ITHACA, NY — “You’ve got to point it higher than you think. Right now it’s almost straight up and down. You see that crescent there? That’s it,” said Michael Decatur.

Decatur and his 11-year-old daughter Elle (and two pitbulls mixes, Ashes and Betty) brought four pinhole projectors made out of shoe boxes to view the solar eclipse Monday afternoon.

The Cornell Astronomy Department hosted a guided eclipse-viewing event on the observatory’s grounds. Hundreds of students and townies alike lined up to receive a limited supply of eclipse glasses.

Due to short supply and large turnout, volunteers from the Cornell Astronomical Society ended up distributing one pair of glasses per group of 10-15 people.

All photos by Jennifer Wholey.

But many attendees brought their own homemade pinhole projectors and were not stingy about sharing the spectacular view.

“My wife Erika really took charge of this. Elle had some friends over and we had a little project making these. It works! Do you want to look at it?” Decatur offered.

A patch of foil on one side was pin-pricked for light to enter, with a cutout on the other side to view the crescent projected in the bottom of the box.

Eclipse-seekers improvised with boxes of all kinds, cheese graters, colanders, overlapping fingers, and even hole-y t-shirts to project crescents on the ground and on white backdrops.

While the observatory itself was closed to visitors during the solar eclipse, CAS volunteers also showed off their solar viewers, and two handheld telescopes projected the image of the eclipse for anyone to see.

Larry Kidder, a volunteer, was holding a rough approximation of a refractor telescope made from a long piece of wood, two lenses and a screen.

“The first (lens) focuses it onto the second one, and the second one columnates it to focus it on the screen so you can see the projection.”

Totality phenomena like Bailey’s beads, in which beads of sunlight escape around the moon, were not visible at the 70 percent view in Ithaca, but sun spots were still visible using the observatory’s telescopes projected onto a screen.

Local eclipse chasers don’t have to go far or wait long for the next one: Ithaca will be close to the path of totality of a solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

Jennifer Wholey

Jennifer Wholey is a feature writer and Head of Dining Partnerships for the Ithaca Voice. Contact her at