For just a brief moment in time, it seemed, Furman was the center of the Upstate solar system as more than 14,000 people spilled onto the 750-acre campus to witness a celestial marvel, a total solar eclipse.
With small children and blankets in tow, they picnicked around the lake, strolled along the tree-lined walkways, shrugged off the swaddling humidity and soaked up the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Most chose to congregate in Paladin Stadium where Furman President Elizabeth Davis introduced Physics Professor David Moffett who provided a lighthearted yet educational 40-minute commentary from the south end zone.
“This is the largest class I have ever taught!” he exclaimed shortly after being introduced.
With the skill of a seasoned showman, Moffett orchestrated an atmosphere of suspenseful anticipation while offering up entertaining snippets of astronomy.
“The eclipse is near St. Louis,” he proclaimed at 2:18 p.m.
“It’s over Nashville!” he said at 2:28 p.m.
At 2:36 p.m., when just a sliver sun crescent was visible behind the moon, the Paladin Regiment delivered “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
And then it happened.
For two minutes the sun, moon and earth aligned perfectly. And so did the collective consciousness of the crowd. Necks craned, all gazed to the heavens and briefly bathed in a glorious moon shadow.
With the twilight song of insects filtering from the nearby woods, the shadows seemed sharper. The horizon glittered with pink. Squeals of delights and gasps filled the cooling afternoon stadium air. In wonderment, many clasped their hands. Others cried. Some embraced.
On a whim, Chris Davidson and his friend Andrew Wiemken left Philadelphia at 5 p.m. Sunday to experience the eclipse. Greenville was the shortest distance, they said. And Furman offered a buffet of ancillary activities that focused on public health, fitness and climate science.
“I heard about this on a podcast and I had to come,” said Davidson, a financial services marketer. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event.” With a long return trip in front of them, both plan to report back to work Tuesday.
Rob Lamb, a banker from Austin, Texas, and his girlfriend Delia Correa, drove 17 hours to view the eclipse. With nary a room available in Greenville, the couple booked a room in Asheville. Furman was recommended as a viewing sight by a fellow lodger.
“Furman has done a really great job with this,” said Lamb as Timbuk 3’s “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” blared from a nearby speaker.
Perhaps no one traveled farther to view the eclipse than Guy Ottewell. A freelance writer and world famous astronomer, he traveled from Greenwich, England, to Furman.
For Ottewell, the trip was a homecoming. From 1973 to 2001, he kept an office at the university and occasionally served as guest lecturer. From 1974 to 2016, Ottewell, who is mostly self-taught, published an Astronomical Calendar that reached a peak circulation of 24,000.
A world traveler, Ottewell has observed 15 solar eclipses in his life time. He has traveled to Canada, Mongolia, Indonesia, India, the Caribbean Islands and South Africa to witness and marvel.
Mingling with old colleagues near the Furman Bell Tower around lunchtime, Ottewell said the Furman eclipse has been the best of them all.
“This is my granddaughter Madeline,” he said beaming and nodding to a little girl. “And I have just met her. And today is her one-year birthday!”
See photos of the Eclipse@Furman.