AWAITING TOTALITY

When the daytime sky goes dark, it's one town's time to shine

By THE HERALD-LEADER

AUGUST 1ST, 2017

WELCOME TO HOPKINSVILLE, KY.

What happens when a town with a population around 30,000 people wins the solar lottery? Hopkinsville, which lies 72 miles northwest of Nashville, prepares to welcome a mass of people on Aug. 21 for the Great American Eclipse. This town has dubbed itself Eclipseville: It's home to the point of greatest eclipse, and depending on the weather, it could offer the best view of the phenomenon.

THE SCIENCE OF A SOLAR ECLIPSE

The point of greatest eclipse means that the moon will be closest to the earth, providing maximum coverage of the sun, at 36.9664ºN, 87.6790ºW. The view of the corona is best viewed at the point of greatest eclipse. Hopkinsville also will be treated to the second-longest duration, fractions of a second behind Carbondale, Ill.

The last total solar eclipse to be seen from the United States occurred in 1979. The next solar eclipse to be seen in the United States will sweep across North America in April 2024. It will cut through Mexico and touch parts of southeast Canada. It also will nick Western Kentucky. Paducah will be just inside and Owensboro will be just outside the path of totality.

Fred Espenak, scientist emeritus with NASA Goddard, spoke at Hopkinsville Community College on June 22 about his decades of eclipse-chasing and the uniqueness of totality.

Fred Espenak, scientist emeritus at NASA Goddard, spoke at Hopkinsville Community College on June 22. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Fred Espenak, scientist emeritus at NASA Goddard, spoke at Hopkinsville Community College on June 22. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Fred Espenak signed a book of special edition total eclipse stamps at the post office in Hopkinsville. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Fred Espenak signed a book of special edition total eclipse stamps at the post office in Hopkinsville. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Owen Young, 8, played a video game on his iPad before Fred Espenak's speech at Hopkinsville Community College. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Owen Young, 8, played a video game on his iPad before Fred Espenak's speech at Hopkinsville Community College. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Fred Espenak, scientist emeritus at NASA Goddard, waited to be introduced at Hopkinsville Community College. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Fred Espenak, scientist emeritus at NASA Goddard, waited to be introduced at Hopkinsville Community College. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
A group posed with solar eclipse glasses for the cover of Kentucky Living magazine. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
A group posed with solar eclipse glasses for the cover of Kentucky Living magazine. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
The tie of Fred Espenak, who is known as Mr. Eclipse. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
The tie of Fred Espenak, who is known as Mr. Eclipse. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Eric Smith, 6, of Crofton, held solar eclipse glasses to his face. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Eric Smith, 6, of Crofton, held solar eclipse glasses to his face. (Photo by Alex Slitz)

BELIEFS ABOUT A SOLAR ECLIPSE

From ancient mythology to paganism to modern day Christianity, there are many faiths and beliefs associated with an eclipse. During the weekend of the eclipse, Hopkinsville will welcome a variety of spiritual groups including drum circles, SolQuest and a the director of the Vatican Observatory, Brother Guy Consolmango.

In astrology, a study based on the positions of the sun, moon and stars, a solar eclipse is a pretty big deal. An event of this magnitude could affect people in various ways, according to Louisville astrologer Marilyn Gaddie. For two American presidents, Gaddie had thoughts on what the upcoming eclipse might foretell. Listen to our podcast for more.

THE AUG. 21 ALIEN ENCOUNTER

The 2017 total solar eclipse takes a turn for the supernatural in Hopkinsville. On Aug. 21, 1955, the Sutton family reported that aliens landed on their property. A battle of sorts ensued.

Since then, a yearly festival, the Kelly "Little Green Men" Days Festival, has been a remembrance of the the event. With the solar eclipse falling on the same day as the encounter, many people have inquired about the coincidence.

The 2017 festival is Aug. 18-21. There will be a screening of "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," which festival organizers say is based on the Kelly green men encounter.

In our podcast, Geraldine Sutton Stith, whose father and uncle reported the aliens, details the encounter.

A copy of the front page of The Evansville Press from Aug. 23, 1955. (Courtesy of The Evansville Courier & Press)
A copy of the front page of The Evansville Press from Aug. 23, 1955. (Courtesy of The Evansville Courier & Press)
Geraldine Sutton Stith in the field where her family reported an alien encounter on Aug. 21, 1955. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Geraldine Sutton Stith in the field where her family reported an alien encounter on Aug. 21, 1955. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
A view of East Ninth Street in downtown Hopkinsville on July 29, 2017. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
A view of East Ninth Street in downtown Hopkinsville on July 29, 2017. (Photo by Alex Slitz)

MORPHING FROM HOPKINSVILLE TO ECLIPSEVILLE

About 10 years ago, Hopkinsville found out it was going to host the solar Super Bowl. The town hired Brooke Jung, a solar eclipse marketing and events consultant, to ramp up strategy and promotions. Jung's job includes organizing first-responders, working with locals to rent out their property, and setting up educational events.

Small businesses around town have embraced the town's luck, creating and selling knickknacks and paraphernalia related to the solar eclipse. Local restaurants have specials named for the eclipse. There are countdown clocks ticking down the seconds to totality in stores all over the county.

As those seconds get fewer and fewer, the town becomes more and more entrenched in its new identity: Eclipseville.

Penny Blane, mother of Griffin's Studio owner, hung a painting by Heidi Hensley of Athens, Ga. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Penny Blane, mother of Griffin's Studio owner, hung a painting by Heidi Hensley of Athens, Ga. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
A poster about the eclipse hangs in the Southern Exposure Photography storefront in downtown Hopkinsville. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
A poster about the eclipse hangs in the Southern Exposure Photography storefront in downtown Hopkinsville. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Ferrell's Snappy Service, established in 1929, is a fixture in Hopkinsville. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Ferrell's Snappy Service, established in 1929, is a fixture in Hopkinsville. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
A bench painted by local artist Amy Peters depicts Edgar Cayce, a historical prophet and a native of Hopkinsville. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
A bench painted by local artist Amy Peters depicts Edgar Cayce, a historical prophet and a native of Hopkinsville. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Cody Noffsinger and his father, Derek Noffsinger, had a beer recently at Casey Jones Distillery. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Cody Noffsinger and his father, Derek Noffsinger, had a beer recently at Casey Jones Distillery. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Casey Jones Distillery visitors are welcome to place a pin from where they are from. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Casey Jones Distillery visitors are welcome to place a pin from where they are from. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Local artist Amy Peters worked on the Greetings from Eclipseville mural next to Whistle Stop Donuts. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Local artist Amy Peters worked on the "Greetings from Eclipseville" mural next to Whistle Stop Donuts. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
A mural by local artist Amy Peters, which can be seen along East Ninth Street. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
A mural by local artist Amy Peters, which can be seen along East Ninth Street. (Photo by Alex Slitz)

Orchardale Farm, a 170-acre property, is in the northern part of Christian County and is projected to have the coordinate for the absolute point of greatest eclipse. This is where NASA will be during the eclipse.

Several farms in and around Christian County will be open for viewing, as space allows. Casey Jones Distillery, the Western Kentucky State Fairgrounds, and Burdoc Farms are some options for camping.

A sign on Pembroke Road in Hopkinsville has the date of the solar eclipse. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
A sign on Pembroke Road in Hopkinsville has the date of the solar eclipse. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Orchardale Farm, a 170-acre property, will be the closest viewing site to the exact point of greatest eclipse. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Orchardale Farm, a 170-acre property, will be the closest viewing site to the exact point of greatest eclipse. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Ronnie McGowan of Gracey cleaned out a barn at Orchardale Farm in northern Christian County.  (Photo by Alex Slitz)
Ronnie McGowan of Gracey cleaned out a barn at Orchardale Farm in northern Christian County. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
The sun set on the clock tower at the Woody Winfree Fire and Transportation Museum on July 28, 2017. (Photo by Alex Slitz)
The sun set on the clock tower at the Woody Winfree Fire and Transportation Museum on July 28, 2017. (Photo by Alex Slitz)

Photos: Alex Slitz | Videos: Alex Slitz & Caitlyn Stroh | Podcast reporters: Trey Crumbie, Morgan Eads, Alex Slitz & Caitlyn Stroh | Text: Morgan Eads & Caitlyn Stroh | Music: The Pilgrim Project