Ahead Of Solar Eclipse, Small Town Prepares For Light Among The Darkness
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Hopkinsville, Ky., is billing itself as Eclipseville this summer. During the total solar eclipse later this month, the city will have one of the longest periods of darkness. Lisa Autry of member station WKYU tells us how the city is preparing for its big moment in the spotlight - or, rather, in the dark.
LISA AUTRY, BYLINE: Two minutes, 40 seconds will make Hopkinsville one of the premiere viewing spots for the eclipse. For this town of just over 30,000 people, it's a really big deal. As many as 100,000 people are expected in the city, and up to a half million more will converge on the rest of western Kentucky. Local parks will become campsites. Schools will close. The National Guard will be on standby for traffic and crowd control. Jonell Edwards has lived in Hopkinsville since 1953 and has never seen her hometown this excited about anything.
JONELL EDWARDS: There's people from overseas coming. I think everything's going to be crowded. (Laughter) And it's only going to last a few minutes, but everybody's coming to see it (laughter).
AUTRY: The city even hired an eclipse coordinator to try to prepare for it all. People from at least 37 states and 16 countries have made reservations to be here.
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STEPHANIE: Comfort Suites Hopkinsville, Stephanie speaking. How may I help you?
AUTRY: At the Comfort Suites, manager Justin Whitehair is busy.
JUSTIN WHITEHAIR: We've been getting calls and inquiries since 2012, so prior to our booking windows even being open (laughter).
AUTRY: There are a few hotel rooms left, but those that remain are going for up to $800. Short-term rentals on Airbnb are even higher. Some homes are listed at $10,000 per night. One person is renting out their front yard to campers for $200.
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AUTRY: Across town, a local diner is commemorating the eclipse. Charlie Powell owns Holiday Burgers.
CHARLIE POWELL: We've added a new menu item called the Eclipse Burger, which is our five-ounce burger with an egg on top so it kind of looks like a sunrise with a round circle around it. So that's our contribution to the eclipse.
AUTRY: His restaurant has only 12 tables, so he's hired a food truck to accommodate the big crowd. But he, like other restaurant owners, is also worried about the possibility of running out of food. All over town, there are signs and merchandise for sale about the eclipse. Griffin Moore owns an art studio and gift shop. She's selling special eclipse drinking glasses, key chains and ornaments.
GRIFFIN MOORE: I don't know what we're going to talk about when this is over because this is all we talk about. This is all that's on the radio. It's all that's in the newspaper. And, you know, when customers come in, are you - are you ready for the eclipse? And we're always like, I don't know, you know? So yeah, we talk about it all the time.
AUTRY: According to local legend, on August 21, 1955, a family reported seeing a UFO land on their farm and aliens emerging from it. Every year, the region holds a Little Green Men Festival. Cheryl Cook heads the local Convention and Visitors Bureau.
CHERYL COOK: I like to say that the aliens came early to pick out their viewing spot.
AUTRY: Cosmic coincidence or not, on the same date more than 60 years later, the once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse is putting Hopkinsville, Ky., on the map. For NPR News, I'm Lisa Autry.
SHAPIRO: And if you're planning to be in the path of the solar eclipse, NPR wants to hear from you. What are you excited about? Where will you be? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with eclipse in the subject line.
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