HOULTON, Maine — Eclipse chasers from as far away as the Caribbean have already made plans to come to Houlton for a rare cosmic alignment next spring.
Houlton is the last viewing spot of the April 8, 2024, total eclipse of the sun in the United States before it crosses the Canadian border.
“I’m surprised they did not make [reservations] last year,” said Dan McGlaun, the operator of Eclipse2024.org and a veteran of 15 total eclipses around the world. “The craziness has only just begun.”
Eclipse2024.org, created by McGlaun and his team, is an online educational link that offers free materials to schools and museums.
Houlton is among locations from Mexico to Canada that are in the eclipse’s path of totality, meaning the moon will completely cover the sun for several minutes on April 8, 2024. At totality the experience is phenomenal, said McGlaun, adding that once a person experiences a total eclipse they want to travel to the next one.
“A total eclipse is something that little kids will look up from their video games and go, ‘That’s cool.’ It’s just overwhelming. They are spiritual, emotional and amazing,” he said.
McGlaun has mapped all the cities in Maine so anyone can follow the eclipse for their town.
The Houlton Eclipse Committee has been planning and preparing for this perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity since 2021, said Jane Torres, executive director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce.
Populations of towns smaller than Houlton’s 6,055, can swell to 60,000 during a total eclipse of the sun, Torres said.
But because this is northern Maine and the weather in April is unpredictable, planners are thinking the number of visitors might be between 10,000 and 30,000, she said. The fact that Houlton is the last place the eclipse can be seen in Maine might increase that number, she said.
Ivey’s Motor Lodge on North Street in Houlton has taken reservations for that weekend from people in Las Vegas, Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut and St. Vincent in the Grenadines, General Manager Louise Martin said.
The lodge has 49 rooms, two of which are larger suites, she said.
The Katahdin Lodge, 11 miles north of Patten, got calls in 2017 from people in Louisiana and North Carolina for rooms for the 2024 eclipse. At the time, they took names and are now calling them back to see if they are still interested in coming, said Chris Loucka, one of the owners.
“We got quite a few calls,” Loucka said.
The moon will completely cover the sun in Houlton for three minutes and 20 seconds of shadow time, according to McGlaun, who meticulously maps and plots the path of totality for schools, museums and communities.
The centerline is only about 8 miles north of Houlton on U.S. Route 1 near Littleton, giving an extra second and a half of viewing at that location, McGlaun said. In Bridgewater, it will be 3 minutes, 16 seconds; Presque Isle, 2 minutes, 48 seconds of totality; and Caribou, 2 minutes, 10 seconds.
The last total solar eclipse in Maine was on July 20, 1963, and the path of totality was southwest of The County.
Torres said they realize the town does not have enough lodging to support crowds of that size, and they are working with other County communities to accommodate visitors to the area.
“We believe they will be staying in outlying areas with Houlton as the hub,” she said.
Planners are looking for people willing to open up their homes, to rent out a room or even their driveway for people, she said. The chamber is also working with local churches to plan suppers every night to make sure everyone is fed.
The committee is reaching out to schools to try to coordinate a day off for students, because traffic will be heavy. They will meet with the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office, Houlton police, Maine State Police, Houlton Department of Public Works and Maine Department of Transportation to start planning now to handle all the traffic, Torres said.
The town already bought 60,000 sets of eclipse viewing glasses and they are now at the event planning stage of things.
“We are even considering moving our [Blackfly] Brewfest to that weekend,” Torres said.