For two minutes and 42 seconds of totality, actor Will Wallace stretched his arms toward heaven and held the eclipsed sun.

The crowd behind him, dark in the silvery midday dusk, clapped wildly. They cheered. They wept openly, overwhelmed by the sublimity of the moment.

And then the moon slid away, quietly as it came, and the sun flashed down on the theater’s crowd once more. The actors began their work again performing the scenes of “Prometheus,” a local theater production that incorporated Monday’s eclipse into its climax.

“It was almost impossible to go on with the performance afterwards,” Bill Conte, the play’s writer and director, said Wednesday with a laugh. “Everyone was just out of their minds with excitement that we actually pulled this off.”

For Conte and his team, the eclipse performance was the reward for months of preparation and practice. And like many others around the state, the group hoped the eclipse would be an opportunity to show off their work and community to unprecedented crowds. To have a moment in the sun or, more appropriately, in the shadow.

Conte saw it as a chance to create unique art. Residents of a small town with a bad reputation saw it as a chance for redemption. Business owners viewed the eclipse as a chance to make a buck. Others considered it a chance to put their home or workplace on the map.

Now that the moment has come and gone, the Star-Tribune checked back in with the people who told us about their goals and hopes.

Charmed in Fremont County

The residents of Pavillion hoped the eclipse would help rebrand the tiny Fremont County town best known to outsiders for fracking and contaminated water. By a stroke of celestial luck, the town was smack in the middle of the path of totality and offered visitors almost two and a half minutes of totality, one of the longest durations in the nation.

“We’re pretty excited to have the exposure,” Beckie Hatcher, the town’s clerk, told the Star-Tribune in the weeks leading to the eclipse. “It would be nice for the community to have feel-good press.”

In total, a few hundred people visited the town for the eclipse, swelling the town’s population of 231. Visitors from California, Georgia and Germany walked the streets, many of whom had never heard of Pavillion before arriving.

The visitors participated in a street dance and contributed more than $300 to the local food bank through a fundraiser breakfast. They seemed to enjoy the intimacy of a small town, Hatcher said Thursday.

“They didn’t really know what to expect, but they were charmed,” she said.

Then, when the moment came, the crowd gasped simultaneously. They burst into cheers and applause.

“It was really more than anybody had really anticipated,” she said.

Business booms and busts

In Casper, local business set up booths downtown and peddled merchandise to the crowds wandering Second Street during the Wyoming Eclipse Festival.

Rob Staffig-Piotter, owner of Whitelace-n-Promises, saw the sales potential after selling more than 1,000 T-shirts featuring his original eclipse design. He hoped for “Christmas-level sales” but struggled to estimate how much stock to order.

“You have no way of knowing how much to order,” Staffig-Piotter said in July. “It’s something that’s never happened.”

The week after the eclipse, however, the owner was ecstatic about the shop’s success in selling its array of eclipse gear: T-shirts, shot glasses, magnets and coffee mugs.

“We’re wiped out all the way,” he said Thursday. “We had nothing left the day after.”

His team designed a T-shirt for the day after the big moment that reads “We came, we saw, we felt the shadow.” Those shirts have been popular as well.

“We wish we could have an eclipse every year,” he said.

But in Douglas, at least one business owner was underwhelmed by the crowds.

“I’m not saying it was all doom and gloom, but not as good as anticipated,” said John Hunt, owner of HeadStrong Brewery.

The owner prepared a hog roast and live music for the Thursday before the eclipse but made only $700 in sales. Business picked up later in the weekend, especially Sunday night, but never quite reached the levels Hunt was hoping for after a year of planning.

The visitors gave great feedback to the brewery and the travelers seemed to really appreciate Wyoming for its beauty, he said.

“Great people, great times and that outweighs money sometimes,” he said.

A ghost town revived

For months, John Voight and others have worked to prepare his ghost town for eclipse crowds. They mowed grass that had been growing unabated for decades. They took chainsaws to dead trees and leveled dirt roads, all in the hopes of showing what Sunrise had to offer — and why the work to preserve the abandoned mining town was worthwhile.

It paid off when 1,000 people came to the eastern Wyoming town for their eclipse moment — more than the town’s population even at its peak. The visitors were treated to a square dance and a view of the eclipse from a high plateau. Organizers raised quite a bit of money for the archaeological work being done just yards from the historic YMCA building.

An impromptu community also grew over the weekend. Visitors volunteered to help with check-ins and other tasks. Campers gathered around a site one night to sing along to a mix tape of songs about the moon and the sun. Amateur astronomers shared views from the telescopes they hauled to the rural site.

“People just fell in love with the experience,” said Josie Voight, John’s daughter and one of the event’s organizers.

By 5:30 a.m. Monday, the day of the eclipse, visitors had already begun to line up outside the town’s entrance gates, not scheduled to open until 8 a.m.

John Voight spent most of that morning shuttling people to the plateau above the town for broad views of the eclipse traveling across the prairie. Finally, minutes before totality began, John climbed once more to the ridge.

The crowd erupted in applause for the man who had worked so hard for them and his beloved town. They welcomed him into their midst before returning their gaze upward.

“It was really something,” said John’s other daughter, Jaren Cerf, who watched the eclipse on the plateau. “I don’t know how to describe it.”

Reporting contributed by Star-Tribune staff writers Arno Rosenfeld, Brady Oltmans and Elysia Conner.

Follow crime and courts reporter Elise Schmelzer on Twitter @eliseschmelzer


Features Editor

Elise Schmelzer joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 after graduating from the University of Missouri and interning at newspapers around the country. As features editor, she oversees arts and culture coverage and reports stories on a broad variety of topics.

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