Islander John Kenney was a man on a mission, walking quickly through the parking lot at Wades Beach Monday around 2 p.m.
“I’m under orders,” Mr. Kenney said with a smile, on his way to meet his wife, Jane, to witness the eclipse.
He didn’t seem to mind his spouse’s directive. Did he have special glasses? “Jane does,” he said.
She was in the minority of people who turned out at the beach prepared with special eyewear to stare at the sun and not damage their eyes. But it didn’t matter, since those with glasses gladly shared them, almost all of them offering people a look without being asked.
Peter Bogdanich, vacationing from Port Washington, simply passed a “hand-held solar viewer ” — a cardboard square with a viewing window at the top — to a man standing next to him.
The man’s response was identical to everyone else who got a first look at the small black sun with a crescent of orange across its face — astonishment.
Mr. Bogdanich got his viewer from his friend, Lana Dubin, who works for the National Park Service at Sagamore Hill, the home of Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster Bay.
“Amazing, right?” Ms. Lubin said when the man came down to earth by handing back the viewer.
All up and down the beach people used the special glasses, home made periscopes and pinhole boxes to watch one of the signature events of the American summer, as millions followed the eclipse from the Northwest to the Mid-Atlantic States throughout Monday.
Shelter Island received 70 percent of a total eclipse, but it was more than enough to quiet a crowd of beach goers on a hot day to a kind of reverential hush.
By 2:30, the milky-blue sky had darkened, and a sudden breeze off the water added to the eeriness of the experience. As the moon continued to mask the sun, only a handful of people were swimming, the rest were on dry land, heads tilted, looking up.
Tony Mancuso, vacationing on the Island with his family from Orange County upstate, offered his glasses to a stranger. The Mancusos got them from their local library, which gave children the glasses after they had heard a talk on eclipses. But he admitted he’d been stoking his children’s enthusiasm for the event. “Right Joey?”
he asked his 4-year-old son.
“Cool,” Joey said.
“I’ve played my part,” Mr. Mancuso said smiling.
Chloe Kaye, 21, stood at the water’s edge, looking up through glasses her father, Randall, bought on line. Mr. Kaye, vacationing with his daughter and their friend Alyx Williams from Manhattan, remembered the 1979 eclipse, and was determined not to miss a repeat.
Ms. Kaye, a culture and media arts student at the New School, checked her shadow behind her as it slowly shortened and the day grew darker, as if heavy clouds were gently draping the sun.
Ms. Williams borrowed her friend’s glasses. Staring up she said one word but it sounded like two: “Awe. Some.”
Farther along the beach, Yulia Dultsina was with her family, including her children, Sasha, 12, and Katya, 10. They have a house nearby, Ms. Dultsina said, and spend many summer days on Wades. But Monday was special.
“We wanted to be out here, in the open space, with people, with the community, to see this,” she said.
The kids’ grandfather, David Nicholas, agreed. He had made a pinhole viewer for the eclipse out of a cereal box, some foil and paper with his grandchildren on Sunday. Mr. Nicholas offered anyone nearby a look at the image of the sun, now only a sliver of a crescent, as the moon and sun became — almost — one.
“It’s not perfect,” Mr. Nicholas said about their viewing box. “We put something simple together we’re out here. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”