If you're really interested in experiencing every glorious second of this August's solar eclipse, the place to be is Hopkinsville, Kentucky. For the better part of a decade, the town of 35,000 has been preparing for its role as the epicenter of the first total solar eclipse to sweep across the United States from coast to coast in 99 years. It's even adopted the moniker of "Eclipseville" to promote the unprecedented swell in interest and tourism.
“Everybody is talking about the eclipse because they see it as such a wonderful opportunity. It provides a unique, scientific experience for eclipse chasers from all over the world,” Hopkinsville Mayor Carter Hendricks told the AP. “They’re excited that Hopkinsville is on the international map. They’re excited to play host to visitors from all over the world.”
On Aug. 21, Hopkinsville will be closest to the point of greatest eclipse, where the axis of the moon's shadow passes nearest to the center of Earth. Totality here is expected to last for roughly 2 minutes and 40.1 seconds. While brief, this exceptionally rare and eerily beautiful moment is expected to attract between 55,000 to 100,000 people from surrounding states and even countries as far away as Japan and Germany. Even the director of the Vatican Observatory, Brother Guy Consolmagno, will be traveling to Hopkinsville to view the eclipse and give a presentation on science and faith at the local church.
'We decided we were going to do something special'
Three viewing areas capable of hosting thousands of spectators have sold out. Local hotels booked at rates normally quoted for posh five-star venues. And Airbnb listings ranged anywhere from a $400 private room to $4,000 for an entire home. Prime viewing spots are in such high demand that one local scuba diving center offered underwater viewings at a local quarry.
"We've been working on the eclipse thing for about four or five years now," Kris Tapp, co-owner of PennyRoyal Scuba Center, told WTVF. "So for us here, we decided we were going to do something special, something that no one has ever heard of before."
To make sure that one of the greatest celestial events in our lifetime doesn't lead to mass chaos, town and county officials requested traffic support from dozens of National Guard and state police. Some 100 food vendors were strategically placed throughout the county to ease demand on local eateries; temporary cellphone towers were erected; extra gas was stockpiled; emergency services and hospitals prepared with fully staffed operations, and porta-potties dotted the landscape.
"I've been saying this repeatedly to people,:the hidden story is how all of these communities are preparing for what's going on," eclipse consultant Kate Russo told Mental Floss. "It's an unprecedented event."
So Hopkinsville's nighttime lights don't inadvertently spoil the brief view of the stars afforded by the eclipse, officials are also preparing to cut power to certain viewing areas around town.
"We will not be turning power off to the entire city," eclipse coordinator Brooke Jung told community organizers earlier this year. "I've gotten that question so I want to make that clear... But we will be designating some street lights to turn off around our designated viewing areas."
While Hopkinsville is ground zero for the August eclipse, the coast-to-coast nature of the event means you have plenty of options. The path of totality will average a narrow band of about 70 miles, but stretch more than 2,000 miles across the U.S. According to Space.com, additional prime viewing sites include Carbondale, Illinois, St. Joseph, Missouri, Alliance, Nebraska, and Casper, Wyoming.
Wherever you are, it's clear that Aug. 21 will remain a day not easily forgotten for those who take a moment to look up.
"It's almost life-changing," Bob Baer, a specialist in Souther Illinois University's physics department, told the Chicago Tribune. "Most people are just in shock at the end of it. They don't believe what they just saw."