By MARINA WATERS
The Town of Jonesborough’s Solar Eclipse block party wasn’t until Monday, but that didn’t stop more than two thousand people from flocking to the Jonesborough Visitor Center to get their hands on solar eclipse glasses on Wednesday Aug. 16.
“We knew they were really hard to come by and people are having a hard time finding them, but then when they went so quick, we realized it was a much bigger deal than we thought it was,” Visitor Center Manger Amber Crumley said. “Up until probably Monday or Tuesday, we had no idea that on Wednesday it was going to be as big as it was for us. Word just spread and everyone started sharing it and tagging their friends on Facebook and Instagram. It was wild.”
On Wednesday, the visitor center started the day with 2,000 glasses to sell for $3 each. Each person was limited to four glasses, but even after standing in line for hours (some since 6:30 that morning), patrons were determined to try their luck until the visitor center sold their last pair.
“Our police chief went out to tell people when we had sold out. He actually made about four trips to periodically tell people, ‘If everyone buys four, the line will stop here. This is where we run out of glasses.’ Every time he did that, people said, ‘We’re staying. We stood in line this long, we’re going to stay just in case.’
“The last I heard it was still back to the library that there were probably around 120 people in line who did not get glasses,” Crumley said. “And the phone has been ringing off the hook since Wednesday with people wanting to know if we have them.”
So many celestial event-goers came to the visitors center that town police, who were also taken aback by the amount of people in line for glasses, were asked to help manage the crowd. Jonesborough Police Chief Ron Street said traffic was an issue for at least part of the day on Wednesday.
“This size of a crowd was not anticipated, no. We thought it would be a gradual thing all day long,” Street said. “They came in so fast, they’re parked everywhere. Everything is crowded. We’re just trying to keep it orderly.”
NASA predicted that more than 300 million people will be able to see the solar eclipse. The space agency suggested using special-purpose solar filters, as used in official solar eclipse glasses, to view the celestial event. Because places such as Lowe’s sold out of the glasses before the event, the race to find them before the solar eclipse on Monday created a frenzy. For people like Joyce Jones, who was with her family at the visitors center in hopes of buying a pair of glasses, eye safety was of upmost importance.
“Eye protection is why we’re here. All my grandkids will be in school so they will have them through the school. I probably won’t get any — I’ll just use a welder’s helmet,” Joyce said, laughing.
After the information overflow about the danger of viewing the eclipse without proper eyewear, lots of folks like Jones were concerned about safety before the event.
But Crumley said the rarity of the solar eclipse is also something each sun-watcher likely considered before they hopped in line — or called the visitors center well into Monday morning.
“If you stay in one place and you’re not going and seeking out where the eclipse is going to be going over, you can go your whole lifetime and never see a total eclipse,” Crumley said. “And we’re pretty close to 100 percent (totality). So I think that’s why it’s been so big here and so important for people who are in that area to get the glasses and participate. It’s a once in a lifetime thing.”