Hundreds gather at Northampton eclipse-viewing events

  • Crystal Johnson helps her 10-year-old daughter, Corabella, view the solar eclipse through a welding mask at Smith College Botanical Garden in Northampton, Monday afternoon. GAZETTE STAFF/CAITLIN ASHWORTH

  • Gail Gaustad and her husband, John, a retired astronomer, mingled with attendees at the solar eclipse event at the Smith College Botanical Garden. GAZETTE STAFF/CAITLIN ASHWORTH

  • David Berner created a pin-hole camera from a large cardboard box to view the solar eclipse from the Forbes Library lawn. GAZETTE STAFF/CAITLIN ASHWORTH

  • Barry Goldman testing out a pin-hole camera he just created at the Forbes Library lawn. GAZETTE STAFF/CAITLIN ASHWORTH

  • Ben Gottlieb, 13, looks at the sun using solar eclipse glasses at the Forbes Library lawn. GAZETTE STAFF/CAITLIN ASHWORTH

  • Ben Gottlieb, 13, looks through a pin-hole camera made from a cereal box to view the eclipse at the Forbes Library lawn. GAZETTE STAFF/CAITLIN ASHWORTH

Published: 8/21/2017 10:17:31 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As eyes pressed against pinhole cameras made from cereal boxes, special solar glasses that block the sun’s harmful rays and heavy-duty welding equipment, hundreds watched the paths of the moon and sun align from the Smith College Botanical Gardens on Monday.

Some people huddled around Abidalis Vazquez’s telescope to get an up-close view of the celestial phenomenon.

For Vazquez, 23, a nursing student at Holyoke Community College, astronomy is not only a hobby, but a passion.

When she was young, she would camp outside just about every weekend and look up at the stars. She remembers a solar eclipse could be seen years ago when she lived in Puerto Rico, but she never got a chance to see it herself.

This year, she purchased a solar telescope for the occasion.

“I really love the sky,” she said.

John Gaustad, a retired Swarthmore College astronomy professor, took a stroll through the Botanical Gardens, sharing his knowledge about the solar system with curious eclipse viewers.

“Questions for the astronomer?” his wife Gail, a volunteer at the Botanical Gardens, would ask while walking around the garden.

“When’s the next eclipse,” one person asked?

“In seven years,” Gaustad said, adding that this year’s solar eclipse is significant because the line of totality goes coast to coast across the United States.

Another person asked how many times Gaustad had seen a solar eclipse.

Gaustad said he has attempted to see five total eclipses, and has succeeded in seeing three. Cloudiness interfered the other times. The most memorable time was in Romania, Gaustad said.

His father-in-law was in his 80s at the time, and had never seen an eclipse. Gaustad said he was lucky enough to join his father-in-law on the trip.

Gaustad laughed while telling the story, remembering his father-in-law was so careful about wearing the special solar eclipse glasses to protect his eyes, he almost forgot to take them off when the eclipse reached totality.

Pinhole cameras

At Forbes Library, more than 200 people gathered on the lawn to watch the moon and sun align. Organizers had about 50 solar eclipse glasses to give out to those who registered for the event, but many shared with one another.

Barry Goldman, 55, of Northampton, helped Kayla Balda, 21, an Amherst College student, make her Cheerios cereal box into a pinhole camera, made by poking a small hole in a piece of paper and creating a larger hole to view. The light is reflected inside the box.

Balda borrowed a pair of solar eclipse glasses and looked up at the sun and moon.

“It looks like a crescent moon,” Balda said.

David Berner, 44, of Northampton, created a large pinhole camera from a cat litter box.

“It’s the same thing as a cereal box, but it’s bigger because of a longer focal length,” Berner said.

Berner said he saw a solar eclipse sometime in the 1990s when he was in college and remembers using welding equipment to look at the sun safely.

On Monday, Berner sat on the grass, prepared for this year’s eclipse with the large pinhole camera, a smaller one and solar eclipse glasses while his 11-year-old daughter ran around playing tag with friends.

In the future, Berner said, “they’ll be the grown-ups getting all their kids to watch.”

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at


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