Apr 8, 2024 - News

Arkansas drew international eclipse audience

Michelle and Randy Weller kiss to seal their marriage just before the total eclipse in Russellville, Arkansas. They joined more than 100 other couples in a mass wedding. Time 1:38 pm CT.

Michelle and Randy Weller kiss to seal their marriage just before the total eclipse in Russellville. They joined more than 100 other couples in a mass wedding. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

A soccer field of newlyweds erupted in cheers Monday in Russellville when the Moon covered the Sun.

  • About four minutes later, they cheered again, as the total eclipse's "diamond ring" began to appear.

State of play: More than 100 couples gathered in the Pope County town that Forbes magazine called one of the best places to see the eclipse. They joined people from all 50 states and at least 35 countries from Germany to Malaysia to witness the event.

The rare celestial alignment could be the largest tourism attraction in state history, according to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Weatherman Dan Skoff looks at the sun through eclipse glasses.
NWA weatherman Dan Skoff during his live broadcast of the eclipse. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Context: Axios traveled part of the Natural State to see how people celebrated and hear why they came. These are some of their stories.

On Saturday near Hot Springs, Vanessa Palacios watched her 4-year-old, Nico Skierski, chase giant bubbles.

  • She and her husband were married at a mass wedding in South Carolina during the total solar eclipse in 2017.
  • Seven years later, she wanted her son to witness one, so they drove from Atlanta.

Jade Field, 25, drove 1,600 miles from Los Angeles by herself in a car outfitted with a pop-out tent.

  • She'd been headed to Fredericksburg, Texas, where the view was supposed to be prime, but she followed the cloud forecast and ended up in Russellville with no clear camping plan.
  • "Totality or bust," she said over a beer at a crowded downtown bar.

Dale Esser rolled into Russellville late Sunday evening. He'd traveled from Carrington, North Dakota, and stopped Saturday in Tulsa, where he dislocated his left elbow when he slipped on a curb.

Esser said he'll be 86 when the next total eclipse comes to the U.S. in 2045, so the 1,000-mile trip was worth it.

Bartosz Wojczynski traveled from Poland with friends to photograph the event.

  • He works in IT and it's "mundane," he said, so he travels to photograph various celestial events for fun.

Before the mass wedding, Hillary Hague of Knoxville, Tennessee, took advantage of an offer of free hairdos from Arkansas Beauty College students. She later married Tim Woods.

  • She and several other brides cited convenience, timing and lack of desire to throw a wedding bash as reasons for attending.

The bottom line: The true economic impact of the weekend won't be known for some time, but traffic volume on Sunday was up a modest 10-15% from normal weekends, according to Dave Parker, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

  • He said "very few accidents" had occurred as of mid-day Monday.

Go deeper: See more photos from around Arkansas

avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios NW Arkansas.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More NW Arkansas stories

No stories could be found

NW Arkansaspostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios NW Arkansas.

🌱

Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more