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In Hopkinsville, Officials And Businesses Eye Solar Eclipse's Economic Boon

Hopkinsville Mayor Carter Hendricks.
Photo by J. Tyler Franklin
Hopkinsville Mayor Carter Hendricks.

If you’re looking for a moonshot, the Casey Jones Distillery may be the place you need to land during this year's solar eclipse.

Peg Hays, self-described factotum, works here with her husband Arlon Casey Jones, the master distiller. The idyllic open air distillery in Hopkinsville has been selling its “Total Eclipse Moonshine” for the past two years. Thousands of bottles of the moonshine have already been sold. And if that’s not enough, the distillery sent some of its corn mash to space — or, well, near space — and dubbed it “space moonshine.”

“It’s easy to drink, it’s very smooth and when you add the space component to it, it’s out of this world,” Hays said.

On August 21, everyone in the contiguous 48 states will have the opportunity to see a partial eclipse. But if you want to see a total eclipse, you need to be within 70 miles of the “Path of Totality,” that stretches from Oregon to South Carolina. And Hopkinsville, Kentucky, is peak eclipse, or squarely in that path.

Before being re-christened “Eclipseville,” Hopkinsville’s claim to fame was that it’s the world’s largest producer of bowling balls. But the agricultural area also has supernatural roots. Just a few miles north in Kelly, Kentucky, weirdly enough on the same day as the eclipse (but in 1955) a family claimed that aliens attacked their home. The event eventually became inspiration for the 1982 movie “E.T.”

'Everything lines up'

On August 21, for two minutes and 40 seconds, the moon will block out the sun in the sky above Hopkinsville.

“If you were to take a dowel rod and stick it through the sun and through the moon and pinpoint a place on the earth where everything lines up most perfectly, that is Hopkinsville, Kentucky,” said Brooke Jung. She was hired by the city of Hopkinsville to handle eclipse-related marketing and events. But she also goes by “The Queen of Darkness.” And today, after meeting with me, she has a meeting with NASA.

“Today they're just scoping out working with the electricity and cell service that is out there,” Jung said.

NASA will be in Hopkinsville to telecast the event, as well as to tell spectators when it’s safe to take off the special eyewear as the moon shades the sun. On that day, Jung estimates the city will get 100,000 visitors. But it’s hard to tell how many people are coming.

"This isn’t like the Derby or Super Bowl where people have to have a ticket to come,” Jung said. “This is something where they can literally wake up in Louisville or Lexington or Cincinnati or anywhere across the drive-able distances, and jump in their car and drive down that day.”

That means lots of logistics. The city has to make sure it has enough water, sunscreen, eclipse glasses, and port-a-potties to accommodate moon gazers.

Profiting Off the Eclipse Economy

And business owners will likely benefit, too. One of those people is Julie-Anna Carlisle, owner of Milkweed in downtown Hopkinsville. She sells soaps, oils and teas and everything else that has to do with wellness.

She’s also selling special eclipse t-shirts. They are gray with an image of an eye, and Hopkinsville’s longitude and latitude. And while Carlisle is excited about the business prospects of the eclipse, she’s a little nervous about the sudden influx of people, too.

“There might be 50,000 people here. And then it’s like there’s probably gonna be 100,000 people here," she said. "As the numbers rise I get a little but more terrified and excited at the same time."

Earlier this year, Hopkinsville Mayor Carter Hendricks made a Facebook video to calm down fears and ask Hopkinsvillians to be eclipse ambassadors. That includes sprucing up their properties to give visitors a favorable impression.

“We’re excited to play host to what I’m referring to as a 'Cosmic Super Bowl,'” he said.

The city is charging for camping in parks and public viewing sites, in hopes of coming close to breaking even. But Hendricks says the city budget itself is taking a temporary hit for the long term benefit of the city’s business community.

“We don’t directly benefit. So the nominal fees we’re charging for public viewing sites and campsites are to offset the additional costs we have for bringing in temporary shower facilities,” Hendricks said. “The additional overtime for police and fire fighters and the actual expenses we are incurring to get ready for the solar eclipse.”

But for businesses like restaurants and hotels, as well as places like Milkweed and Casey Jones Distillery, that dollar amount is still top of mind.

Back at the distillery, Peg Hays talks about another drink specialty they have: moon-a-ritas—made with margarita mix, peach and 92 proof moonshine.

And with the years of preparation culminating on August 21, there’s one thing she’s looking forward to:

“The group event of such an incredible celestial event, that communion of soul and spirit with the eclipse is the number one thing I find so exciting,” she said.

But, there is one other thing.

“The number two thing is that I’m able to pay my bills to make this thing happen,” she said.

Hays and other businesses in Hopkinsville are hoping their eclipse-related profits are astronomical.

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.

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