The tiny town of Herculaneum, Missouri, canceled the Fourth of July this year.
It’s saving its celebrations for the Super Bowl of celestial events — a total solar eclipse that will turn the Mississippi River-hugging burg of 4,000 dark for a full two minutes, 32 seconds on Aug. 21.
Scores of cities from Oregon to South Carolina are planted in the 70-mile-wide path of totality for the historic eclipse. With one month to go, they are watching with wary excitement, bracing for an onslaught of eclipse chasers and hoping for a solar system-sized economic boost.
“We’re doing a two-day festival prior to the eclipse,” said Herculaneum Mayor Bill Haggard, who is also overseeing the sales of city-stamped eclipse glasses, T-shirts and commemorative coins. “We’ve been working on this for a couple years now trying to get the word out.”
A total solar eclipse last touched the U.S. in 1979, turning day to night along the path of a moon shadow that crossed five states. The Aug. 21 eclipse is the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years.
For many, it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with hotels filling up more than a year in advance and reservations spilling over into dorms at universities eager to cash in on their location.
But economists doubt a significant economic boon will be felt in most areas.
Small towns are limited by how many people they can house, feed and entertain. At the same time, unlike a sporting event held in a specific city, the coast-to-coast eclipse spreads out spending with no one town as a focal point.
“Nashville is the largest city in the path and it will see the largest impact because it has the biggest hotel capacity,” said Jeff Humphreys, director of economic forecasting for the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business. “A lot of the smaller towns won’t have the infrastructure to accommodate big crowds, so people won’t be spending a ton of money in them.”