The first time Elizabeth Horsch saw an eclipse, it wasn’t the sky that caught her attention.
She was about 5 or 6 years old, riding a pony on the plains of Texas behind her dad.
The pair came across a group of people dressed in white. They were gathered on a small hill to be closer to the eclipse, presumably to have a better chance of reaching heaven.
“Texas is pretty flat,” the retired high school science teacher said. “They went to the tallest peak in the county. I doubt if it was a hundred feet tall, but they were convinced that it was the end of the world.”
Her dad thought it was hysterical.
“I remember that vividly,” she said. “As a little kid it might have scared me if he hadn’t thought it was so funny.”
Now, the retired Casper teacher finds herself again in the path of an eclipse. On Aug. 21, the Oil City will be one of the best places in the country to view the biggest celestial event in a century.
It seems everyone in town already has a story tied to the eclipse, whether it’s a recollection of a past event, an anecdote about how much money a friend is making by renting their home or a rumor about sacrificial rituals during the event. Estimates that 35,000 people may descend on the town have some worried, some annoyed and others looking for a chance to make some extra money. Whatever happens, it’ll be over soon enough, they say.
Aysha Chaney, 24, is not impressed.
“Not really, no. It’s just a little bit of darkness,” the 24-year-old said. “I think the town is going to be trashed, which I’m not very fond of.”
Chaney will be working that day, at a gas station on Poplar Street. The busy road connects to the main highway that rolls from Casper through Cheyenne to Colorado.
“It’s going to be jam-packed. We’re stocking up for it,” she said.
The staff will have a barbecue during the actual eclipse so that everyone can watch. But the bustle of strangers flooding her town is more of annoyance than anything else.
“I’m not excited about the traffic. It gives me anxiety,” she said. “It’s kind of freaky to think about...in such a small town.”
But all of those people mean business, and for some, the eclipse is an opportunity to make a buck.
Terry Thomas is a local property manager in town. From delivering phone books across the state to landscaping, he is always working, always looking for opportunities to do business. He’ll be set up downtown with his hot dog truck, The Dog House, throughout the eclipse weekend.
He’s not sure what to expect given the size of the crowds. How many hot dogs can you sell to that many people? On a busy day, he usually sells about 250.
“Some of the biggest things we’ve done in the past are like the fair,” he said. “This is going to be a little bit bigger. We’re just going to take it one thing at a time here. I’m not going to get too excited, I’m just going to try and make it work.”
Like most people in Casper, Thomas is wondering how the logistics of the briefly swollen population are going to work.
“I think it is going to be crazy,” he said. “It seems that everybody, they’ve rented out their homes. All the hotels are booked. I don’t know where all those people are going to stay. The traffic, I don’t know.”
But while some are likely frustrated by the mess, the cars, the hoopla of the eclipse, Thomas said he’s just taking it for what it is.
“It’s not going to last forever, whatever happens, happens,” he said. “I’m going to try and take advantage of it and that’s how I’m looking at it.”
The last eclipse Thomas saw occurred when he was in grade school, but he was too young to remember the impression is made on him.
Horsch, the school teacher, recalled an eclipse over Casper in the 1970s. She was young and busy, juggling other things, she said.
“It seems to me that it happened, and we all said ‘Oh, that was an eclipse,’ and went back to our work,” she laughed.
This time family and colleagues from around the country are coming to her house. They’ll throw a large party and watch the night fall during mid-morning together.
The hubbub, she finds amusing and fascinating.
The consummate teacher, Horsch is mainly pleased that so many people are learning something, she said.
Horsch was a chemist as well as a high school teacher. Her practice in science was grounded in the lab, in the various industries of Wyoming and in the classrooms of Kelly Walsh High School. Looking up for a change has been a pleasure, she said.
It’s also made her stop and think about time and scale, something she’s done a lot of this summer fly fishing with her husband in the Big Horn Mountains.
“We get so focused on ourselves, but just thinking about how long this planet has operated, and what an incredible thing it is,” she said. “I find it kind of interesting, this phenomenal event and we are scurrying around. It just makes me think how really insignificant we are.”