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VOL. 41 | NO. 33 | Friday, August 18, 2017

Eclipse watchers flock to Tennessee sites

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Eclipse watchers in Tennessee donned protective eyewear Monday and trained their eyes on the sky as they gathered at parks, wineries, rooftops, baseball games and a zoo to watch the rare celestial event.

In Nashville, the largest city along the eclipse's path of the totality, revelers crowded onto the rooftop decks of the honky tonks in the city's entertainment district to celebrate the eclipse, alternating between craning their necks at the sun and taking pulls from longnecks in buckets of ice. The crowd cheered each time the partial eclipse revealed itself from behind the clouds, and booed heartily when the sun was again covered up.

Though a cloud hid the total eclipse from sight at its peak moment in downtown, a hush fell over the crowd at The Stage on Broadway as the daylight turned to darkness. Some sang, others embraced. As soon as it was over, the house band resumed playing.

"It was absolutely worth the trip," said Oscar McCants, who came to see the eclipse from Huntsville, Alabama. "The clouds did cover it, but being here with so many likeminded people who wanted to see the event, it was worthwhile."

A few blocks away, Gov. Bill Haslam and his wife, Crissy, wore eclipse glasses and joined a crowd watching outside the Tennessee Capitol.

Other parts of Nashville were more fortunate and dodged the cloud cover when the moon fully covered the sun. Venues in Nashville such as the zoo, the Adventure Science Center and Bicentennial Mall also played host to eclipse watching events.

Hotels were 99 percent booked in Nashville on Sunday night, with 91,500 visitors expected to stay overnight, said Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. Visitors were projected to spend $28.8 million while in town, he said.

Those guests will pack Nashville International Airport to head home Tuesday. About 24,500 people are slated to fly out, compared with an average of about 18,000 departures.

In Memphis, about 400 people on the roof of the Peabody Hotel cheered Monday afternoon as the moon made its dance across the sun — just before a light gray cloud moved across it. The partial eclipse covered more than 90 percent of the sun there, leaving only a sliver of yellow light around the moon's shadow.

Kimberly Boone and a few co-workers waited in 95 degree heat on the Peabody's rooftop for the eclipse to take place. They hugged each other at the eclipse's peak.

"It was perfect timing with the cloud, it was amazing," said Boone, a 27-year-old nutritional program coordinator at the University of Tennessee-Le Bonheur Healthy Lifestyles Network. "Everybody still got excited and cheered. It doesn't matter if it was really a total eclipse or not. Everybody came together."

Minor league baseball fans watched the Memphis Redbirds play a midday game as the eclipse was taking place. The Redbirds, a Triple A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, wore eclipse-themed uniforms.

The total solar eclipse was visible across a 70-mile (113-kilometer) path through Tennessee. The rest of the state was treated to a minimum 90 percent eclipse experience.