On Aug. 21, a normal summer afternoon in Missouri will have a rare twist: a total solar eclipse. Shortly after 1 p.m., relative darkness will settle over fields and pastures across the state.
It was on another August day, 148 years ago, that a total solar eclipse last passed through Missouri. All of Missouri will experience a partial solar eclipse, with the moon blotting out almost all of the sun, and a wide swath of the state will experience a total solar eclipse, lasting more than two minutes in places. The sun will gradually be covered and uncovered for about an hour and a half on either side of the eclipse.
The wide open spaces of the countryside will make for good viewing, assuming no killjoy clouds intervene, and so many agritourism farms and rural communities are making plans to host visitors.
At Ol’ MacDonald’s Farm, located near Savannah, Mo., which is in the path of total eclipse in northwest Missouri, owner Cindy Barker says she and her husband, Rob, will have several people staying on the farm for the event. The farm hosts visitors, field trips and weddings and also has campground and RV areas.
“I could’ve taken 1,000 reservations if I wanted to,” she says. “I probably get eight to 10 calls a day.”
Barker says she isn’t quite sure why the eclipse is such a popular event, but she remembers an eclipse when she was a young girl.
The last total solar eclipse in the contiguous U.S. was in 1979. That eclipse swept through part of the northern states and was a partial solar eclipse in Missouri. The last total solar eclipse to cross the entire U.S. from Pacific to Atlantic was in 1918, and that passed through Arkansas.
The last total solar eclipse to pass through Missouri was on Aug. 7, 1869, 148 years ago, and that one just caught the northeast corner of the state, according to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
The total eclipse reaches northwest Missouri at 1:04 p.m. and slides southeast across the state before exiting near Cape Girardeau about 1:22 p.m. Kansas City and St. Louis are both on the edges of the total eclipse line, and nearby Carbondale, Ill., has the longest duration of total eclipse at two minutes and 40 seconds.
Barker has an eclipse section on her farm’s website encouraging visitors, but she says she didn’t come up with the idea on her own. Instead, it was in response to the demand after people saw the farm as a place to visit and stay overnight.
“We didn’t come up with the idea,” she says. “People just started calling us from our website.”
In Fulton, the county seat of Callaway County, the community is planning a series of events.
“We kind of took a community approach,” Callaway County director of tourism Renee Graham says. “…We took an approach of, what’s uniquely Callaway?”
Fulton is the small central Missouri town where Winston Churchill spoke his famous line about an Iron Curtain descending across Europe. The town is also home to a rebuilt 17th century church from London that serves as a Churchill Museum.
As part of the eclipse festivities, the museum has a display on the church’s architect, Sir Christopher Wren, who was an astronomer before he was an architect, and a paper by Churchill pondering whether humans were alone in the universe.
The eclipse is on a Monday, and Graham says the community has several events planned over the weekend, culminating with watch parties in town and at nearby wineries. She says many people will have private gatherings of family and friends to watch as well.
Graham says hotels “have a pretty high occupancy rate” for the eclipse day, although some of that could be tied to that being back-to-school week for Fulton’s two colleges. She does know some hotels have booked guests who mentioned they were coming in for the eclipse, including some from Oklahoma and Maine.
Like many parts of Missouri, Callaway County is expecting visitors, but they aren’t sure how many.
“We have a lot planned for visitors,” she says.
In any event, Graham expects Callaway County residents to enjoy the show.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” she says. “It’s never happened when people have been this mobile and have had this much communication.”