When the eclipse first started, City Hall Plaza looked like it does on any other day in August, with tourists sleeping in Adirondack chairs and office workers eating lunch at the benches.
Then, suddenly, people began streaming out of nearby buildings, and climbing the steps from Faneuil Hall to City Hall. In a flash, the place was packed.
As the moon slowly passed over the sun’s disk, more than a hundred spectators flooded the plaza Monday to take in the rare event.
Some brought special glasses made for the occasion, while others used welding glass, or telescopes capped with filters, to safely stare up at the sky.
Even though Boston wasn’t within the “path of totality,” where the moon appears to entirely cover the sun, many downtown rushed to be a part of it.
“It’s a great day, and a great thing to do with a crowd,” said Barbara Kaplan, who borrowed a stranger’s glasses briefly, so she could enjoy the view.
Nearby, Mike Wilson and his daughter, Stephanie, 13, conducted a little family experiment. The pair created solar eclipse viewers from boxes, and sat with their backs against the sun. As time passed, Stephanie recorded what she saw in the box onto a piece of notebook paper.
“I wanted her to learn about the sun and astronomy, and really see it,” Wilson said.
For employees at Applied Geographics, the perspective was a bit more direct.
A group of coworkers from the geospatial IT consulting firm gathered around a telescope that was outfitted with a special filter, a setup that was provided by Peter Girard, the company’s chief technology officer and resident astronomy expert.
“We’re all into the space around us, so this is part of that ‘where are we in the universe’ conversation, said Girard. “It’s wonderful, you know? It’s a big astronomy event.”
Kate Hickey, one of the company’s owners, was blown away by how clear the eclipse was through the telescope.
“It’s amazingly crystal clear. I didn’t think it would be so obvious. I thought it would be something harder to interpret,” she said. “But it’s just — it’s almost like a cartoon drawing. It’s so pure and crisp.”
Without a telescope or the glasses that experts advised people to wear when looking at the eclipse, it was difficult to notice that anything was different at all on Monday.
It got a bit darker outside, and considerably cooler, as if a thunderstorm was approaching — but there was no rain in the day’s forecast.
If not for the random shouts of “wow!,” and “there it is, look!,” and “Whoaaaa!,” people passing through might have kept their heads buried in their smartphones.
But instead, groups gathered and shared glasses, tested homemade eclipse viewers, and used pieces of white paper to reflect an image of the eclipse onto the ground.
“This is the greatest, latest use of City Hall Plaza,” said Howard Speicher, who left work and met up with his son, Josh, so they could view the partial eclipse together.
Others, however, ignored the many safety advisories put out by experts, and merely blocked the sun with one hand while trying to sneak a peek at the moon.
Some people even seemed to have missed the memo about how to make a homemade eclipse viewer, staring directly at the sun through small holes poked into pieces of paper.
Rose Davidson and a group of friends taking a work break turned their backs to the eclipse and tried to view it by pointing their smartphones toward the sun.
It wasn’t working very well.
“They said it’s OK on the news,” one of the women said.
When someone warned that it might be bad for their eyes, a second woman laughed and replied, “A little bit late now. We’re all blind!”
At first, Davidson wasn’t impressed by the hoopla. But when she borrowed a pair of eclipse glasses from a reporter, she quickly changed her tune.
“Oh my God, it’s happening!” said Davidson, seeing the eclipse much clearer. “Now I’m psyched.”
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.