By Sam Morgen
If Hopkinsville can be said to have won the solar lottery, then Mark Cansler and his family have won every game in the galactic casino and left the house bankrupt.
The Canslers own a field at the GPS coordinates 36.9664 north, 87.6709 west. Those coordinates will be the exact location where the moon will be closest to the earth during the 2017 solar eclipse.
Dubbed the point of greatest eclipse, the Canslers’ property has been singled out as the spot where the eclipse’s effects will be the greatest, and eclipse chasers from across the world will travel to Hopkinsville to visit the point of greatest eclipse. Not all those travelers will view the event from the Canslers’ property, but eclipse chasers intent for the purest experience available will find no better spot in the world.
That wasn’t what the Canslers expected or necessarily wanted.
Mark Cansler serves as a magistrate on the Christian Fiscal Court. His family owns property in Christian and Trigg counties. The field that will contain the point of greatest eclipse belongs to a farm started in 1919 by his grandparents, Otho and Tessie Shepherd.
The Canslers spent a long family meeting discussing whether to allow people onto their property for the 2017 eclipse.
“It was kind of a hard decision to make really, as to what’s the right thing to do,” said Lisa Bell, Mark’s sister. “There hasn’t been a lot to base the decision on.”
The Canslers worried about attracting too much attention to themselves and they worried about dealing with a crowd of people on Aug. 21, the day of the eclipse.
When the 2017 solar eclipse travels across the United States this August, nearly all of North America will experience at least a partial eclipse. To almost everybody, there will be little difference in viewing the eclipse at the point of greatest eclipse, or at some point a few miles away.
Property owners around the Canslers’ field have decided to open their property up for eclipse viewers as well. The Canslers worried about eclipsing their neighbors with the attention the area will receive from media companies and potential visitors.
Cansler said he wanted to ensure his neighbors received some recognition for being near the point of greatest eclipse.
But, some people’s desires to be at the actual spot where the eclipse’s effects will be the greatest cannot be satisfied with locations nearby. After much discussion, the Canslers decided to open their property to the public because they decided their grandparents would have wanted it that way.
“Our grandparents were very hospitable people and they believed very strongly in education. And in their time, they participated in community things, in things they thought were a benefit or a help to themselves, the longevity of their farm and to their small community,” Bell said.
“We kind of just felt like they probably would have wanted to be hospitable,” she added.
The farm itself has remained operational as a testament to Otho and Tessie. Bell said the family has farmed the land for three generations to keep the tradition alive.
“My mother and my aunt made very conscious decisions to keep the farm going whether it was a little or whether it was a lot.”
This year, the farm plot at the point of greatest eclipse was left fallow in preparation of the eclipse. The two-lane road that leads to the destination may become crowded with visitors on the day of the eclipse.
Two scientists from the University of California Berkeley recently visited Hopkinsville and described a total solar eclipse as an event that looks like the sun turns into a black hole and the blue sky turns into a star-filled night sky, except around the horizon, where a dusky glow rings the earth.
“Once you’ve seen a total solar eclipse you have to see another one,” said Dr. Laura Peticolas, one of the Berkeley scientists. “And people will spend their retirements to go see another one. I don’t recommend that at all, but I have heard it’s life-changing and a religious experience.”
For Bell, the eclipse is more than just a visual experience.
“This is a big opportunity for Hopkinsville and Christian County to show the state and the nation that is interested in the eclipse, that we are hospitable people and that we are welcoming people and that we want others to get a glimpse of maybe what life here is like,” she said.
With the eclipse more than five months away, Bell said she was already pleased with how the community had responded to the event.
“I’m proud for our whole area and our whole city, our whole country,” she said. “This is a historical event.”
By Sam Morgen