“The Ring of Fire was nothing like you see on TV, videos, pictures - it was glistening, shimmering, sparkling circle, almost like an angel's halo…with even a little hint of rainbow-ish colors mixed into it.” - Joseph Fluhr

HAWLEY - Millions of people witnessed the great “American” total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, as the Moon’s 70-mile wide shadow raced from coast to coast in an hour and a half,. With few clouds to interfere along the darkly 2,500 mile path, a successive wave of celebration erupted as the moment came and the Sun was fully hidden. Among the witnesses of this rare cosmic event was Joe Fluhr and his family, from Hawley, Pa.

“It looked like a hole in the sky,” Fluhr said, describing the awesome experience of witnessing his first total solar eclipse. He said the Moon’s darkened disc was so black, with the “ring of fire”- the solar corona around it- that the black disc seemed like a portal to the Universe beyond.

Fluhr teaches science at the Lehman Intermediate School, part of the East Stroudsburg Area School District, in Dingmans Ferry. The Shohola resident has always loved space, and like many kids, dreamed of being an astronaut. With great passion, he teaches 7th and 8th graders the wonders of science.

Many years ago, as a school kid, he was all excited about a partial solar eclipse and was set with a cardboard box viewer, only to have it cloudy and rainy all day. He heard on TV that a total eclipse was coming in 2017, and at the time it seemed so far in the future, he wondered if he’d live so long.

The day finally arrived.

Eager to see it and share the experience with his family- his wife Jennine and their children, Jonathan, age 9; Peter, age 7 and Charlotte, 4 years old, he made his plans years in advance. He bought safe, solar filter eclipse sunglasses well ahead, and researched where they would go to see it.

Would it work?

When the time came, however, he wondered if he’d have to cancel his plans. He had to be back for Teacher’s In-Service Day at his school, required before classes resumed. In-Service Day was Tuesday, August 22. Eclipse Day was the day before - and the nearest place to see it was in Tennessee. He said they may have to drive all night to get home, but they’d do it.

It took 12-1/2 hours to drive to where they’d see the eclipse. He had tickets for an eclipse viewing event at Harmony Retreat Center at Montvale, TN. This was a well-organized place, where there was plenty for families to do ahead of the eclipse- with a pool, food and games. They went down on Friday.

“My biggest concern was the weather,” Fluhr said. “All it would take is one cloud to ruin it.”
In fact, forecasters said it would not normally be clear given the rain they had been having. As it turned out, a high pressure system had moved in, and they were blessed with sunshine.

Clouds were coming off the nearby mountain, but were dissipating.
It was hazy, hot and humid, with temperatures in the 90’s.
They would soon get a temporary reprieve from the heat.
There was a huge crowd, many checking out the partial phase of the eclipse with eclipse sunglasses.

The big moment

As totality approached, the humidity quickly went down, slightly. Temperature started to down.

Up till the Sun was nearly 95% covered they really didn’t see much in a change in illumination.

“One you got to about 98% there was only a tiny sliver of the Sun left… You started to see some kind of yellowing- trees took on a yellow tint…you know something weird was going on.”

An announcer pointed out what was happening.

The crowd, numbering 1,000- the limit of the ticket sales - was busy with their activities- the games, swimming and so on.

“At that one moment… everybody started looking at what they came for. With a few minutes to go, everything quieted down….

“As it came in, it was very sudden. In a matter of 10 seconds it went from this yellow tint where you could [still] see everything, to just darkness… It was just ‘boom’…The sky went dark as the last sliver disappeared. You could hear the crowd just erupting.

“You instantly felt the temperature drop… a 10 to 15 degree drop in temperature. Then suddenly the breeze picked up. It was almost kind of like the end of the world, wrath of God type of stuff.

“You could clearly see the planet Venus, to the right. That is something that caught my eye right away.

Ring of Fire

“In a split second, the ‘Ring of Fire’ suddenly appeared… it was just amazing. It was glorious. The Ring of Fire was nothing like you see on TV, videos, pictures - it was glistening, shimmering, sparkling circle, almost like an angel’s halo…with even a little hint of rainbow-ish colors mixed into it. It almost seemed like there was movement in the circle.
“The images of the corona were nothing like you seen on TV… it was like thin triangles radiating out to points… two large ones, one to the left and one out to the right, and smaller ones around the upper and bottom sections…

“The Moon was the blackest black that you could possibly imagine. Take a black crayon and multiple it by 100, and that’s the darkness of the Moon at that moment. It was like a hole, a hole in the sky. Even my son said it looked like a black hole… It looked like a hole was punched in the sky, almost like you were looking out into space…

“The horizon was amazing. It was kind if like a pale blue all around the horizon, with some orange above it and even a little bit of purple right above it- almost like a sunset in every direction you looked. And that light was coming from outside the circle of darkness.

“You could clearly hear the crickets, the katydids, all these little insects started thinking it was night time, doing their chirping thing.

Gem in the sky

“My wife said it looked like a gem in the sky, like a black onyx surrounded by diamonds. That was how she described it.

“As that black hole started moving away… the disc [of the Moon] started moving away to the left side, you start seeing the diamond ring effect. It truly was marvelous. You see almost like a pin point spot, similar to the brightest star that you had ever seen… and then it just explodes in size, very rapidly. You want to look as much as you can, but at some point you start feeling it your eyes and you have to put your [eclipse] glasses back on.
“The crowd erupted and roared again. It was truly something to see.”

Fluhr highly recommended if anyone has a chance, to go and see a total solar eclipse. “It is a three-dimensional experience. You feel the wind, you feel the drop in temperature and the lower humidity, you see the incredible sight. You hear the noise of the crickets and the roar of the crowd.

The next chance to see a total solar eclipse in the United States will be on April 8, 2024. It will cross from Texas to Maine, passing through western Pennsylvania and upstate New York, through the cities of Erie, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Rochester, Syracuse and Plattsburgh, among other points.

All of 2 min. 8 sec.

The total eclipse lasted two minutes and eight seconds.

It took them almost 17 hours to get home, with slow-ups due to construction. They got home early Tuesday morning, with just enough time for Fluhr to get to school in time.

Classes resumed on August 29. On his first day of class, Fluhr was telling his young students about the solar eclipse. He said he definitely will be incorporating his experience into the curriculum.

“As a science teacher talking about it for years, I can see why so many people find it an emotional and an even spiritual experience. It’s that moving to actually see this. There is no words. You are in such awe over what it looks like.”

He said his children will be telling their grandkids that their poor dad drove them all the way down to Tennessee, but they got to see it.

“It was amazing. As my son Peter said, ’That was the coolest thing ever.’”

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I could re-live that moment again.”

He added, “It was totally worth it” and then changed that- “It was TOTALITY worth it!”

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Editor’s note: In 2012, Joe Fluhr’s passion for science and ambition saw another childhood dream come true. A little “Smurf” astronaut figure he had kept since he was a kid, actually made it to outer space in his place. Through an unusual set of circumstances, he arranged for a Russian cosmonaut to take his Smurf to the International Space Station, and back. The News Eagle carried the story in January 2013. Asked if the Smurf went on the trip to see the eclipse, he affirmed, yes, he had it in his bag!