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A Total Solar Eclipse is Giving Small Town Hopkinsville Big Expectations

Every first Saturday in May, Kentucky is home to the most exciting two minutes in sports.  On August 21, the state will be home to the most exciting two minutes in astronomy…two minutes and 40 seconds to be exact. 

Hopkinsville, Kentucky will be the epicenter of the first total solar eclipse to sweep across the United States in 99 years.  For a town of just over 30,000 people, it’s a really big deal.

Dubbed "Eclipseville,” at least 50,000 visitors from around the globe are expected to descend on Hopkinsville.  Local parks will become campsites.  The National Guard will mobilize for crowd control.  Schools will close.

Jonell Edwards has lived in Hopkinsville since 1953 and has never seen her hometown this excited about anything.

"People from overseas are coming. I think everything is going to be crowded," stated Edwards.  "It’s only going to last a few minutes, but everybody’s coming to see it.”

Astronomers predict that this will be the most viewed solar eclipse in history.  Hopkinsville will have the longest eclipse duration, two minutes and 40 seconds, making it the most attractive viewing destination in the world.

The city has received reservations from 34 states and 12 countries.  Justin Whitehair manages a Comfort Suites in Hopkinsville. 

"We’ve been getting calls since 2012, so prior to our booking windows even being open," Whitehair explained.

Hotel rooms in Hopkinsville are going for $300-$800 dollars per night. 

The eclipse will no doubt be a boon for local businesses.  At Casey Jones Distillery, Peg Hays and her co-owner husband have developed a special 100-proof solar eclipse moonshine.

"We like to say when you get total eclipse moonshine you can actually taste the total eclipse.  You can also have a partial eclipse or total eclipse anytime you want," laughed Hays.  "It’s a good spirit, a really true and authentic moonshine.”

The small, family-run craft distillery will open its 50-acre property for camping and RV parking.  They’ll be music, food, even a barber onsite offering “e-clips” haircuts.  Hays says it's her version of “Eclipse Stock.”

Across town, a local diner is commemorating the eclipse.  Charlie Powell owns Holiday Burgers. 

"We’ve added a new menu item called an Eclipse Burger which is our five-ounce burger with an egg on top, so it kind of looks like a sunrise with a circle around it," Powell explained.  "That’s our contribution to the eclipse.”

Griffin Moore owns a local art studio and gift shop.  She’s selling special eclipse drinking glasses, key chains, ornaments, and artwork.

"I don’t know what we’re going to talk about when all of this is over because this is all we talk about," Moore told WKU Public Radio.  "This is all that’s on the radio, in the newspaper.  When customers come in they’re like ‘Are you ready for the eclipse?’  We talk about it all the time.”

As a Hopkinsville resident, Levar Daniel will have a front row seat to the total solar eclipse.  He’s enjoying the attention his hometown is getting.

"A lot of new buildings been going up, a lot of renovations, new painting, so it’s been exciting to see all the new things," said Daniel.  "We don’t see a lot of people around here.  Most of the time, everybody goes to the surrounding areas, but this time, everybody’s coming to Hopkinsville.”

On a recent Thursday evening, Rick and Janet Ridener drove to Hopkinsville from Henryville, Indiana to see a rock star of the astronomy world.  The Ridener’s were at a book signing by Fred Espenak, known as the ultimate eclipse chaser.  He’s seen an eclipse from every continent. Over the past 24 years, he’s witnessed 27 total eclipses of the sun.  Espenak says he’s struck by the level of excitement in Hopkinsville.

"Every place you go around town, there’s signs about the eclipse, there’s merchandise about the eclipse, there’s t-shirts all over the place," Espanek observed.  "I think Hopkinsville is the best prepared community I’ve been to.”

The Ridener’s will return to Hopkinsville next month where they plan to camp out on a local soccer field.  The celestial show will have special significance.

"We saw a total lunar eclipse back in 1989.  That’s totally different, and we weren’t expecting it, so we’re preparing for this one," commented Rick Ridener.  "I proposed to her under the lunar eclipse.  I don’t know how to top that after 28 years.”

According to local legend, on August 21, 1955, a Hopkinsville family reported seeing a UFO land on their farm and aliens emerging from it.  Few believed, but the family was so scared afterwards that they sold the farm and moved away.  Every year, the town holds a “Little Green Men Festival.” Cheryl Cook heads the local Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

"I like to say the aliens came early to pick out their viewing spot," Cheryl stated.

Cosmic coincidence or not, on the same date more than 60 years later, the once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse is putting Hopkinsville, Kentucky on the map.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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