By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
A rare celestial event which captivated people of all ages on Aug. 21 tied for No. 7 on the Cleveland Daily Banner’s list of Top 10 Newsmakers for 2017. That day, the United States saw a total …
A rare celestial event which captivated people of all ages on Aug. 21 tied for No. 7 on the Cleveland Daily Banner’s list of Top 10 Newsmakers for 2017.
That day, the United States saw a total solar eclipse. While such eclipses are not unheard of, it was the first time in some 99 years a total solar eclipse was visible across the continental United States.
Dubbed “The Great American Eclipse,” it was particularly special to people living in or close to the areas within the eclipse’s 70-mile-wide “path of totality.” This path, which diagonally bisected the continental U.S., included much of Bradley County and Polk County.
"This one is a big deal because we actually can see it in our area, and it's a total eclipse," Lee University associate professor Dr. Matthew Krepps told the Banner in August. “Total eclipses are rare; total eclipses in your area are even more rare.”
A total solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the earth and the sun. Those within the path of totality got to see the moon completely block out the sun, a dramatic and rare sight. Communities just outside the path, like Chattanooga, only got to see a partial solar eclipse.
Because of the big event, leaders with the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce planned an event at Morris Vineyard and Winery called “Solar Sip and See.” This event quickly sold out, and more and more businesses and organizations in and around Cleveland began planning viewing parties of their own.
Other local events included ones hosted by the Cleveland Bradley County Public Library, Cleveland State Community College and Lee University.
“It's the first time in decades this has happened reasonably close to our part of the world. So for most of us, those of us who will never travel to another part of the globe to watch an eclipse, it's a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said before the eclipse. Some area residents drove to cities such as Sweetwater, which experienced 2 minutes, 37 seconds of totality.
In Polk County, the Chamber of Commerce there held a well-attended "Sun & Moon Fest" to allow people to enjoy the eclipse and a variety of celebratory activities. Tourists were also said to have flocked to other areas in Polk County, such as the Cherokee National Forest and the Ocoee River. Some rafting companies even offered special trips down the river that day.
As hype over the approaching eclipse grew, the directors of the Bradley County, Cleveland City and Polk County school systems announced they would be closing schools on the day of the eclipse, partially because its timing coincided with the regular time classes let out.
In the days leading up to the eclipse, many local school teachers led lessons and special activities to help students learn about the eclipse. One school, Walker Valley High, even hosted a former NASA employee to help teach the science behind solar eclipses.
School system leaders cited tourist traffic the day of the eclipse as one reason school would be closed Aug. 21. They also noted canceling school would allow families to enjoy the event together. Local businessman Allan Jones had also donated 43,000 pairs of solar eclipse glasses to students in the Cleveland and Bradley County Schools, so they would not be left without eye protection.
Staring at the sun can be dangerous, and the same is true of staring at a solar eclipse in progress, except during the relatively brief period of totality when it's safe. NASA recommended people buy special glasses which were certified to meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard, so most of the harmful light would be blocked.
In the days leading up to Aug. 21, the specialized glasses were in high demand. One day, the Cleveland Bradley County Public Library gave out some 700 free pairs to patrons in less than two hours. Clevelanders told stories of waiting in long lines at local stores for the chance to purchase from last-minute shipments to area stores.
Hotel rooms were also in high demand, as the Cleveland area hosted many tourists eager to see the total solar eclipse within the path of totality. Some local hotel managers reported that they had zero vacancies right before, on and after Aug. 21. One Cleveland hotel had been “fully booked” since May.
Anticipating much more traffic than usual, local law enforcement officials urged caution on the roads and described how they would be keeping watch.
The eclipse ended up drawing thousands of visitors to Cleveland. The “Solar Sip and See” event alone had people who had traveled from as far as Michigan and Ontario, Canada, to see the astronomical event.
"I wanted to see the total eclipse and not the partial, which was all you could see where I live in Michigan," said Ruth Rivard, who attended the event at the vineyard. "It's beautiful up here and was a nice day, which was good to see the sun."
The length of time the eclipse would be visible at full totality varied widely, depending on location. Some within the path of totality saw it for just over a minute, while some saw it for up to 2 minutes, 40 seconds.
Though the main event was quite short, those who viewed the eclipse in this area said they would remember the sight for years to come.
Print subscribers have FREE access to clevelandbanner.com by registering HERE
Non-subscribers have limited monthly access to local stories, but have options to subscribe to print, web or electronic editions by clicking HERE
We are sorry but you have reached the maximum number of free local stories for this month. If you have a website account here, please click HERE to log in for continued access.
If you are a print subscriber but do not have an account here, click HERE to create a website account to gain unlimited free access.
Non-subscribers may gain access by subscribing to any of our print or electronic subscriptions HERE