Orangeburg is one of few places that will experience totality as the solar eclipse sweeps across the United States on Aug. 21.

At 2:43 p.m. on Aug. 21 -- weather permitting -- the skies across Orangeburg County and nearby communities will grow darker than normal. The event will mark the first time in 99 years that the United States has experienced a total solar eclipse sweeping across the country, and it’s the first total solar eclipse on U.S. soil since 1991.

Seeing a total eclipse is called a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most. The next one locally is decades away in 2052.

But there are people with memories of past eclipses, as South Carolina was last in the path of totality on March 7, 1970.

'People are getting excited'

"It is one of the most spectacular natural phenomena I think that you can see. We have a lot of pretty things that occur in nature, but it's something about the solar eclipse," said Dr. Linda Payne, a grant writer and special projects coordinator at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.

Payne and her husband, Dr. Jim Payne, are retired South Carolina State University physics professors who have since spent much of their time at OCtech preparing students and the community for the upcoming eclipse. Jim is the project manager for one of OCtech’s National Science Foundation grants.

The Orangeburg couple were among those who witnessed the total solar eclipse of 1970. The Paynes were newly married graduate students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Clemson University when they traveled to Lake City to view the eclipse.

"Because the eclipse of 1970 was not visible in the Clemson area, we wound up going with a group of Clemson physics faculty and physics students to Lake City where it was visible," Linda said.

The Lake City High School football stadium was the site where the students conducted mostly observational experiments.

"Because we're physics and astronomy graduate students, we had all of these experiments to do about the eclipse in addition to just viewing it. We measured temperature change and looked for shadow bands. Everybody had different things they were doing," Linda said.

"We took a lot of photographs of the eclipse because we had a lot of telescopes that we took with filters and cameras and so forth,” she said. “The eclipse path went more along the coast of South Carolina, unlike this time when it goes right across the middle and sort of bisects our state almost directly.”

The excitement back in 1970 was the same as now for those awaiting the Aug. 21 eclipse.

"I don't think any of the students at that time in 1970 had ever seen a total eclipse. We had all seen lunar eclipses or partial solar eclipses, which are usually more easily observed, but we hadn't seen a total one, so everybody's really excited," Linda said.

The couple said they are fortunate that their view of the Aug. 21 eclipse will actually be a twice-in-a-lifetime experience.

"I think people are getting excited about it, and it's good to see that. It's rare that we have this opportunity and hopefully they'll all get to view it safely. People are eclipse chasers and go all over the world to catch them, so the fact that we can just step out the back door and look up that day and see something like that is really a plus for us," Linda said.

While his wife will be viewing the eclipse from the OCtech campus during a campus watch party, Jim will be part of a Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment. The experiment aims to capture the images of the inner solar corona, a region of the solar atmosphere that is typically challenging to image, using a network of more than 60 identical telescopes operated by citizen scientists, high school groups and universities.

Jim will be in Cross as part of that observational experiment. The sun will be tracked along its 2,500-mile path of totality. Each viewing site involved in the experiment will produce more than 1,000 images to provide 90 minutes of continuous, high-resolution images.

Jim said, "It's neat to be a part of a national experiment. Anytime you can be involved in gathering that much data, you're contributing to the knowledge base. Hopefully all of our images will be something that the solar astronomers can use. So many people are really getting interested and for many people, it is a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

While ISO-certified solar safety glasses or a number 14 or darker welder's glass are the safest methods for direct viewing of the eclipse, the said there are other ways to watch.

Projection, or indirect, viewing, for example, can also be done in a number of ways, including making your own cardboard projector, or taking an index card and punching a fine needle point into it. The index card is held between the sun and another sheet of paper or the ground, where the image of the sun will be projected onto it.

"You've got a lot of ways of projecting. The way that most people are probably going to watch it is through the solar shades," said Linda, who also recalled older ways people used to view eclipses, including in a pool of water.

"Actually they still do that. We did an eclipse workshop for teachers and I actually had some teachers there that were from the Philippines. They said in their part of the world, oftentimes they'd just get a nice flat pan of water and watch the reflection there.

"You'll see the sun and then it'll slowly be covered by the shadow. So it just needs to have a light background. We were talking about getting one of those little swimming pools and letting some of our students try to watch the reflection," she said.

Jim said the solar funnel viewing method is another older way through which people can view the eclipse. The solar viewing projector fits right over the eyepiece of a telescope and allows a group of people to observe a magnified image of the sun safely.

"It just happens to be a very convenient and easy way to project an image someone can look at where you don't need a screen," he said, noting the funnels can also be inexpensively made with a items such as an oil funnel with the wide end is covered with a piece of shower curtain.

'An astronomical event'

Dr. Gene Atkinson, an Orangeburg dentist, photographed a total lunar eclipse in October 2014. He is preparing to capture images of the upcoming total solar eclipse.

"This is an astronomical event that is rarely seen. We should feel very fortunate to be able to witness this rare phenomenon here in Orangeburg," he said, noting his interest in photography led him to capture image of the total lunar eclipse nearly three years ago.

"The Times and Democrat newspaper published four of my pictures of the different phases of that total lunar eclipse," Atkinson said.

He said he vaguely remembers viewing a total solar eclipse in Orangeburg in 1970.

"I was working that Saturday at Palmetto Banking Co. here in Orangeburg. I went outside and used four or five thicknesses of black-and-white film negatives to view the eclipse. Additionally, I had a cardboard box with a small hole in one side that showed the sun's image on the opposite cardboard wall inside the box," Atkinson said.

"These were the recommended methods to view the sun's eclipse back then to keep from damaging one's eyes. Unfortunately, I can't recall how dark it became during the moments of the total eclipse," he said.

‘Don’t do that’

Dr. Donald Walter teaches physics at South Carolina State University and is a member of the American Astronomical Society.

He shared older eclipse viewing methods, such as the layers of developed black-and-white film.

"We now tell people not to do that. Even though they were told it was OK at one time, we tell them not to do it now because the old film had the little silver bromide crystals in it. Those actually would filter out most of the radiation and cut the brightness level sufficiently. A lot of modern films -- even the black-and-white films -- use dye instead of the silver bromide," he said.

"Some people used to think, 'Well, we use X-rays, layers or medical imaging film.' It's the same thing. We just say, 'Don't do that.'"

The physics professor said that as part of the Citizen CATE initiative, S.C. State is coordinating viewing at seven sites in South Carolina, including Clemson and Lander universities, Coker College, Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College and S.C. State.

"I'm the state coordinator for South Carolina. We're going to be spread out across the state from the Upstate to the coast. We will be observing with telescopes with cameras attached to the telescope, but we have the full solar filter on the front. So we're observing the sun safely," Walter said.

‘Lucky to be here’

Orangeburg resident W.J. Stoudenmire, 94, is also awaiting his chance to observe the Aug. 21 eclipse. He was an elementary school student during the 1932 eclipse that he saw in Orangeburg.

Walter said while the sun totally disappeared from the sky in Canada and the northeastern part of the United States during the 1932 solar eclipse, it was only partially blocked in the Orangeburg area.

"From the map I looked at, it appears Orangeburg had about 78 percent of the sun's disk blocked. Once it gets to 75 percent, then human beings begin to notice a brightness change in their surroundings," Walter said. "So while it did not get total coverage in Orangeburg, enough of the sun was covered such that humans and animals may have noticed the brightness changes and reacted accordingly."

Stoudenmire said he certainly noticed changes in animal behavior.

"We had a brood of chickens because we grew our own eggs. All the chickens were out from the hen house. But as soon as it started getting dark, the chickens looked around like, 'What's going on?' It was kind of comical," he said. "They all started going to the chicken house and by the time it got fairly dark, they were all in the house on the roost."

Stoudenmire said the eclipse didn't last long.

"Once it started getting light again, the chickens acted like, 'What are we supposed to do now?' So some of them went back out, but some of them stayed on the roost. They got confused," he said, laughing.

"The more I think about it, the more comes back to me. It was just a strange experience, especially to a child. You didn't realize what was actually happening. All you knew was that the moon was getting between you and the sun," he said.

Stoudenmire said he found a way to view the event as safely as he could.

"We knew it was coming and were warned not to look at it. Back then, we tried to find some colored glasses or something that was broken so we could look at it. We were told that if the piece of glass was small, just look at it with one eye. If it was big enough for you to look at with both eyes, you could look at it with both eyes," he said, noting that he viewed the eclipse with his mother and older sister.

"Daddy was out in the field somewhere working. But Mama and my older sister was with me. I had a brown glass and we broke it and kind of shared it around. I looked at it for awhile and the glare was right bright," he said. "I didn't look at it very long. It started hurting your eyes if you stayed with it too long."

A resident at The Oaks, Stoudenmire said Walter has provided him with specially designed solar eclipse glasses for viewing on Aug. 21. He is looking forward to it.

"This is supposed to be a complete eclipse, and I don't think what I saw was a total eclipse. I reckon I'm lucky to be here. I don't believe I'll see another one," he said, smiling.

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter @DionneTandD.

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