Packing pinhole cereal box viewers, cardboard glasses and curiosity, solar gawkers gathered outside Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry on Monday for a show that required no ticket.
One wore a welder's mask. Some tried outfitting their iPhones with sunglasses to tame the sun's rays.
Organizers at MOSI were expecting a crowd of about 1,000. The turnout, estimated at 5,000, left them struggling to cope.
People waited in long lines for a turn to view the eclipse on MOSI telescopes that were fitted with filters. There were also lines to borrow special glasses to view the eclipse safely.
"It's very exciting to see this," said Tony Pelaez, the musuem's director of innovation. "We wanted this to be a special science experience."
The lure of air conditioning brought some of the crowd into the welcome center, where four regular sized flat screen TVs displayed a live feed from NASA.
Inside the center, the crowed oohed and applauded as the feed showed the moon with a perfect solar halo around it.
Brandon resident Guy Bensley brought his two sons Tristan, 10, and Kai, 8. He took them out of school to see the eclipse. They waited 35 minutes to view it on one of MOSI's telescopes.
"It looked like the Cookie Monster took a bite out it," he joked with the two.
Many said they came because they hadn't been able to obtain eclipse glasses.
Jodie Powers, also from Brandon, brought her three boys. She home schools them and spent Monday morning teaching them about the last time a total eclipse stretched from coast to coast.
Woodrow Wilson was president, she told them.
"This is our science and history lesson, wrapped together," she said.