JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Thousands convened on the grassy grounds of the Missouri Capitol and Kansas City's towering World War I memorial on Monday, joining crowds throughout the state who witnessed the first total eclipse to traverse the country in roughly a century.
A 300-mile-long swath of the state from St. Joseph to Cape Girardeau fell in the path of totality, a roughly 70-mile-wide corridor stretching from Oregon to South Carolina that experienced two to three minutes of a total eclipse. The rest of the North America, Central America and the top of South America were treated to a partial eclipse.
Missouri tourism officials expected up to 1.3 million visitors to show up, with hotel rooms in prime viewing spots mostly sold out in advance. It was unclear exactly how many came, but some traveled for long distances.
David Colon and his wife, Mariana Perez, of Alajuala, Costa Rica, planned their trip to visit his mom in Oklahoma to coincide with the eclipse. They arrived to Jefferson City on Monday and spent the eclipse reclining on the Capitol's south steps in their safety glasses and listening to the chirping of cicadas and crickets normally reserved for nighttime.
"It's amazing — I mean, God is amazing. It's just a blessing to be here," said Perez, adding that it reminded her of a 1991 total eclipse she experienced as a child in Costa Rica.
Joe Dellinger, a Fort Bend Astronomy Club volunteer from Texas, set up a telescope on the Capitol lawn and let others take turns getting a close-up view of the phenomenon. He booked a hotel room more than a year in advance, and practiced working with equipment and curious members of the public for weeks so that Monday would go smoothly. This was his fourth eclipse.
"Oh god. Oh that was amazing," he said as the full light of the sun slowly returned. "That was better than any photo."
On the sprawling green beneath the hilltop war memorial in Kansas City, 54-year-old Veronica San German joined her son and husband in witnessing her third eclipse and her first since the early 1990s. She nearly blew it off to watch it on television, figuring storms that pummeled the region earlier Monday would ruin the view. But the rain stopped and the clouds parted long enough to show the moon pass slowly in front of the sun.
"At the last minute we decided to come, and it was cool," said San German, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico City in 2004.
Nearby, Russell Roberts and wife, Melanie, took in the eclipse from their lawn chairs and found the safety glasses somewhat annoying.
"The hardest thing was tilting your head and looking up, trying to focus through those glasses," the 37-year-old man said. "We were lucky the clouds broke. They moved in for a couple of minutes, but we got just a clean break. Perfect timing."
Others weren't so lucky. Viewers in St. Joseph, which was expected to be a prime eclipse-gazing spot, saw the covered sun for a few seconds instead of a few minutes because of the rain and clouds, the St. Joseph News-Press reported.
The state's transportation department cautioned motorists not to try to take photos of the eclipse while driving or to park along interstate highways. Motorists also were asked to watch for pedestrians along roadways — some more focused on the sky than the vehicles around them.
In Kimmswick, a Mississippi River town 20 miles south of St. Louis, several hundred people gathered in a city park near the river, with countless others settled in lawn chairs along streets and in backyards.
Samantha Steelman, a 24-year-old studying astronomy at Texas Tech, made the trip from Lubbock, Texas, to Kimmswick to see the eclipse, bringing along a giant telescope.
"This is really amazing to be able to witness the eclipse after studying it for so long. I'm super excited," said Steelman, who came to the area with a schoolmate nine days ago for a friend's wedding and stayed for the eclipse.
The Kimmswick visitors' center was sold out of eclipse T-shirts, and nearly all of the 6,000 paper eclipse glasses were gone, too.
Betteanne Smith, who works at the visitors' center, said visitors had registered from as far away as The Netherlands and Argentina.