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On public land, just a few miles from Doniphan, Missouri, strangers came together to witness the total solar eclipse

Philip Brown plays his fiddle for those waiting to see the total solar eclipse at Mudpuppy Conservation Area in Ripley County, Missouri (photo taken April 8, 2024).
Michele Skalicky
Philip Brown plays his fiddle for those waiting to see the total solar eclipse at Mudpuppy Conservation Area in Ripley County, Missouri (photo taken April 8, 2024).

The next total solar eclipse visible from the U.S. won't be until 2044.

The solar eclipse on April 8 brought people from all over the country — and all over the world — to parts of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas that were in the path of totality.

They found state and city parks, county fairgrounds, parking lots and other public places and set up chairs, blankets, coolers and, in some cases, cameras, tripods and telescopes, and got ready to enjoy and record an event that won’t be seen again from the U.S. again until August 23, 2044.

On Missouri Department of Conservation land a few miles from Doniphan in Ripley County, a smattering of folks from places like Alabama, Washington, Minnesota, Kansas and all across Missouri, randomly came together to witness four minutes of totality. Mudpuppy Conservation Area along the Little Black River isn’t exactly a well-known place. But they found it anyway.

And while they waited, they got to know one another.

Fiddle music plays

Philip Brown, a fiddle player who traveled all the way from Springdale, Washington to the path of totality, saw the last solar eclipse in Rexburg, Idaho, serenaded the field of eclipse viewers with tunes like Ashokan’s Farewell and old-fashioned hymns as they waited for the big event.

"The reason why I brought my fiddle," he said, "is because there could be a high possibility that someone else might also have an instrument."

"I saw two ukulele players right down there sitting in the back of their car," the KSMU reporter told him.

"Oh, really?" he replied. "And also it passes the time while you're waiting for the eclipse to happen because the eclipse is not going to happen until, what, 12:30ish, something like that, and so we had to get up about, what, 7 o'clock, 6 o'clock, something like that, and you had all that time to kill so why not play music?"

Brown, who’s in a bluegrass band called Jackie Fox and the Hounds, said he found the conservation area using Google Earth.

Members of the Ryan family from Valley Falls, Kansas get ready to watch the total solar eclipse at Mudpuppy Conservation Area in Ripley County, MO (photo taken on April 8, 2024).
Michele Skalicky
Members of the Ryan family from Valley Falls, Kansas get ready to watch the total solar eclipse at Mudpuppy Conservation Area in Ripley County, MO (photo taken on April 8, 2024).

A family of four from Kansas set up equipment to try to capture the eclipse. Tom and Gina Ryan and their son, TJ, live in Valley Falls. Their daughter Meghan, lives in Illinois.

"We've got a spotting scope with a sun filter on it," Tom Ryan said, "and I have a digital camera hooked to that, which runs to my laptop, then I can project it on a screen."

As the moon began to move between the sun and the Earth, they invited those around them to come and watch the event on a big screen set up in the back of their SUV.

It was a team effort.

"We're just big ol' nerds," said Gina, "science nerds."

"Me and my daughter get into astronomy pretty good," said Tom. "We've actually taken this out to capture the Orion Nebula."

"This is TJ. He's the cell phone guru and the computers, and he's also into electronics," said Gina. "I am just, 'want some water? Want some soda?' "

They also brought a drone. Meghan is a private pilot who is going for her commercial license. Meghan and TJ are both drone pilots.

About the time the moon was nearly covering the sun, someone yelled at anyone nearby to come and see the shadows of tree branches on the ground. They looked different – a ripple of crescents danced upon a nearby road.

And finally, it was the moment of totality.

Screaming

Totality during the solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 at Mudpuppy Conservation Area in Ripley County, Missouri.
Michele Skalicky
Totality during the solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 at Mudpuppy Conservation Area in Ripley County, Missouri.

For four minutes, people took off their eclipse glasses and gazed up and around them in awe at the darkened landscape, the cool grass and the moon covering the sun so that all you could see was the corona.

All too soon, the sun became a sliver again, and the moon continued its orbit around the Earth, friends chatted, people checked out their photos to see if they’d captured the eclipse and talked about how fortunate they were to have been there. Then they packed up, said goodbye to their new acquaintances and left with memories to last the rest of their lives.
 

 

 

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.