August 21, 2017. At one o'clock in the afternoon people started arriving at Pier 53. They brought water bottles, and they wore hats, and some were carrying pinhole viewers made from cereal boxes.
The weather was intermittently cloudy, but not unpromising. It was hot and humid; an otherwise typical late August afternoon in Philadelphia.At 1:20, the eclipse started—a small dark bite out of the lower right quadrant of the sun.
More people arrived: families with small children, bicyclists, groups in twos and threes. Someone brought a small boombox tuned to WXPN, the University of Pennsylvania radio station that had scheduled a rotation of musical selections with an eclipse theme.
A grey-haired man climbed to the top of the stairway on the Land Buoy at the end of the pier, elevating him 24 feet above the others, and he stayed there for the full lunar transition. At 2:40, over 75% of the sun was obscured. By then, about sixty people had arrived.
The next solar eclipse viewable from Philadelphia will be in 2025, with 95% totality.
The Friends of Washington Avenue Green had purchased two dozen official NASA-approved sunglasses for distribution at this event. They proved to be extremely popular as they had been almost impossible to find. Viewers shared glasses with friends and total strangers.
At 4 o'clock the crowd began to dissipate and return toward the city, joining countless others like themselves who had staked their positions along the waterfront to view this rare astronomical occurence. There had been no official announcement of an event at Washington Avenue Green; the scheduling was contingent on the weather, and the glasses were purchased only two days earlier when the weather forecast looked promising.
One of the eclipse watchers was a woman who had moved into Pennsport about a month earlier, and had discovered Washington Avenue Green and Pier 53 while exploring her new neighborhood. She thought it would be a great place to watch an eclipse, so she told her daughter who brought along two friends. "This is what a park should be," she said.