Tales from the eclipse: Chasing sun, moon — and a family moment

A look at what the big event meant for those around New Jersey — and the author’s family

Here’s the part about the journey that doesn’t make sense to a non-science person: Why would traveling a few hundred miles make a difference when it comes to seeing an eclipse of the sun, which is — you know, more than 93 million miles away?

My wife and I thought of that as we hopped into the car with our science-obsessed high school senior daughter at 9:30 a.m. Monday morning (after the Advanced Placement biology class she couldn’t miss) and headed to upstate New York for the once-in-a-generation opportunity to see a total solar eclipse.

With Copernicus unavailable to guide us, we trusted that Izzy was right — and we let her do all the navigating, taking us to picturesque Lake Onondaga, just outside of Syracuse, 226 miles from home.

The trip, of course, had little to do with witnessing the first total solar eclipse visible in the U.S. since 2017 — and the last until Aug. 12, 2045. This was all about family.


Yes, NASA was signing up volunteers who were willing to see how animals (even crickets) reacted to a few minutes of near total darkness during the day. In reality, there was not much “science” to be learned during the eclipse.

So said state Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Hillsborough), whose day job involves work at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

Monday’s eclipse. (Tom Bergeron/ROI-NJ)

The reason, Zwicker said, was simple: NASA doesn’t need an eclipse to do research.

“They already have an instrument that can block out the sun to study the remarkable phenomena that occurs at the surface,” he explained.

And the length of the moment is so short, Public Service Enterprise Group officials said it wouldn’t have any impact on their ability to collect solar energy. The eclipse, after all, was no different than what happens on a daily basis … when the sun goes down.

But that doesn’t mean the big moment wouldn’t benefit science, Zwicker said.

“Many universities, including Princeton, are holding eclipse events, complete with safety glasses and experts to answer any and all questions — and other organizations are doing the same,” he said.

“Given the state of science literacy in the U.S., anything like this a huge positive for science — and can only help push the importance of funding research and making new discoveries.”


If there’s one thing the marketing world loves, it’s a once-in-who-knows-how-long event — whether it’s the World Cup final coming to New Jersey or Y2K coming to wreak havoc on the globe.

Figuring out how to benefit from it as a business is the challenge.

Beenie’s special Solar Eclipse Cones. (Instagram/Beenie’s Ice Cream)

Tony Franco, of Beenie’s Ice Cream in Morristown, solved the equation.

First, he created a Solar Eclipse Cone.

It’s a black cocoa waffle cone, dipped in white chocolate (“to create a ring”) and featuring stardust (“which is really edible glitter”) on top of the ice cream.

Then, his store offered a pair of solar eclipse glasses to the first 50 people to purchase the cone Monday. It promptly sold out a half-hour after its noon opening.

Franco, who opened the store with his wife, Andrea Franco, in May 2017, said the concept fit the business.

“Last week, we noticed there was a lot of conversation about it — and, since we always try to do fun things to keep our business fresh and exciting, we came up with the idea for the cone,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to attach our ice cream brand to something fun for a once-in-a-generation event.”


Schools and businesses throughout the state took time to plan solar eclipse parties.

Morristown High School bought the required viewing glasses for its students and arranged a watch party on the football field around the same time the school day was letting out. Businesses up and down the state did similar things.

Students at Morristown High School check out the eclipse. (Hanna Cochran)

Of course, in Jersey, you weren’t getting the totality of the event.

That’s why, in the parking lot of the lake in Syracuse, you saw dozens of plates from Massachusetts to Virginia — and the seven states in between.

And why you could run into people like Rick Peterson of Hightstown, who drove up that morning after being encouraged to make the trip by his wife.

At 71, Peterson realized this may very well be a last-chance-of-a-lifetime event.

“I remember partial eclipses in 1963 and 1970 and a few others,” he said. “I’ve never seen a total eclipse, and I’d like to see one before it’s too late.”

Peterson said his wife wasn’t up for the trip, but she encouraged him to bring along his best friend of more than 50 years.

“It’s going to be special for both of us,” he said.


Anyone who went to school in upstate New York knows the joke: Having the sun come out in early April may be a once-in-a-generation event.

Monday was no exception.

The crowd by the lake. (Tom Bergeron/ROI-NJ)

Cloud cover was the rule of the day — although there certainly were a few moments when the sun, covered by the moon — found an opening through the clouds. Then, at 3:23 p.m., right on schedule, it was total darkness.

The more than 100 who were there let out a loud cheer. The moment was a success.

Of course, this day was about more than just a perfect ring around the moon. It was about sharing the event with friends and family.

Around the lake, there were plenty of multigenerational groups enjoying the moment. Count the Bergerons among them. As parents, the fun was just experiencing the day with our daughter.

The fifth of five kids, she’s the only one still living in what was once a bustling house. Stealing a few extra parent-child moments — the ones everyone warned us would go by so fast — was well worth the trip upstate.

Who knows if we will still be circling the sun the next time a total eclipse hits the mid-Atlantic/New England area of the U.S. It doesn’t really matter. We got what we came for Monday: a family memory for a lifetime.