A rare total solar eclipse drew tourists from nearly every corner of the world to Hendersonville on Monday as the city grew dusk-like for more than two minutes in the middle of the day.
The fact that a large, city-wide event wasn't planned like in neighboring Gallatin and Nashville didn't seem to deter out-of-town sky-watchers intent on finding the best spot to view the coast-to-coast phenomenon.
Irma and Homer Robin trekked from Lake Charles, La., to view the eclipse in the open field beside the Holiday Inn Express in Hendersonville. They said they didn't mind paying the $500-a-night asking price.
Although they had been reading about the event for years, Irma Robin said they only decided a month ago to make the trip.
"We were a little undecided at first, but then just figured we're at that place in our lives where we want to experience more things like this," she said. "For us, this won't happen again in our lifetimes and we wanted to be where we could experience it fully."
Holiday Inn personnel said all of the hotel's rooms had been booked for Sunday night and that the hotel highlighted the open field as a perfect viewing spot to those who called asking about the eclipse. They said they welcomed guests from as far away as Japan, Quebec, Newfoundland and Australia.
Muthana and Tamara Taha of Ann Arbor, Mich., said they booked their room a year ahead of time and liked the idea of viewing the event next door without fighting crowds or traffic.
"This is one of two things in my life I thought I would never see," said Dan Buehler who travelled from San Diego, Calif., with his wife Carlyn to also stay at the hotel. Both donned Chicago Cubs t-shirts and jokingly compared the rarity of a total solar eclipse with their favorite baseball team winning the World Series last fall.
The spot in front of the Hyatt Place hotel a little further down Main Street was similarly crowded where a variety of languages could be overheard as play pens were placed strategically in the shade and telescopes were aimed at the sun.
An unusual viewing spot
Several tourists also gathered at an unlikely spot to view the eclipse - the gravesite of Johnny and June Carter Cash in Hendersonville Memory Gardens.
"We felt like it would be good and open here," said Matt Christa, who drove up with his family from Brookhaven, Miss.
"And we thought why not watch the sun go black with the 'man in black?'"
Joining Christa and his family were a couple from Germany as well as Robert Kern and Cora Timmer, who travelled from Holland for Elvis week a week earlier, and decided to prolong their trip to view the eclipse at Cash's gravesite.
"What better place to see the 'Ring of Fire?'" added Kern.
Many out-of-towners also found their way to Memorial Park where aldermen Pat Campbell and Scott Sprouse hosted a cook-out for eclipse viewers.
"I met people from Italy, Austria, Denmark - just all over," said Campbell. "It was just really a neat experience to have people from all over come here as well as our friends and neighbors."
Hendersonville resident Karen Kastler said she made the half-mile drive to Memorial Park to view the event with others.
"I just want to support the people who wanted to have an activity in our community," she said. "This kind of thing is fun to do with a group of people."
Park Place Retirement Community, the Hendersonville Senior Citizens Center, Historic Rock Castle and several churches also hosted eclipse parties.
"It was so fun to see our residents really getting into the spirit of this historic event," said Park Place General Manager Amy Raines. "They were like big kids staring at the sky as they sipped on Alien Nectar drink that fizzed with Pop Rocks and colorful Kool-Aid ice cubes!"
Residents also stomped their feet to a playlist of songs fit for the occasion - Here Comes the Sun, Moon River, and of course, Total Eclipse of the Heart.
"This was an event that not only brought our family of residents together. I think it has brought our nation together as well," Raines added.
"Absolutely wonderful is how Hendersonville Senior Citizens Center member Carolyn Gore described the total eclipse. "Even though it was warm it couldn't have been better."
A dusk-like glow
Temperatures soared in the high 90's on Monday, but dropped significantly during the two-and-a-half minutes of totality when a dusk-like glow enveloped the city. Depending on where you were, you could hear people cheering as well as the chirping of cicadas and crickets. Some people reported seeing bats flying around Memorial Park, seemingly confused by the sudden shift in light.
"It was an emotional experience," said Senior Center Director Julie White. "God was showing off and it was magnificent."
Since Sumner County Schools were closed for the day, many were able to enjoy the event with their families. Many viewed the historic event on Old Hickory Lake as well.
Larry and Glendoria Boyd of Dallas Fort Worth, Texas joined a group watching the event at Merrol Hyde Magnet School where the Haiti National Amputee Soccer team played a pick-up game over the weekend.
"We learned the Haiti amputee soccer team was coming to Nashville from Little Rock, and the eclipse would be that Monday so we thought, let's just turn it into a weekend getaway," said Larry Boyd.
"This is the best kept secret in Nashville."
Hendersonville Standard Sports Writer Zach Womble contributed to this report.