Friday, May 24, 2024

Solar Eclipse 2024 - The Day the Cemetery Sky Went Dark (sort of)

The partial eclipse we saw in the Philadelphia area on August 21, 2017 certainly eclipsed the one we just saw on April 8, 2024. I have yet to write about the first one (I’m a little behind in my work), which I will do after I publish this one. All in all, the 2024 celestial event was disappointing. The day was partly cloudy – until right before maximum sun coverage, when it became totally cloudy. It remained so for about forty minutes afterward. I and the other hundred people at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia saw next to nothing. If only I had consulted California Psychics (“the joy of certainty”), I could have saved myself the trip. At the advertised rate of a dollar a minute (, that would have been a worthwhile investment.

While Philadelphia was not in the path of totality, people expected a respectable 80% show (the 2017 event was also an 80% eclipse).  We were in the path of partiality. Since I spent the 2017 eclipse at West Laurel Hill Cemetery (Bala Cynwyd, PA) with my friend Bob, I thought I’d spend some time during the 2024 eclipse at its sister cemetery, Historic Laurel Hill in Philadelphia. There are some very tall monuments there and I figured they would look good with the eclipsed sun around them.

I arrived at the cemetery about a half hour before the show was to begin (3:23 pm for maximum coverage in this geographic area). The light had already begun to get weird and I noticed a zinc monument up on a hill, one I’d never noticed before. Trick of the light. As you can see, I came prepared. I heard on the radio the day before that you can safely view the eclipse through a colander. Since I hadn’t paid close attention to exactly HOW you were supposed to do this, I thought I’d just bring one to use as a photo prop (I later made spaghetti with said device). 

Photo by Jason Ranck
The zinkie, as you can see, was rather plain, but still an unusual find. In this geographic region,  maybe you’ll see one or two per cemetery if you’re lucky. These things came in such wonderful designs when they were made (late 1800 through early 1900s), but the ones in Philadelphia cemeteries tend to be rather plain. A few weeks after the eclipse, my friend Jason sent me this image of a zinc monument he photographed in Old Ebeneezer Cemetery, in Tripoli, PA. Now THAT statue would’ve made a stellar foreground subject with an eclipse above her!

I drove around the grounds for a bit, looking for good observation points. Many people were walking around, looking at the sky, lounging on beach chairs, all seemed to have chosen their spot. One woman was staring into the sky through the bottom of a cereal box! I’d heard this was a method as well – you make a pinhole in the bottom and look toward the sun. I actually had ISO 12312-2:2015  safety glasses, but was a bit self-conscious about the way I looked in them. I had this feeling someone was behind me shaking their head, muttering under their breath, “loser…

Though the sky clouded over a few times before the big moment, there were bright patches of sun here and there. Mostly here, very little there, when it mattered. I had planned to station myself at the base of two enormous obelisks, with the sun placed between them. Trouble was, the perfect spot was occupied by a twenty-something couple making out on the granite coping. They actually had a camera set up and had it on a tripod, trained upward at an angel perched atop an obelisk. Prime spot. After driving around the cemetery the hour before, I had decided this to be the best vantage point. Unfortunately, they did too. 

No matter, I sat down about thirty feet away and made some images like you see here, not unlike so many others you saw on social media. As I saw and heard planes flying, I wondered what the view was like from up there. Did they have to force all the people on the wrong side of the aircraft to stay in their seats so the plane wouldn’t tip with everyone looking out the windows on the same side? 

Sky gazers, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia

The temperature was about 65 degrees F, prior to the eclipse, but with the heavy clouds and the sun mostly covered by the moon for those four minutes, the temp dropped perceptibly. Animals started acting like it was the end of the day, feeding time. Silflay, for bunnies, if you've read Watership Down. Small flocks of birds appeared out of nowhere (and, as I later discovered, dropped some gifts on the windshield of my parked car). A groundhog popped its head out of a hole about twenty feet away from me. It quickly became faux dusk and the spotlights that illuminate the Silent Sentry bronze Civil War statue came on.

The quality of light during the cloudless eclipse in 2017 was phenomenal. The way everything looked in the soft, indirect light was otherworldly. Nothing cast a shadow, all was illuminated by a soft, faintly glowing light. That went on pre and post eclipse. Alas, we saw next to none of that in 2024 due to the heavy cloud cover. 

Photo by Sarah Amendola (

As I packed up to leave, my totality-traveler friend Sarah Amendola texted me from Ohio, with magnificent photos of the total eclipse – in a cemetery! Here’s one of her stellar images!  Now, if you’re a photographer, you would know that such an image would be impossible to capture. Sarah, in all candor, states that she photographed the total eclipse and later layered it onto her image of this statue she photographed in an Ohio cemetery. 

Another friend traveled to upstate New York (from Philadelphia) to do the whole bed-and-breakfast thing with her family, taking a weekend total-eclipse mini-vacay. I knew that being in the Path of Partiality, Philly would not get the full show. No matter. On the way out, I spied two women with safety glasses peering into the sky from the side door of an antique hearse. Certainly not something one sees every day. Both work at Laurel Hill, and were there to greet the arriving guests. Very gracious, these Laurel Hill people!

So, the 2024 partial solar eclipse in Philadelphia wasn’t nearly as transcendent an experience as the 2017 event, but it has given me the initiative to write about that and finally post the photos. Look for it here soon!