As the sky grew strangely dim over FSU, and cicadas began chirping, a large crowd ended up sharing each other's solar glasses.

With a crowd of about 2,500 — and the last handful of solar glasses scarfed in about 30 seconds — disappointment loomed Monday afternoon like a cloud over the Fayetteville State University Quad.

Then FSU Planetarium manager Joe Kabbes had an inspiration.

Everyone was there to see the eclipse, but no one was going to crane their necks to watch it the whole time.

"So let's all share,'' Kabbes said to the crowd. "This is an event we'll all remember, so let's give everyone something to remember it for."

Reluctantly, then gladly, the people with the opaque, paper glasses began offering a quick peek at the waning sun. Within minutes, the FSU viewing party became loaves and fishes in the growing twilight.

"I only have one pair, and they're in my office," said Kabbes, still in his first month as the planetarium manager. "I didn't even think about bringing them. There's so much going on here."

Volunteers handled a trio of telescopes offering in-depth views as the vivid orange ball seemed to be nibbled, then devoured by the moon's shadow. People were already milling in the Quad as the first telescope was set up a half-hour before the event officially began.

Some viewers, such as 4-year-old Adalynn Annis and her 3-year-old sister, Rose, came early armed with homemade cereal box viewers.

"They ate a lot of cereal," Lauren Annis, their mom, said. "I think we'll have something else tomorrow."

Adalynn nodded.

"I'm tired of cereal," she said.

Many spent the early part of the eclipse watching televised coverage in the air-conditioned planetarium. But as soon as the sky began to grow strangely dim, as if smoke from a distant fire was filtering the sunlight, hundreds more flocked to the Quad for a peek through the telescopes.

"We're down to a fingernail now!" one excited child, peering at the sky,  shouted.

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Most viewing fans came from the Cape Fear region, but one carload of visitors arrived at FSU by chance.

Shelley Painter and Arnaldo Vaquer were driving down Interstate 95 from Fredericksburg, Virginia. 

"We were going to keep driving to the total eclipse," Painter said, "but kept hearing about how cloudy it might be. So we looked at Fayetteville online and found the planetarium. We thought that would be a good place to watch, so when we got to Fayetteville, we stopped. It's been wonderful, from the weather to the people."

One strange, uninvited guest was a persistent swarm of dragonflies. Confused by the dimming sunshine, the bugs emerged looking for mosquitoes that would come out at what looked like sunset. A few cicadas began chirping as well.

Kabbes, who saw his first eclipse as a child in Illinois, said the magic of the sun disappearing never gets old.

"I'm not an eclipse-chaser by any means," he said, "But there's something special. It's fun, it's exciting. But you know, the most exciting part is hearing a kid who's never seen one before look through a telescope and go, 'Wow!' You've introduced them to a whole new world."

Staff writer Chick Jacobs can be reached at cjacobs at @fayobserver.com or 486-3515.