Featuring a panel of three seasoned eclipse chasers, a roundtable discussion Friday at the chamber of commerce revealed how some Christian County businesses — including two moonshiners — might capitalize on the 2017 total solar eclipse.
Others who attended the 2.5-hour discussion, like Christian Fiscal Court Magistrate Mark Wells, asked questions about things like traffic control for what one of the chasers estimated could bring anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 people to Christian County.
The first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the U.S. since June 8, 1918, it will begin at about 10 a.m. in Oregon on Aug. 21, 2017. From there, the path of the eclipse will move southeast, cutting through 14 states, including Kentucky, before leaving the United States at Charleston, South Carolina, at 2:47 p.m.
Christian County’s share of the shadow will last about 2 minutes, 40 seconds, and according to calculations, the point of greatest totality will be on the Cansler family’s farm, only a few miles north of Hopkinsville, while the longest duration — a couple tenths of a second more than Christian County — will fall just outside of Carbondale, Illinois.
All of Christian, Todd and Trigg counties are in the path of the eclipse, and that’s something to celebrate, according to the eclipse chasers.
“There’s no precedent for this,” said one of them, Dan McGlaun, who hails from Indianapolis and has about a dozen eclipse experiences under his belt. “It’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen.”
Still, he, New Yorker Mike Kentrianakis and Parisian Xavier Jubier have been preparing for this one for years.
Jubier is the one who’s responsible for the eclipse calculations and posted them on his website, http://xjubier.free.fr. All three have regular jobs that finance their eclipse ambitions.
While most of the Christian County audience at Friday’s roundtable wanted to get the chasers’ intimate knowledge from their combined experiences, it was a give and take, as the chasers have been visiting communities along the eclipse path, from Oregon to South Carolina, making plans for their next brush with darkness for quite some time now.
Cheryl Cook, the county’s director of tourism, organized the discussion, and sitting alone in the room about 15 minutes before it began, she said she hoped for a good turnout. Shortly thereafter, the audience of about two dozen filed, and she was pleased.
Once everyone had taken their seats, beside each other at the table were two moonshiners.
One, Paul Tomaszewski, runs MB Roland with his wife, Merry Beth. It is a fairly well-established and well-known craft distillery on the rolling hills of St. Elmo, about five miles south of Pembroke.
The other was Peg Hays, who recently started distribution of Casey Jones, with her husband, Arlon Casey Jones, better known as “AJ,” serving as co-owner and master distiller.
“We’re probably — well, not probably — we’re going to doing something or a combination of somethings for the days surround the eclipse to include a type of viewing experience,” Tomaszewski told the chasers.
“It’s nice and open, so visibility is going to be fantastic,” he said, describing the property that already draws thousands of people for MB Roland’s free summertime concerts.
One of the chasers asked Tomaszewski if the distillery was planning on doing any special bottling for the eclipse and he said they were, which ignited a more than 10 minute discussion among the other roundtable guests about what he might call it.
Next in line, Hays said the Casey Jones Distillery, with “45 clear acres” of land on Whitty Lane about 200 yards off the center line and right next door to the point of the greatest eclipse, will offer some special bottling as well — likely a 101 proof liquor — she said.
Hays also said they plan on partnering with one of their neighbors to put some kind of rent-and-camp package but noted they would let Tomaszewski take the lead for the viewing.
“Let Paul have the big event,” Hays said. “I’ll camp ‘em. He can party ‘em.”
These were all good ideas, the chasers said. And more important than being the point of the greatest eclipse, they said, is showcasing everything the area has to offer.
Seasoned eclipse chasers, Kentrianakis explained, are more concerned with the viewing experience than they are with planting two feet on any given point labeled “the greatest” or “the longest.”
Anything on the center line is great, and there are amazing, unique experiences to be had at any point along the path, he said.
For example, the reason the point of the longest eclipse and the greatest eclipse aren’t the same spot on the map — the craters, peaks and valleys on the moon — is the same reason the “beads” are the greatest and last the longest on the edges of the eclipse path.
The beads of light are created by light peering through the valleys and can often create what’s been coined a “diamond ring effect” where the eclipse corona is the ring, and a small, bright spot is much like a diamond.
From just about anywhere you can see it, Jubier said, the 2017 eclipse likely will be the “most impressive thing you will see in life.”
The eclipse falling on a weekend is a blessing, he said, and with it coinciding with the 2017 Kelly Little Green Men Days festival, that’s even better.
The three eclipse chasers all agreed that Hopkinsville is in a great place to do well with the 2017 eclipse, but it’s more about the community than anything, they said.
Other locals at Friday’s roundtable included museums Director Alissa Keller and Hopkinsville native Justin Whitehair, who’s served as the general manager for the Hopkinsville Comfort Suites and works for BH Hospitality, a hotel company with other assets in the eclipse path.
Others were Hopkinsville City Councilwoman and owner of Pilot Rock Marby Schlegel; Hopkinsville City Administrator Nikki Radford, standing in for Parks and Rec Superintendent Tab Brockman, who was out of town; Penny Fletcher and Lanita Wilson from the chamber; and multiple representatives from the convention and visitor’s bureau, the convention center and a few others.
Keller said the Pennyroyal Area Museum is planning on holding some kind of event that ties the eclipse to one of Hopkinsville’s most famous sons, clairvoyant Edgar Cayce.
With roughly 500 available hotel and motel rooms in Hopkinsville, Whitehair said he’s heard many are not yet taking reservations. However, when they do, he said, he’s heard the prices on rooms could range from $500 to $1,000 a night with a three-night minimum.
The eclipse chasers cautioned Whitehair and others not to get a reputation for price gouging, or eclipse seekers might just as easily go down the road to the next eclipse town. If someone calls in advance and will work out a deal where they don’t mind paying that, which is what Whitehair said has been happening, that’s fine, the chasers said.
But don’t jack up prices to 10-times the original amount and leave them up until the day of the event. Jubier said a number of hotels on Easter Island did that before a previous eclipse there, and “They were not full.”
He said two to three times the original price is a good place to start.
While Pilot Rock remains closed to the public with no trespassing signs posted, Schlegel indicated she isn’t opposed to doing something there for the eclipse. It’s the highest point in the area. Located along the Christian County-Todd County line, the natural land formation that once served as a marker for early travelers offers spectacular views, but it has also been the location of a number of tragic falls, the most recent in July 2014 when 22-year-old Alexander Longoria fell to his death.
Schlegel mentioned the liability of allowing people up there and noted no trespassing signs are posted. But she also asked if elevation affected eclipse viewing experiences, an indication she might be willing to open it up, provided she can find answers to the liability issue.
Three eclipse chasers with dozens of eclipse experiences between them on every continent, Mike Kentrianakis, Xavier Jubier and Dan McGlaun, suggested doing these things to maximize the impact on the local economy and the experience for viewers:
- Get with the city and electric companies to make sure street lights don’t come on during the eclipse.
- Get enough visors for viewing the eclipse. In totality, the visors can come off, but the No. 1 complaint, Kentrianakis said, is not having enough solar visors.
- Form groups with group leaders who are knowledgeable about eclipses. “There will be questions from the group,” Kentrianakis said, because likely no one in town has seen a total solar eclipse.
- Be careful with price gouging. Double to three times regular price is OK, Jubier said, but 10 times the original amount can drive people away.
- Get a professional website, print brochures and use social media to market your community more than the eclipse itself to potential eclipse seekers. The pitch should link surrounding communities and produce a combined marketing strategy that showcases the communities and all they have to offer visitors.
- Consider getting with the local post office to produce a 2017 eclipse postmark. It’s too much to get special stamps, Mike said, but postmarks are much easier and popular among tourists.
- Manage roads. City, county and state officials should be on the same page and have traffic plans in pace. Also, utilize group travel.
- Don’t use the camera flash, because they won’t work anyway. You can’t flash the moon, Kentrianakis said, and it’s annoying for other people trying to enjoy the eclipse. If you want to practice shooting pictures of the total eclipse, he said, try getting the detail on a full moon. Those are the correct settings to shoot an eclipse in its totality, after the moon has blocked out the sun.
— Compiled by Eli Pace
Reach Eli Pace at 270-881-7088 or firstname.lastname@example.org.