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A Total Eclipse of the Hoosier Heartland

A Total Eclipse of the Hoosier Heartland

April 8th was a planning challenge for many rural communities in the path of totality from Texas to New York. Here in Indiana, Purdue Extension Community Development created a hub to give rural communities an Eclipse planning resource that covered everything from K-12 education on the Eclipse for teachers to risk management for farmers who were considering offering paid parking or camping sites with the best views along the pathway on their beautiful Hoosier farmland. The experience our neighbors in Kentucky and Illinois had in 2017 led many to believe they should prepare for the crowds to double their population leading up to and on the day of the Eclipse. Like many other rural counties in Indiana, Daviess County began preparing months in advance. If the predictions were to be true, they could expect 60,000 people to descend upon their county of 30,000. The county seat of Washington could expect up to 24,000 people for the 3-day festival they were planning. Schools were either canceled or on e-learning, City and County offices, as well as most local businesses, announced they would be closed due to concerns about the crowds and increased traffic. Law enforcement and emergency management personnel were not given any days off, they were fully staffed and prepared for anything.

The weekend came but the estimated number of visitors did not. Instead, what they had was well-planned events that were enjoyed to the fullest by locals and visitors alike. Short school buses shuttled folks from parking lots at area parks and sports complexes to the events planned downtown. Vendors from throughout the region were parked on Main Street selling everything from boba tea to smoked barbecue prepared on-site. There were lawn games, 4-H STEM activities, live music including national recording artist and winner of The Voice Cassadee Pope, beer gardens, gourmet hotdogs, the Miss Indiana Eclipse Pageant, community mural making with recycled bottle caps titled an Eclipse Starry Night over Washington, and even a Silent Disco. Local residents came back every day for more fun and on the day of the Eclipse, visitors descended from all over the United States & Europe. Rain on Sunday night led to clear skies on April 8th, this town of 12,000 turned into a premiere viewing site on the path of totality. The sense of community could be felt from the time people began staking out the best place to put their lawn chairs that morning to the moment of totality and beyond. One visitor from Florida who happened to be an astronomer taught local kids about the Eclipse and afterward proclaimed he’d be coming back with his family for his next vacation.

 So, while the crowds may not have been what was predicted, gas tanks are full, and locals are well stocked with toilet paper and bread, but most importantly everyone is safe and no one had to deal with traffic jams or emergencies. People made memories with their neighbors and met new friends from other states and countries. We all came together for a monumental experience that is now etched in our local history. That sense of camaraderie and community around in our case almost 4 minutes of darkness during totality made an impression on us all that will never be forgotten. Now it’s time to measure the impacts, to tell the stories. Quantitative and qualitative we want to know the outcomes that extend beyond April 8th. One of those stories includes the photographer of the beautiful photos you see here; she is a local photographer whose work was recognized on social media by a videographer who connected with her and offered her work in Chicago. There are bound to be countless other unexpected positive outcomes that we will do our best to discover and share so that others will feel the true beauty of not only the Total Solar Eclipse itself but everything beautiful that came out of it.


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