Skygazers got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a rare total solar eclipse as it swept across a narrow corridor of 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina on Monday afternoon.
For a few moments, DeKalb County was in the path of near total darkness just before 1:30 p.m.
Spectators from states across the country, including NASA researchers and astronomers drove hundreds of miles to DeKalb County. Some flew in at the Smithville Municipal Airport.
“We’ve never had this many airplanes in Smithville before,” said Joe Johnson, Operator of the Smithville Municipal Airport.
“By noon we had approximately 34 landings and we had about 30 more who had called wanting to come in and we’re trying our best to park them. We can handle about 75 to 80 aircraft by parking them in the grass,” he said.
“We’ve had them fly in here from Texas, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and more,” Johnson added.
Stephanie Osborne from Huntsville, Alabama was among those who flew in at the airport. She is an astronomer who has worked 20 years at NASA.
"It’s darn near smack on the center line of the totality path,” when asked why she chose to come to Smithville to view the eclipse.
Greenbrook Park was also filled with people from across the country who gathered there for the viewing. Among them was Matt Johnson, also a NASA employee.
“ I came here because I wanted some place that was out of the way off the main highway to avoid traffic,” he said.
Johnson explained what he does for NASA.
“The Space Shuttle is getting a replacement called the SLS and I work on GNC, Guidance Navigation Control. I make sure it goes where it is supposed to go,” said Johnson.
Many enjoyed free goodies and entertainment while waiting for the eclipse during the Downtown Block Party hosted by the Smithville-DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce, Justin Potter Library, St. Thomas DeKalb Hospital, the DeKalb County Government, and the City of Smithville.
Center Hill Lake and Edgar Evins State Park were also places to be for the solar eclipse. Motorists coming from Interstate 40 were lined up on Buffalo Valley Road Monday morning waiting to enter the park to get a good spot for this once in a lifetime event
Visitors also gathered at the scenic overlook on Highway 56 north (Cookeville Highway) including some from Pennsylvania, New York, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
Scott and Lamanda Taylor of Franklinton, Louisiana were among those at the overlook. They arrived in DeKalb County Sunday after an eight hour drive from home.
Although Scott has an uncle with a cabin on Center Hill Lake, this was the Taylors' first visit here and their sole purpose in coming was to get the best view of the solar eclipse. They were among those parked at the scenic overlook.
“Its something that doesn’t happen too often that we in this country have an opportunity to see. Its something I didn’t want to miss,” Scott told WJLE.
“We are very excited about this,” added Lamanda.
After the big event, the Taylor’s said they planned to head back home. “We’re going to head on back. Gotta go back to work tomorrow,” said Scott.