Surrounded by sea of scissors, masking tape and aluminum foil, dozens of families gathered at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh to build pinhole projectors out of paper towel tubes, long rectangular cardboard boxes and cereal boxes.
“It’s just so cool. It’s a really great experience,” said Amy McGinley, who was helping her 7-year-old son Malcom in the MAKESHOP. “He’s been talking about it forever, he’s just beyond excited.”
While Pittsburgh wasn’t in the eclipse’s path of totality, the moon obscured about 81 percent of the sun around 2:35 p.m. The next time a solar eclipse will be near the Pittsburgh area is in 2024, when Cleveland and Erie, Pa. will be in totality.
Joanna Kemp, projector coordinator with the Children’s Museum, said they ran out of eclipse glasses pretty early, but everyone ended up sharing whatever viewing device they had.
“I think a lot of kids were excited to see it,” Kemp said. “They’re questioning, they’re like, ‘what exactly am I seeing right now?’ And that’s a great teachable moment to be able to try and explain what is happening in our world.”
Kemp spent part of the viewing party reading eclipse folklore translated from Navajo, Nigerian and other cultures.
Mick Carter said he was satisfied with his eclipse experience, but was in some pain after a while standing outside.
“I saw a brief glimpse, I thought it was going to be darker, but I kind of looked,” said Carter, 17. “My eye kind of hurts from it.”
David Wilson, 4, predicted the event would be “awesome.”
“I’m gonna see the moon and the sun be together,” Wilson said. “And we’re gonna have special glasses on.”
North Hills resident Judy Fosteretta, whose adult daughter works at the museum, said she felt awed.
“It’s hard describe when you look at that, the feeling that you get,” Fosteretta said. “It is kind of a spiritual moment.”
Across town in Squirrel Hill, viewers at the Frick Environmental Center got creative with viewing devices.
Several people sported homemade pinhole projectors, including a giant one made from a large-screen television box. One man rigged a pair of binoculars to project an image of the eclipse onto the ground, many people modified their eclipse glasses to try and get full face coverage and a few people used colanders.
"It's the sort of cosmic distraction that everyone could use right now," said Suzy Weiss, who lives down the street from the Frick Center.
The center handed out free viewing glasses to the first 50 visitors, but folks seemed happy to share.
“It’s really cool to be with so many people who are all appreciating wonder, who don’t often so much – especially with nature,” said Linsey McDaniel from Pittsburgh.
McDaniel said she practices the Baha'i faith, a monotheistic religion born in Iran. For her, the event was about appreciating nature, but also examining how that intersects with people spiritually.
Fellow Pittsburgher Beth Kisseleff cited a segment she'd heard on NPR.
“They’re saying astrophysicists are relating to it in a spiritual way and spiritual people were fascinated by the science, that there isn’t only one way to look at it," McDaniel said. "It’s not possible to experience something so powerful just one way."
In addition to eclipse-viewing, the Frick Environmental Center offered a solar cooking demonstration and shadow puppet workshop.