Great American Eclipse: ‘It was remarkable’August 22, 2017
By HERALD STAFF
Sisters gathered on the colonnade outside the Monastery of Immaculate Conception Monday afternoon. A crowd gathered in the park outside Jasper Public Library. Students across the county took a break from classes and some Dubois Countians went on road trips. All to see the Great American Eclipse.
“It sure shows us that we’re just little specks in the universe,” said Prioress Barbara Lynn Schmitz after she looked at the eclipse through a pair of glasses at the monastery in Ferdinand.
The Great American Eclipse passed through Southwest Indiana Monday afternoon covering Dubois County in a 97 percent solar eclipse and following a path of totality — of 100 percent eclipse — that covered areas a few hours away in Illinois and Kentucky. The entire path of totality stretched from Oregon to South Carolina. For areas in and near the path of totality, the day became like a holiday.
Former Jasper resident turned Oregonian Jeff Hayes was one of the first to witness the eclipse. He had a similar reaction to Schmitz.
“It was remarkable,” he said. “It helps you understand how small we are in the scale of everything.”
Jeff and his wife, Jennifer (Lagenour) Hayes, absorbed 100 percent totality from a hill overlooking the wooded Oregon landscape in one of the first spots in the country to undergo Mother Nature’s temporary transformation from day to night.
The couple — he’s 44 and she’s 37 and their daughters are 12 and 10 — moved from Jasper to Salem, Oregon, more than two years ago and started hearing about the eclipse late last summer. They’re 90 minutes from the Pacific Ocean and their city of about 170,000 residents experienced an influx of visitors Monday, swelling the one-day population to an estimated 500,000.
“On the coast, it can be cloudy and there was no guarantee of good weather,” Jeff said. “So if there were clouds there, people came to Salem.”
From the backyard of a friend whose home offered a good view, the Hayes family joined four other families for an all-day event. School isn’t in session yet, so 12-year-old Lauren and 10-year-old Marian got to watch. Jennifer said many people took off work or arranged their work schedules so they could see as much of the 100 percent totality as possible.
They counted down from an hour, made sure to spot Venus (it was visible not far from the sun) and noted that the adults and children at the event were equally excited.
Jeff called the moments of totality “eerie.” The area didn’t experience total darkness, but the setting was like that of early evening.
“We had almost two minutes of totality,” Jennifer said. “We noticed birds stopped flying. Most people don’t get to experience something like this. It’s a marvel of nature.”
Unlike some of us in the Midwest, folks out west had no problem purchasing special eclipse glasses. Jennifer, who grew up in Jasper and now works at the Oregon State Hospital, said members of her staff picked up glasses Monday without any problems. Stores had plenty in stock. Jeff, a fellow Jasper High School graduate who helped coach youth and high school tennis and now works at the Salem Tennis and Swim Club, said members of Monday’s watch party purchased a bulk order of shades a month before the event.
They took plenty of photos. Videos, too. They also texted or chatted with some people back home in Dubois County.
School in Indiana is already back in session, but Jasper High School sophomore Sean Roberts took the day off school to travel to Madisonville, Kentucky with his family to see the total solar eclipse.
“It was like the Death Star got in front of the sun,” Roberts said, making a Star Wars reference. “It was like a giant black circle and around it was white light. We could take our glasses off when it got to be a big black circle. You pretty much had to because you couldn’t see it with the glasses on.”
Roberts and his parents planned to go to the Garden of the Gods in Illinois to see the eclipse, but changed course to Kentucky when they heard the Garden of the Gods was full. They pulled off the highway and saw a sign that said “Welcome Eclipse Chasers,” so they decided to set up camp in a park. They arrived at 8:30 a.m. CDT for the 1:25 p.m. eclipse.
During a solar eclipse, the moon passes in front of the sun, blocking light to the earth. In the path of totality, the sun’s light is completely blocked making it look like nighttime in the middle of the day. Several local people who traveled to the path of totality said that while it did get dark, it wasn’t pitch black.
“I could still see everything around me, but it was dark enough for all the streetlights to kick on,” said Crystal Buehler of Huntingburg. “It looked like it was darker than when the sun sets.”
Buehler and her husband, Andy, went to Herculaneum, Missouri to view the total solar eclipse. Her cousins, Lisa and Don Littlejohn, flew in from Dallas to see it. Crystal and Andy picked up the Littlejohns from the airport in St. Louis, then they drove south to the path of totality and watched the eclipse in the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant.
“There were billboards all along the interstate about solar eclipse parties all weekend up until today,” Crystal said. “There was traffic everywhere, cops everywhere. It’s amazing how much tourism can be drawn from the solar eclipse event.”
Herald reporter Allen Laman ventured to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, to witness the eclipse under the total cover of the moon’s umbral shadow. The self-proclaimed “Eclipseville,” Hopkinsville was brimming with lunar enthusiasts carting around telescopes and families sporting cheap, commemorative T-shirts.
“The experience was similar to what was viewable in Dubois County for most of the time that the moon inched across the sun,” Laman said. “But about 10 minutes before the total eclipse, locusts, cicadas and crickets started sounding. Dogs howled. Car headlights and streetlights turned on. The world was confused.”
Hopkinsville was located where the axis of the moon’s shadow was pointed most directly to the center of the Earth, granting the city’s visitors one of the longest totality times at approximately two minutes and forty seconds.
The seconds leading up to the blockage passed slowly, Laman said, but when the final, tiny crescent of the orange sun was covered by the moon, cheers and roars shook Hopkinsville. Fireworks erupted despite them being illegal. The entire population of Eclipseville inhaled a collective gasp and released a simultaneous “whoa.”
The moon hung in the black sky like a dilated pupil surrounded by an iris of glowing sunlight near its edges. The way the sun enveloped the rocky mass made the face of the man on the moon — the crater formations viewable from the Earth’s surface — look like a lion with a playful white mane dancing around his face.
At this point, bats scampered from their roosts and into the sky, which was dotted with stars and planets. In a matter of minutes, the town had skipped to night in the middle of the afternoon.
But just as quickly as it came, the totality duration ended and the moon left the spotlight. Beads of sunlight trickled from the corner of the sun back to earth as the moon’s shadow swung by Western Kentucky at around 1,462 mph. Day was restored slowly as traffic congested on the town’s roads.
The experience was incredible and worth the trip, Laman said, even after the six-hour drive home to Jasper that immediately followed the phenomenon. The drive is normally about two-and-a-half hours.
Dubois County may not have been in the path of totality, but that didn’t curb people’s enthusiasm. A crowd gathered outside the Jasper Public Library beginning at 1 p.m. for an eclipse party that included Moon Pies, Sun Chips and eclipse Oreos (one vanilla and one chocolate cookie sandwiched together). Ron Perido of Huntingburg arrived at the library at 10 a.m. to make sure he got a good seat. He joined a few other early comers eagerly awaiting the celestial event.
“That anticipation — it was amazing,” he said.
To view the eclipse, Perido set up his Bass Pro camping chair on the sidewalk and settled in. When the last eclipse passed through the area in 1979, Perdio said, he was too busy to pay attention. He was still working in Jeffersonville and coached a lot of sports in his free time. Now that he’s retired, the 71-year-old was determined not to miss his second chance to see an eclipse. He turned off his phone and left his house to make sure he wasn’t interrupted.
“I’m appreciating the important things in life,” he said.
Scientists say a solar eclipse happens somewhere on Earth about every 18 months, but Americans won’t get another chance to see the phenomenon until 2024. That eclipse will happen on April 8, 2024, and stretch from Texas to Maine, covering Dubois County in its path of totality. Perhaps for that day, Dubois County will become Eclipse County.
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