Thousands in awe upon darkness at McFee

“Here it goes,” called a female voice as the final stage of the total eclipse began to darken the playground area at McFee Park Monday afternoon, Aug. 21.

The crowd was at attention at 2:33 p.m., looking skyward, solar glasses on. Five seconds later, clapping and yelling echoed from all around as sudden darkness descended. Children did backflips and adults cheered and made pictures with their cell phones. They had done it. They had witness a total solar eclipse.

Town of Farragut Parks and Leisure Services put on a big event and thoussands clogged Northshore Drive or got off a near-parking lot on Interstate-40/75 to make it. Energy was high and the kids had an outlet on the playground and Splash Pad.

First Baptist Concord was asked to help and came with a food trailer selling a hotdog meal. Face painting was available under one pavilion, with music and DIY eclipse cookies [yellow icing and candy corn for sun rays] under another.

The DW Designs store did a brisk business with T-shirts and the only time the Tic Toc Ice Cream truck didn’t have a long line was during totality.

“It’s one of the most phenomenal things I’ve ever seen,” said Elly McDonald, who flew in from Tampa, Florida, “and I experienced it with my family.”

She said it exceeded her expectations.

“I didn’t know I would feel anything, to begin with,” she said. “When the temperature cooled, I wasn’t expecting that — I don’t know why. When it was fully eclipsed, I just thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen, and to get to experience it with my family is wonderful. And this park, this is great.”

She said the event was handled “absolutely beautifully.”

“We had no expectations whatsoever but this is a fabulous place to come. It was wonderful. We could not have had a better day.”

McDonald’s clan included Diana McMahan and Patti Okupski.

Okupski, McDonald’s sister-in-law who also came from Tampa, said she was “absolutely amazed. It was so special and the best part is we got to spend it with family. My daughter kept saying, ‘This is the best day ever.’ We are so thrilled we are here. Everybody was outstanding — the church with the food … when we saw the hubbub with the food — they were giving you the water, the hotdog, chips — it was $2. Anybody else would’ve been gouging. Everybody should give them a huge tip.”

“People were asking how we were, did we need anything,” McMahan said. “The town was above and beyond.”

The Elam family had headed toward McFee Park after a Cub Scout event Sunday, Aug. 20. They drove from Maryland with three young children and spent Sunday night at the Holiday Inn in Cedar Bluff.

“It’s great. We drove for 11 hours for this. We chose this over Sweetwater. We figured it would be less chaos,” Jonathan Elam said. “Something we weren’t expecting was you could hear the insects over the trees.

Sue Stuhl, Parks & Leisure Services director, said the first participants arrived about 6:45 a.m.

“Honestly, for the first couple of hours, 90 percent of the people here were from out of state. We had one couple here from Canada. We’ve had Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio,” Stuhl added. “It was pretty amazing. The temperature dropped. It was great to hear people scream and laugh.”

“I thought it was pretty spectacular,” said Farragut resident Valerie DeBoe. “It brought little tears to my eyes. It was pretty amazing.” The chair of the Parks and Athletics Council committee watched with her children Waverly, Braxton and Devon DeBoe.

“It was a little weird,” said Knoxville resident Tiffany Allen. “My brain kind of felt like it was morning again when it got light again.”

“It was really awesome,” said Knoxville resident Felicia Cooper, who brought her two grandchildren, Aki-Sha and Lamikal Cooper. “My granddaughter stood here with me. She said it was really eery, but she really liked it.” When it got dark, Cooper said she was “screaming and yelling and clapping.”

“I loved it!” said Aki-Sha, 8.