In August, a number of my childhood friends and I will travel from wherever life has led us through the years back to our hometown of Hopkinsville to witness “the most exciting 2 minutes, 41 seconds in astronomy.” We’ve been planning this rendezvous since the news broke that our little town – current population, around 33,000 – would provide the longest opportunity of anywhere in the world to view the 2017 total solar eclipse.
To give you an idea of the magnitude of this event, a total eclipse of the sun has not graced this nation with such widespread visibility from sea to shining sea since 1918, when my mother – who grew up on Hoptown’s Main Street and left this earth before the last millennium – was 5 years old. On average, a total eclipse appears somewhere on our planet around every year-and-a-half but never cuts such a wide swath across the U.S.
“Because of its path from the Pacific to Atlantic oceans, they’re calling it the Great American Eclipse,” says Cheryl Cook, executive director of the Hopkinsville/Christian County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s one of those phenomena that we’ll probably never have another chance to see in our lifetime.”
During the brief period that the sun disappears there at 1:24:41 p.m. on Aug. 21, day will become night and the sun’s majestic corona (its ethereal outer atmosphere) will become visible when the moon comes between the earth and the sun, casting its moon shadow, or umbra, on the earth. In the commonwealth, folks from the far west in Paducah (2 minutes, 19 seconds), southeast through Princeton, Madisonville, Bowling Green (1 minute, 2 seconds), Russellville, Franklin, Fort Campbell and Western Kentucky’s lakes area and lands in between will get a great view, but none for as long as Hopkinsville. Brief is the operative word here, as the sun will enter Kentucky at 1:21 p.m. CDT and exit at 1:30 p.m. CDT. So be sure to make your sighting plans ahead of time.
To help with that process, Hoptown has plenty to keep visitors busy during their stay. The following is but a partial array of things to do.
Nearby Kelly, a tiny western Kentucky village, became famous in 1955 when reports emerged of an extraterrestrial sighting. The town continues to celebrate the eerie story with the annual Kelly Little Green Men Days Festival, a four-day event that is now in its sixth year. If you go, expect to ogle a 38-foot replica of a flying saucer, listen to live music and decide for yourself what really happened on Aug. 21, 62 years ago – the same day as the eclipse. Coincidence? What do you think?
Cook quips, “We like to say they were looking for their eclipse-viewing seats early.”
Hopkinsville’s annual Little River Festival has been rebranded this year into Summer Salute, three days of downtown fun to coincide with the eclipse, complete with headliner musicians. “We’ll have what will probably be the world’s largest food court,” Cook says with a laugh. “It’s going to take a lot of food to feed 50,000-to-100,000 extra people.”
To coincide with the celestial event, on Aug. 19-20 the city will host a Comic Con, a comic-book-themed event with nods to sci-fi and pop culture icons, aptly named EclipseCon 2017. Not-yet-named guest stars will include comic book authors and super heroes, such as Batman.
“Nerds,” says Cook, “are in.”
As is bourbon. And local craft distilleries have planned crowd-drawing events.
In nearby Pembroke, MB Roland will host a Kentucky Bourbon Masharee, a toast to Kentucky’s officially-sanctioned American Spirit and its distillers. With at least 14 other distilleries participating, the Aug. 18-19 festivities include live music, food, libations and a ticketed VIP dinner and meet-and-greet with the distillers. Casey Jones Distillery, a Hopkinsville craft distillery named for a legendary Kentucky still-builder, will offer a special-edition 100-proof Total Eclipse Moonshine, which the business has named the “Official Spirit of the 2017 Eclipse.” Check online for related events.
Other Hoptown happenings include a festival at Jefferson Davis State Historic Site in Fairview, a western-themed eclipse-watching party at Copper Canyon Ranch, live gospel music at Christian Way Farm, and a Bluegrass music “bash” with Kentucky Proud vendors and food trucks at Burdoc Farms.
One public viewing site, 34-acre Trail of Tears Commemorative Park, is on a portion of the campgrounds Cherokee Indians used on their infamous trek west, and you can learn their poignant history at its heritage center.
While in town, be sure to visit the Don F. Pratt Memorial Museum at Fort Campbell, which tells the story of the 101st Airborne Division’s “Screaming Eagles”; the gravesite of America’s greatest 20th-century psychic, native son Edgar Cayce, a.k.a. “The Sleeping Prophet”; and Hopkinsville’s downtown history museums.
Although a few members of the scientific community and “eclipse chasers” began booking rooms here at the epicenter a few years ago, overnight accommodations in the area are still available, including hotel and motel rooms, corporate getaways, rooms in private houses, and camping and RV parking. Cook advises reserving hotel rooms directly with local properties and not on corporate websites, where you’re likely to get a “sorry, we’re full.” Find info on Hopkinsville’s eclipse-specific website.
Many West Kentucky businesses are customizing solar viewing glasses for their customers, so be sure to snap up a pair to protect your eyes. Happy eclipsing! ■
Katherine Tandy Brown is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected].