earth seemingly stood still as boys, girls, men and women all craned their heads toward the heavens to see the rare event.
The crowds might not have been what were predicted in Weiser over the course of four days, but the people who did show up saw everything they wanted and more.
Estimates of between 20,000 and 60,000 people were expected to make their way to the town of 5,507 starting around Friday with plans of staying through Monday’s big event. That number ended up being several thousand visitors total by Monday, according to police chief Carl Smith. The first few days of the celebration were not as prolific as organizers hoped, and traffic that was projected to be apocalyptic wound up being average for the most part.
“We were shocked,” Smith said. “Most people rolled in Sunday.”
But those who made the trek to the rural town were all there for a singular reason: to see a phenomenon unlike any other.
“You can read about it, but until you actually feel the temperature drop, it’s incredible,” said Luke Andre, a 25-year-old who traveled from Coeur d’Alene with his family to watch the eclipse. “Very otherworldly. Kind of eerie. I don’t even have words right now.”
People from all walks of life began gathering at the park before sunrise. The park was the central meeting point in Weiser, the home of the town’s Eclipse Fest. People sat in bleachers and on a grassy slope overlooking the park. They set up cameras and telescopes and played games to pass the time.
Tsutomu “Ben” Soejima was the coordinator for 20 Japanese tourists belonging to the Saga Astronomical Society. Soejima himself has seen 14 total eclipses previously, beginning with one he saw over the Pacific Ocean in 1988.
A few thoughtful scratches of his head aside, Soejima can list each of his trips in order, both year and country. His destinations have included Australia, China, Hawaii and Ireland.
So how did he end up in Weiser for the Great American Eclipse? After beginning research in 2014, it made the most sense. It was a lot less expensive than his other main option, Rexburg.
“Last summer, I came here. It’s the position (to view). Clear and cheap,” Soejima said with a laugh.
Not everyone was thrilled with the lower-than-expected turnout, however. Namely, the vendors at Eclipse Fest who prepared for chaos and wound up with leftovers.
Cindy Hansen is one of the owners of Smokewagon BBQ. She said her preparations wound up being for naught.
“We were told through the media that it was going to be big. We bought accordingly for all the supplies that we needed, brought in another trailer of supplies, and it wasn’t anything like expected,” Hansen said. “I couldn’t tell you how many people showed up.”
Hansen believes the crowds were smaller than expected because the reports of heavy congestion made people think otherwise about traveling.
“The roads weren’t packed like they said it was going to be. I think people were scared off,” Hansen said. “That’s my thinking.”
Boiseans and designers John Warfel and Toby Robin ran a stand selling T-shirts, hats and stickers beginning Friday. Business was bleak the first day, but picked up the next day and was bustling on Sunday and Monday.
“I ended up being happy. If today and yesterday were not great, then we’d be pretty disappointed,” Warfel said.
“We prepared for what we usually do with festivals, which is a steady flow from opening until close every day. Maybe 10,000 a day moving through,” Robin said. “The first two days didn’t quite live up to that.”
Sixpence Sweets was one stand at Eclipse Fest that did not experience issues. Part of that is because they don’t make perishable items that must be thrown out if they don’t sell. Another is because the company didn’t pay attention to the crowd projections, according to Del Besendorfer, who ran the stand.
“I don’t listen to the numbers on special events like that. Who’s going to know?” Besendorfer said. “We figured it was going to be good enough to participate in. We did really well. We pretty much sold out of everything we produced.”
It wasn’t all disappointment for vendors who struggled, though. Though Smokewagon BBQ didn’t boom as expected, the eclipse itself made the weekend worthwhile.
“It just wasn’t what we expected it to be. But it was an awesome eclipse,” Hansen said. “It was worth coming for that alone.”