Student Newsroom

How one small Illinois town is celebrating totality — and an influx of eclipse tourists


Dylan Bowling, left, poses with Beth Sandusky at the McLeansboro Solar Eclipse Festival. They are members of the McLeansboro Kiwanis Club, which hosted the town’s solar eclipse festival. Madison Holcomb/Illinois Student Newsroom

MCLEANSBORO --- The town of McLeansboro, Illinois, has a population of less than 3,000 people. But it’s expecting an influx of visitors for the solar eclipse, as the town is directly in the line of totality. 

To celebrate this historical event, the McLeansboro Kiwanis Club hosted a two-day festival with live music, food trucks and special guests, including a member of the NASA Solar Eclipse Taskforce. 

Beth Sandusky and Dylan Bowling, members of the Kiwanis Club, helped organize the festival. While McLeansboro was in the line of totality during the 2017 solar eclipse, Bowling said they didn’t have any events to celebrate it that year — something they later regretted.

“We thought we wouldn’t repeat history,” Bowling said. “We wanted to bring something for the community and for everyone coming in from different states.” 

Visitors from across the country gathered Sunday in McLeansboro, Illinois, for a festival to celebrate the solar eclipse. McLeansboro is a small town in Southern Illinois that has one of the longest durations of totality.

Photo Credit: Madison Holcomb/Illinois Student Newsroom

Some in attendance traveled long distances for the event. Sandusky said she knew of visitors coming from places like Washington, D.C., and California. 

Tomas Scace was one of those visitors. He traveled more than 1,000 miles from Philadelphia to McLeansboro with some of his friends to witness a total solar eclipse for the first time. Scace said he’s not only excited to see the eclipse, but he’s also looking forward to really experiencing a small town, also for the first time. 

“Seeing that sign that said 2,900 people live here, and comparing it to 1.6 million in Philadelphia, it’s definitely an eye-opening thing,” he said. “It’s just way different. It’s a culture shock.”

Scace said he’s hoping to feel a strong connection with the celestial event.

“I’ve heard it can be a changing moment in peoples’ lives,” he said. “It’s very awe-inspiring and could be a moment of conception and moving forward towards the future with a greater idea of what you’re going to do.” 

Russ Elrod, an Alabama resident, said he came across McLeansboro while looking into which towns along the solar eclipse’s path would experience the longest length of totality. 

“I think it’s interesting how people from all walks of life and all ages are showing interest in the eclipse,” Elrod said. “I think it’s something everyone can come together on, put our differences aside and enjoy the show.” 

Sandusky, who lives in McLeansboro, said she’s enjoyed welcoming people from all over the country to their community. 

“It’s really exciting that they picked our little town to visit,” she said.