A little sun and a lot of clouds mark eclipse

Apr 18, 2024 at 01:27 pm by Observer-Review

2024 solar eclipse
BY Karen Gadiel
It was bright mid-day when about 100 guests, staff and volunteers arrived at the Clute Park Event Center in Watkins Glen for the 1920s-style Eclipse Party, “Murder, Mystery and History—a Little Party Never Killed Anybody.” Music of the 1920s spilled from the speakers as costumed guests, who seemed to outnumber those in ordinary clothes, at least for fringe, glitz and sparkle, streamed through the doors and found seats. The atmosphere was festive, the tables thematically decorated. Many people posed and clowned for selfies in an area set up for photos, using additional props provided by the hosts to enhance the sense of a temporary time-warp.
“Amazon,” noted one woman, complimented on her flapper outfit. Headbands and fascinators ruled—no two alike —and the number of colorful bobbing feathers might have re-supplied a modest flock of exotic birds. Many men also got into the spirit of the times with fedora hats, bow ties, tuxedos, pin-stripes, even a few zoot suits.
The audience was treated to some historical background by Heather O’Grady-Evans, executive director of museums for the Schuyler County Historical Society. Noteworthy highlights included the local position in the path of totality during the 1925 solar eclipse, and further back, a total eclipse accurately predicted by Native American astronomers for Aug. 22, 1142, which coincided with the coming together of five indigenous nations to form what became known as the League of the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee, whose articles of confederacy became the model for the U.S. constitution.
After a lunch catered by Bleachers Bar and Grill, Phil Watson, impersonating Sheriff Millen (Schuyler County Sheriff 1922-1923) drew everyone’s attention by cheerfully enquiring whether everyone present was of age? In 1922, Prohibition was in force, though Watkins Glen sported several speakeasies, and private enterprise was additionally represented by various residents who concocted their own version of white lightning or “bathtub” gin. This was the introduction to “The Perils of Pepe on Perry,” an original murder mystery written by Watson, performed by the Lake Country Players.
The curtain that previously served as a photo backdrop burst open and Arloween Loucks-Scuteri, Maeve Wheeler and Ellie Stimson emerged to dance a stylized version of the Charleston. Leonard Pepe [Nicholas Brusso], father of five and one of the local citizens who operated an illegal still, was seen discussing his business with his wife, Mary, as well as various thugs who tried to convince him to sell his hooch at a deeper discount. Eventually, a tree emerged from backstage. The hand holding it stabbed Pepe, before carrying the tree back offstage. Eventually, the audience was invited to vote for who they thought might be the killer-disguised-as-tree.
Leonard Pepe really was murdered in 1922 at the corner of Perry and Fourth Streets, Watson says. The killer pled guilty to manslaughter and was convicted.
After dessert and more libations, the audience settled in to wait as the sky clouded over. Debbie Flint, a retired elementary school principal from Addison, had come to celebrate her birthday and enjoy the eclipse with friends. She carried a (faux) cigarette in a long, elegant holder. “There was a lot of hype behind it,” she says of the media attention to the event. “And with the emphasis on the Roaring Twenties, what better way to support the historical society and get together as a community?”
Watkins Glen resident John Potter noted the last total solar eclipse enjoyed in Schuyler County was 44 years ago, and with the next one predicted for 40 or so years in the future, he felt the time to enjoy it was now.
The event was hosted by the Schuyler County Historical Society with co-sponsorship from the village of Watkins Glen and the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce. Planning began last fall, and accelerated at the beginning of 2024, said Historical Society president Jean Hubsch. “We wanted to come up with something fun and enjoyable for everyone,” said O’Grady-Evans.
As the sky clouded over, some guests went home to see what they could from there, the rest clustered together as the midday twilight fell. It was possible to see the sun partly occluded before a thick cloud cover took over.
The sky took on the ominous, not-quite-total darkness of an impending storm. The air became chilly. It was easy to understand how earlier human societies might respond to the sudden, untimely darkness overtaking an otherwise lovely day with a sort of worried, “What happens next?” somewhat assuaged by the company of other people.
And then the light returned. It always does.
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