Into the darkness

For some, the real fun happens after dark. 

That should be true for many folks in the middle of the afternoon on April 8, when a swath of the country, including roughly the northern half of Ohio, will experience a total solar eclipse.

Sandusky, no stranger to a good time, is really getting in on the action.

“(The area) knew it was poised for this once-in-a-lifetime event, and we wanted to go big with it, knowing that there was a lot of opportunity for economic impact in our area during a season that typically is slower for business,” says McKenzie Springs, director of Destination Sandusky. “We have the infrastructure, we know how to produce high-level, elevated events, and so the Total Eclipse of SUNdusky was born.”

Set to start Wednesday, April 3 and culminate on the day when the eclipse happens, shortly after 3 p.m., the Total Eclipse of SUNdusky Festival is set to educational opportunities, movies and music – oh, and Jeepclipse on April 4 – with downtown’s Jackson Street Pier as the epicenter. A news release for the event calls it “a cosmic extravaganza” and notes outdoors magazine Outside named the city one of the top locations to witness the eclipse.

The city even issued a proclamation declaring its name be SUNdusky, USA, on eclipse weekend, April 5 through 8, with credit for that idea going to Jason Werling, the city’s recreation superintendent.

“(He) is a very witty, punny guy,” Spriggs says. “Every opportunity to insert some fun and pun into things, he takes it.”

Folks including Spriggs, Werling, city Communications Manager Tom Horsman and Amanda Smith Rasnick, destination development director for Shores & Islands Ohio, have been meeting for well over a year to brainstorm ideas and plan for the rare dose of darkness to draw locals and visitors alike.

“We took a lot of inspiration from what other communities did with the 2017 eclipse,” says Horsman, referring to the event on Aug. 21 of that year that charted a different path across the United States

Adds Spriggs, “When we looked at historic eclipses, the communities that chose to lean into them and prepare for them saw great rewards. We wanted to be one of those, coupled with the fact that this is a very cool scientific thing that’s happening and we have a NASA facility – this might be a great opportunity to shed some light (with the Neil Armstrong Test Facility) right here in our community.”

Much of the area is planning eclipse-related events, including Cedar Point’s Total Eclipse of the Point, many of which can be found on a page set up by Shores & Islands

“This is where we have asked all of our communities, all of our partners, all of our hotels that might be having lodging (options), any events that are taking place within our communities that make up Shores & Islands, to contribute to,” Smith Rasnick says.

“The message is ‘come early and stay late,’” she adds, noting a wider flow of folks in and out of the area should alleviate traffic issues. “There’s programming and festivities taking place all weekend to hopefully encourage people to come early.”

Here’s what’s on tap that is specifically tied to the Total Eclipse of SUNdusky Festival:

Wednesday, April 3:  Cosmic Education with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s Senior Astronomer Nick Anderson

Thursday, April 4: Jeepclipse: A Celebration of 4x4s on April 4 (4/4)

Friday, April 5: “Little Shop of Horrors” movie screening and Pavilion Plant Takeover with the Friends of the Sandusky Greenhouse

Saturday, April 6: “Twilight: Eclipse” movie screening

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Trailer (2010) - Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson Movie HD

Saturday, April 6 through Monday, April 8: Music Festival.

To keep the beat going, here’s the music schedule: 

Saturday, April 6: The Flyin Jays, noon; SWAGG, 2 p.m.; Kinsman Dazz Band, 5 p.m.

Sunday, April 7: Steve Brownell, noon; Follow the Sun, 2 p.m.; Killer Flamingos, 5 p.m. 

Zombie LIVE Killer Flamingos at The Roxy

Monday, April 8: The Menus, noon. 

The festival will be another chance to showcase the renovation done just a few years ago to Jackson Street Pier, which is no stranger to musical performances.

“Most people that know Sandusky, at least regionally – from Ohio or Michigan or Indiana – know it, obviously, because of Cedar Point or Kalahari (Resorts) or Great Wolf (Lodge Water Park),” Horsman says. “I think one thing that most people are pleasantly surprised to see is our historic waterfront downtown. It’s one of the few cities on Lake Erie that is right on the bay. It doesn’t have any highways or railroads or anything separating the city from the water, and we really take advantage with our waterfront.”

“It’s a very cool experience to be listening to live music with your entire community on the water,” Spriggs says. “It’s a very magical thing with no eclipse, so I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be like when it goes dark in the middle of the day.”

Greater Cleveland also will experience the eclipse, with seemingly every entity under the Northeast Ohio sun planning something or another for April 8. But while Spriggs says there are “enough people to go around,” Sandusky is a great choice for those willing to make a drive for the eclipse.

“This isn’t touching the entire state of Michigan,” she says. “When you look at where Michiganders are going to go, the driving route is likely right here,” she says. “We offer something really special in Sandusky with what’s going on. We have a really great downtown for people to explore. A lot of our businesses are excited about it.”

The festival is free thanks to the city budgeting $60,000 for activities and events, according to Horsman. Shores & Islands and Destination Sandusky are chipping in by providing all the eclipse-viewing glasses that will be handed out to attendees. (Obligatory reminder: Don’t just stare at the eclipse without the proper protection, people.)

We can go no further ignoring the cloud-sized elephant in the room: Mother Nature. The eclipse will take place on the same day as the Cleveland Guardians’ home opener, which serves as a reminder that in April, it could be 72 and sunny in northern Ohio. 

Or there could be a blizzard.

Cleveland Indians Opening Day Snow Delay

“We’re going to celebrate, and that’s been our message,” says Smith Rasnick, “That’s been our message throughout: No matter what, these events are taking place; No matter what, it will go dark.

“I have been giving multiple presentations around the area,” she continues, “and I always end on a slide (of) a photo at just after 3 o’clock on April 8, 2023, and the sun was out and it was a clear day, so we’re just going to manifest that – it’ll be great.”

Spriggs certainly has a bright-and-sunny outlook when it comes to this affair.

“Sandusky’s been working really hard on itself for the last decade,” she says. “We’ve seen a renaissance of sorts, and we think we are perfectly poised to welcome those people and celebrate this event that hasn’t happened in 200 years.”

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