Millions of astronomers-for-a-day gasped and cheered Monday in hundreds of cities, towns and parks along a 70-mile-wide "path of totality" as the much-ballyhooed Great American Eclipse rolled across the nation.
Many millions more took a break from work and other activities to peer at the partial eclipse viewable everywhere.
The total solar eclipse — when the moon completely obscures the sun — started in Oregon, darkening the skies over Salem for just a few minutes in the middle of a sunny day. The total eclipse wrapped up along coastal South Carolina less than two hours later.
Finding the words to describe the experience of totality wasn't easy for campers at Solartown just outside of Madras, Oregon.
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"Short of the birth of my kids, it was the most beautiful thing I've seen in my life," David Wiza Of Beaverton said. "I'm an emotional baby anyway, but holy cow."
Karri White, a banker from Santa Cruz, California, choked up and wiped away tears after she and her family and friends did a group hug during totality.
"In the midst of it, I teared up," White said. "It was just a glorious feeling."
The total eclipse was a brief event, lasting less than three minutes even in prime locations. The entire nation was treated to a partial version.
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Weather posed few problems for sky gazers, although it rained in parts of Missouri and was cloudy in much of South Carolina as the partial eclipse grew closer to totality.
In Charleston, S.C., the last major city in the path of totality, a thick layer of clouds — with only a few peeks of sun — covered the downtown sky as the partial eclipse began. Still, people were in a festive mood on their blankets and chairs at Marion Square, cheering during the brief breaks in the cloud cover.
Totality was visible in Charleston despite a thunderstorm cranking up north of the city, and the darkness during totality was accompanied by wild bolts of lightning. Some of the tourists couldn't hide their disappointment with the weather.
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"We want to punch the clouds right in the face," said Terry Tucker of Vineland, N.J., who was in South Carolina to see the eclipse with his wife and son.
The bad weather held off in Jefferson City, Mo., where NASA livestreamed the eclipse. A thunderous roar rose up from outside the State Capitol as the skies went dark.
"It was probably the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life," said Jefferson City resident Robert Erwin. "You're looking through eclipse glasses and all of a sudden nothing's there. I took them off and experienced totality. It was incredible."
Trucker Bob Stomp, who makes a regular run hauling chemicals from Chicago to Jefferson City, said he knew where to find a view of the eclipse: just behind a gas station near a McDonald's in Ashland, Mo.
"I believe it's proof there is a God," Stomp said of the eclipse. "This is absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It's just awe-inspiring."
In Nashville, a rowdy, sold-out crowd of thousands at First Tennessee Park booed lustily as clouds partially obscured the eclipse, then roared their pleasure when the clouds cleared just in time. Other parts of the city weren't so lucky.
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Miguel Bera, 30, watched the eclipse among throngs along the Cumberland River downtown.
"I was very excited to see the sun cover the moon," Bera said. "But at the last minute when it happened the clouds covered it all so I was very, very disappointed."
Nashville educational TV host Janet Ivey said interest was phenomenal across the city.
"The solar eclipse is science’s Christmas and Super Bowl all wrapped up into one,” Ivey said.
Rice reported from Charleston; Bacon from McLean, Va. Contributing: Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY; Adam Tamburin, Stacey Barchenger, Mary Hance and Natalie Neysa Alund, The Tennessean,; Pate, Gary Horowitz, Salem, Ore., Statesman Journal; Wes Johnson, Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader