Watching a Total Eclipse: What Does It Mean?

Eclipse Watching, Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, Vonore, August 2017

The constant buildup to yesterday’s eclipse began, arguably, ninety-nine years ago. In Jack Neely’s article on the topic, he noted that Knoxville news accounts of the 1918 (path of totality just south of Tennessee) contained references to the next big one in 2017. People in that day could not have imagined the intensity of media coverage which would lead up to this week’s event. It was constant enough that I’ll admit I began to be a bit annoyed. Got it: Moon will pass between earth and sun and darkness will fall. Big deal.

But the drumbeat continued. Along with the scientific predictions and observations came evangelists such as Jim Bakker and Anne Graham Loetz with their own interpretations. The pair figured it was some sort of sign to America, with Jim saying God told him in a dream that the darkness was to show God’s displeasure with the Obama years.

Our Little Group, Eclipse Watching, Vonore, August 2017

Urban Woman and Urban Girl, Eclipse Watching, Vonore, August 2017

Urban Woman and I decided to get serious about where we’d take Urban Girl for the viewing, taking a day trip to Dayton, Tennessee to scout it out. The eclipse was still days away. Along the way, the dire warnings seemed everywhere: “Do Not Pull Off the Interstate for Eclipse!” “Prepare for Heavy Traffic on August 21!” Signs directed passersby into pastures for $20 per car. We saw more American flags on the back road we took from Sweetwater to Dayton than I’ve ever seen in one spot in my life. The display of patriotism was likely unrelated but, in the context, it was if all of America was banding together to face the oncoming darkness.

Honestly, I started to get nervous. Not so much about the eclipse portending the judgement of God, as much as the traffic. Maybe it really would be hard to get to a location for the viewing. Maybe we’d be stuck for days once we got there. “Ten million people trying to get home at once!” was one of the taglines I caught from a report I heard. As much as I loved the idea of taking Urban Girl to the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial for a discussion of science on the big day, we changed plans.

Allen and Urban Girl, Eclipse Watching, Vonore, August 2017

Our Photographer Friend from London, England, Eclipse Watching, Vonore, August 2017

Urban Woman made the excellent suggestion that we drive to the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore. It’s a spot we’ve loved over the years, often taking Urban Daughter when she was younger. We’d talk through the morning about history, then shift to science in the afternoon. Perfect. Bonus points for closer to home (forty-five minutes) and accessible via back roads the hordes might not discover. We learned that the museum was closed, but the decision was made.

Leaving home at 7:00 AM, I had the feeling we’d missed the window. The abandoned streets should have told me otherwise, but just added to the post-apocalyptic feel – maybe the rapture had come and we were left behind? I started out live tweeting, but as we cruised toward Vonore, I was reminded that cell phone reception isn’t as universal as it sometimes seems. Or was the loss of reception because of the strange natural or supernatural phenomenon building in the universe? Who could know?

We arrived at the museum about fifty minutes after departure for a trip that should have taken forty-five. As I’d stopped to send out a couple of tweets, we couldn’t really lay the five-minute delay on the traffic. We joined a line of about twenty cars waiting for the 9:00 AM gate opening, drove in, dropping a donation in the bucket as we went, and found a parking spot in one of their massive fields. We spread a blanket and waited.

Groups Gather in the Open for Eclipse Watching, Vonore, August 2017

We’d come prepared with Sun Chips, Moon Pies, Starburst, Milky Way bars, Orbit and Eclipse gum and Capri Sun drinks. Tell me Urban Woman (and her friend Nancy) can’t plan an eclipse menu! We also brought some cheese, meat, etc. Blankets, sun screen, viewing glasses, books to read, check and check. Chairs to sit in? Oops.

Urban Girl bought a rabbit’s foot (hedging our doomsday bets?) and a slingshot in the gift shop (which was, helpfully, open) and we shot rocks into the river through the day. Eventually, our friend, Sam Maynard, invited us into the edge of the woods where he and two friends had set up a table spread with Sam’s excellent food. When they mentioned shade and a couple of extra chairs, we were sold. Friends Sonja and Allen joined us and our party was set. Of note, there were quite a few friends and acquaintances from downtown who found their way to the museum, so we saw familiar faces through the day.

Along the way we saw license plates on cars carrying people from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky. We saw one car from Ontario, Canada.

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We Talked About History All Week, Had a History Fair and Now Turn to Science (of the History Making Sort)

East Tennessee History Fair, Knoxville, August 2017

Has there been a week in which more Americans discussed our history than this past week? While the controversy over Confederate monuments isn’t new – New Orleans removed theirs with great angst on all sides this past winter – certainly, the extent of the nationwide public conversation born out of the events in Charlottesville was something unprecedented.

That extended conversation from last week served as a backdrop to the annual East Tennessee History Fair presented by the East Tennessee Historical Society. I wondered as Jim Young (Robert E. Lee reenactor), Tom and Sue Wright (Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln) wandered about having conversations with those gathered if those conversations might be different this year.

East Tennessee History Fair, Knoxville, August 2017

East Tennessee History Fair, Knoxville, August 2017

East Tennessee History Fair, Knoxville, August 2017

East Tennessee History Fair, Knoxville, August 2017

The festival, as always presented many different eras of U.S. history, starting with the colonial era and working its way through, with an emphasis on the wars along the way and uniformed soldiers from most of the various wars and conflicts. A time line of sorts started in the center of Krutch Park with the French and Indian War and moved circuitously through the park to culminate with the Vietnam war.

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Downtown Knoxville Ten Day Planner (8/20 – 8/29/2017)

If you want to be certain your event is included on this calendar, I’ll need your event two weeks in advance. The absolute best way to make sure I include your event is to make a FB event and invite me – two weeks in advance. My FB “events” are the … [Continue reading]

Three Downtown Businesses Will Soon Be Forced to Relocate

It's a price of progress. While needed infrastructure tasks are completed which allow us to continue to grow, a price is sometimes paid. Jackson Avenue has been under re-construction and renovation for months and it's been hard for the businesses and … [Continue reading]

A Look Inside the Keener Lighting Building + Future Plans

A reader joked the other day that I must get tired of writing about one building and being asked about ten more. I don't, really, but it is hard to keep up with all the construction and various projects underway around downtown. Still, I find it a … [Continue reading]