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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Chasing the Eclipse

Evansville prepares for its moment in — or rather, out — of the sun
By Catherine Anderson

As many as 80,000 visitors are expected in Southwest Indiana April 8 for the Great North American Eclipse — the last such event visible from the contiguous United States until 2044.

The region is a hotspot for eclipse viewers because it lies in the path of totality, meaning that from this vantage point, the moon will completely obscure the sun. This is to occur at 2 p.m., leaving a peculiar state of daytime darkness for about 3 minutes. It won’t just come and go all at once, though — darkness will gradually fall about 90 minutes prior as the two bodies’ paths begin to cross.

You’ll need special glasses to view the rare celestial alignment without risking harm to your eyes.

How big a deal is being in the totality path? Because of all those out-of-towners, the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation, Warrick County School Corporation, and Catholic Diocese of Evansville decided to close schools April 8, anticipating heavy traffic from eclipse chasers (also known as umbraphiles).

Photo of Karin DeYoung by Zach Straw

Eclipse observances are planned from the Downtown Evansville riverfront to libraries to businesses to university campuses. Local gatherings will attract sky watchers from near and far — the Adventure Science Center of Nashville, Tennessee, is sending a busload of enthusiasts to the Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science. Evansville Day School will host students from Louisville Collegiate.

Many private, at-home gatherings are planned, too.

Fashion and interior designer Karin DeYoung, who moved to Evansville’s Riverside Historic District two and a half years ago, plans to capture the mood of the last solar eclipse, in 2017. She and three friends piled into a Volkswagen Van and made a road trip from Seattle, Washington, to Idaho. Camping along the path of totality, the group observed the eclipse in Idaho.

DeYoung is gathering close friends from across the country to join her for a long weekend of exploration, yoga, and eclipse fun.

“We’ll just really be hanging out in the neighborhood. I’m sure there’ll be fun things going on,” she says.

Yoga at different locations is included in DeYoung’s plans since she and her friends share the study. She says it also is a great way for her good friends to explore her new neighborhood.

DeYoung found the exercise integral to her eclipse experience in 2017.

“The yoga thing was something I thought, ‘Well, that could be fun,’” she says. “It’s just really about enjoying a magical moment with my friends, experiencing this amazing thing that nature does.”

Photo provided by Karen Stenstrom (far left)

Karen Stenstrom experienced the 2017 eclipse in totality at a friend’s party near Paducah, Kentucky, and she will continue some of the ideas at her gathering in Evansville this spring.

Stenstrom has maintained close ties with friends from high school in Livonia, Michigan. Their group — known as the HaHa’s — meets at least annually, and when she learned Evansville was on the 2024 eclipse’s path of totality, “I said, ‘You guys have to come down for this!’”

Stenstrom expects the entire group to be at her home by April 7.

“We’re planning a whole weekend. My husband just made an outdoor concrete pizza oven table, and we’ve got a Blackstone that we’re going to (use to) make smash burgers,” she says. “Because it will be Final Four basketball that Saturday night, we will go to Doc’s Sports Bar, the best sports bar in Evansville.”

As for wanting to share a solar eclipse with such close friends and family, Stenstrom recalls the event seven years ago.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life — the calmness and then how everything just got dark and then you could hear the birds chirping,” she says. “It was it was like an out-of-body experience. It was incredible.”

Celestial Celebrations

Umbraphiles by the thousands are expected to stream into the River City
By Amy Lynch

The path of totality for the upcoming solar eclipse on April 8 runs directly through Evansville, positioning the city as a preferred viewing site not just in Indiana, but on a national scale.

How might this affect the River City? Hopkinsville, Kentucky, can sit as an example: For the August 2017 eclipse, the city of 30,000 gained 100,000-plus visitors and attracted $28.6 million in economic impact. Evansville, on the fringe of the 2017 eclipse, is preparing for a front-row seat.

Explore Evansville has been helping our local businesses gear up for a surge in sales and tourism, accounting for an estimated economic boost of almost $8 million. The influx of visitors for the eclipse is expected to create a ripple effect across various sectors, from retail and dining to transportation and lodging,” says Explore Evansville CEO Alexis Berggren. “But beyond the financial opportunities, Evansville’s location in the path of totality for this rare event provides our community the chance to showcase its tremendous hospitality and vibrant culture to a national audience.”

Explore Evansville expects an influx of 80,000 visitors to hit town on the big day, and local organizations are innovating creative ways to mark the occasion. 

At the Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science, a watch party in the outdoor sculpture garden caps off a full day of programming that includes themed activities, planetarium shows, and special guest appearances. In addition to its members, the facility has invited visitors from three regional museums to join the fun as well. The museum anticipates approximately 55 guests from Adventure Science Center in Nashville, Tennessee; 165 from the Kentucky Science Center in Louisville, Kentucky; and 110 from the Owensboro Museum of History and Science, also in Kentucky.

“The eclipse is a wonderful opportunity to gather together as a community, and we are so excited to share the day with our members and friends from out of town,” says Carlisle Wishard, Evansville Museum’s director of science experiences.

Wishard has family members of her own traveling to Evansville, accounting for nine of the anticipated 500 to 600 people who will be in attendance at the museum that day.

“In 2017, Nashville was in the path of totality, but we are not for 2024,” explains Morgan Rehnberg, Adventure Science Center’s vice president of exhibits and experiences. “While we are planning an awesome day of events in Nashville, we wanted to offer a chance to go see totality. When the Evansville Museum reached out with their program, it seemed like the perfect fit.”

Meanwhile, Evansville Day School will welcome students from Louisville Collegiate Middle School for a day-long event featuring activity stations and team-building exercises culminating in observation of the eclipse itself.

Day School’s Eclipse Extravaganza will allow students to engage in “real-world exploration” and “inspire curiosity,” says Lauren Barker, a media and marketing communications associate with the school.

Photo of USI Students viewing the 2017 solar eclipse provided by University of Southern Indiana

In the Shadow of the Moon

Places to experience the eclipse

Evansville was in the 99th percentile of totality seven years ago, so what’s the big deal with upgrading to 100 percent in 2024? The difference, as astrophysicist Jeffrey Bennett told a crowd of local stakeholders on April 6, 2023, “is literally night and day.” Plus, Indiana won’t enjoy a front-row seat to another solar eclipse until 2099.

Where can you observe this celestial phenomenon around Evansville? As it turns out, plenty of places. Here are a few eclipse-related festivals and public watch parties on April 8.

University of Southern Indiana
8 a.m., 8600 University Blvd.
This “Solarpalooza” goes all out for the eclipse, with a full day of festivities including guest speakers, food trucks, student and faculty colloquium, and live music on the quad. Admission is free.

Vanderburgh County 4-H Center
9 a.m. 201 E. Boonville-New Harmony Road
Beginning April 6, camp out for three days of cornhole, craft and vendor shows, a vintage camper show, children’s games, live music, and an exotic animal show. General admission is $5.

Friedman Park
11 a.m.-4 p.m., 2700 Park Blvd., Newburgh, Indiana
This family-friendly event, Total Eclipse of the Park, combines food trucks, a beer garden, kids’ activities, a cornhole tournament, and live entertainment from musicians Trailgate Revival. Admission is $10 per vehicle.

Evansville Wartime Museum
10 a.m.-4 p.m., 7503 Petersburg Road
Watch the eclipse in the shadow of a World War II Sherman tank, P-47 Thunderbolt, and more. Parking is $20 per vehicle.

Downtown Evansville
11 a.m., Riverside Drive
Several businesses, such as Hadi Shrine Temple, are opening their parking lots for spectators and hosting food trucks and activities.

University of Evansville
noon-3 p.m., 1800 Lincoln Ave.
Take a seat at the soccer stadium or the campus lawn for this watch party, UEclipse. Astrophysicist and UE alumna Maria Weber also delivers a presentation the day prior.

11 a.m.-4 p.m., 610 N.W. Riverside Drive
Have a VIP experience with lunch from Pangea Pizzeria, a guided tour of the 81-year-old ship, and a private viewing area. Admission is $35-$50. The adjacent courtyard is open to the public for free.

Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve
11 a.m.-1:45 p.m., 551 N. Boeke Road
The Evansville African American Museum, Wesselman Woods, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, Latino Center, FIESTA Evansville, Haitian Center of Evansville, and the local Marshallese community partner for this multicultural festival on the former par-3 golf course on Morgan Avenue. Admission is free.

Angel Mounds State Historic Site
12:30-3:30 p.m., 8215 Pollack Ave.
Enjoy the eclipse from this prehistoric site. Admission is $3-$5.

Farther Afield

Posey County
Historic New Harmony hosts family activities, including making a horizontal sundial and pocket solar system. Head to the Atheneum or Harmonie State Park for a watch party. Camping and viewing are available at the Posey County Fairgrounds.

Gibson County
Journey and Eagles tribute bands take the stage for a Sunday night concert at the Gibson County Fairgrounds. Return Monday for an art and science fair, live entertainment, food trucks, and carnival rides. Head to Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt for race cars on display, an inflatable obstacle course for kids, concessions, and camping.

Knox County
Gibson County’s neighbor to the north is making the most of its four minutes in the shadow of the moon. Visitors can enjoy a beer garden, NASA activities, live music, and more at the three-day “Dark Side of the Wabash” event.

Spencer County
Spend Sunday at Lincoln State Park for food trucks, family-friendly activities, and sun- and moon-themed live entertainment, or set up in the Legends parking lot at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari for a day of food trucks and music. Admission is free.

Henderson, Kentucky
Take in the eclipse from sites such as Boucherie Winery, Farmer & Frenchman, and Ellis Park Racing.

Indianapolis, Indiana
Join NASA scientists at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the world’s largest 2024 total solar eclipse viewing site.

Bloomington, Indiana
The Hoosier Cosmic Celebration at Indiana University’s Memorial Stadium will be a star-studded affair. “Star Trek” actor William Shatner will narrate eclipse programming and will be joined by Grammy-nominated singer Janelle Monáe and former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison. Area attractions are getting in on the festivities, including film screenings and wine tastings at Butler Winery & Vineyard‘s “Drinking in the Dark.”

Southern Illinois
The southernmost part of the state enjoys an encore eclipse after being in 2017’s path of totality. Several cities, such as Carbondale and Makanda, plan multi-day festivals, while places like Bald Knob Cross and the Cache River offer observation spots embedded in nature.

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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