Russillo chases “transformational” eclipse



Like millions of Americans, astronomy and anatomy teacher Steve Russillo took time out of his schedule to watch the solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017.

Unlike millions of Americans, however, Russillo had been waiting, planning and preparing for this event for more than 18 years.

“I was simply obsessed with this eclipse,” Russillo said. “I read about it in 1999, and I thought, ‘Unless I win the lottery and can start flying planes all over the world to see eclipses, I’m never going to get a chance like [this].’”

Russillo began his teaching career in 2001, and he says he has mentioned the solar eclipse to every single class he’s ever taught.

“Several former students emailed to say they were thinking about me,” Russillo said.

And although Aug. 21 was Guilford County School’s first mandatory teacher workday, Russillo recalls telling Principal Ralph Kitley back in 2009 that he’d be “busy” on Aug. 21, 2017.

“I seriously doubt [Kitley] remembers this!” Russillo said.

Russillo officially sprang into action during the summer of 2016, making a hotel reservation in Columbia, South Carolina. Once he began making plans, he said “my family sort of invited themselves” to accompany him.

“I told my family, ‘Look. You’re welcome to come along, but you have to realize that this is not about your comfort. It’s not about my comfort,’” Russillo recalled. “‘It’s not about cool restaurants we can visit or souvenirs we can buy. This whole trip is entirely and only about those two minutes and 40 seconds after the moon’s shadow arrives.’”

He added he that only once did have to give his family members a “hairy eyeball” as a gentle reminder.

However, one week prior to the event, plans changed.

“Columbia’s forecasts looked bad, [so] my wife and I agreed to dump the Columbia room and find one farther west, closer to more favorable forecasts.”

Though Russillo canceled too late to receive a refund– and Knoxville, Tennessee hotels were already booked up– he was able to find a room in Pigeon Forge, close enough to where they could drive the morning of the 21st to see totality.

Thus, that Monday morning, the Russillo clan left their hotel and fortunately found a spot in Kefauver State Park, in Madisonville, Tennessee, at 7:30 a.m.

“It took a lot of planning, a lot of driving, a lot of luck and a lot of flexibility and patience, but in the end, it was worth it,” Russillo said.

And although he and his family had made many sacrifices to make this trip possible, Russillo said they parked next to a family who had traveled 35.5 hours from Cape Town, South Africa to see it.

“You don’t have to be an astronomy teacher or even an astronomy buff to be awed by a total solar eclipse,” Russillo said. “It’s an inversion of something so fundamental to our existence—the daylight that defines daytime—that even many animals don’t know what to make of it.”

Russillo added that he enjoyed the view through his very own handmade binocular glasses. He cut holes in the lens caps of binoculars and replaced them with eclipse glasses. Seeing the eclipse through the binoculars was “transformational,” he said.

“This eclipse was so satisfying for me,” Russillo said. “Not only was I able to see it, but I saw it under clear skies and from a position barely one mile off the centerline of the totality path.”

To learn more information about the 2017 solar eclipse or the next eclipse taking place Monday, April 8, 2024, check out Russillo’s website.

“I literally will never be the same after seeing that eclipse,” Russillo said. “[It’s] something I’ll never ever forget.”