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The stars align as the solar eclipse, Final Four converge in Northeast Ohio

The stars aligned for Northeast Ohio this weekend, even as a giant star in the sky will be obscured on Monday afternoon. Visitors poured into the region for the total solar eclipse and the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

The 200 camp sites at West Branch State Park in Ravenna were filled with RVs and tents over the weekend. One of the large, group sites will be hosting 35 people from Michigan and Tennessee when the skies go dark on Monday. It’s also when Katie Bee, from Ann Arbor, will celebrate her birthday - rain or shine.

“There’s frequently snow on my birthday,” she said. “It’s always hit or miss. 2020 is the only nice weather birthday I can remember. We’re happy with what we’re getting.”

A woman in a green hooded top carries a dog on a campground near a lake.
Matthew Chasney
Ideastream Public Media
Katie Bee of Ann Arbor, Michigan traveled to West Branch State Park to celebrate her birthday which coincides with the solar eclipse.

Jake Esola frequently brings his family to West Branch, yet they’ll be watching the eclipse from home in Atwater, Ohio.

“We would have stayed longer, but the place is packed,” he said. “We couldn’t get a spot, and we’re actually going home right before the eclipse.”

At the site next to Esola, Alvaro Mediavilla and family were finishing up a spring break trip which included a visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park. A native of Spain, he also planned to leave before the eclipse. He’s a teacher in Delaware, which isn’t in the path of totality. So, school is in session and he said he plans to take his family to the Franklin Institute Museum to view the skies.

“It’s not going to be as good as here, and we wish we could be here,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s the best we can get.”

EclipseFest on Lake Erie

Many more eclipse-revelers were at NASA’s Eclipse Fest at the Great Lakes Science Center. Josh Federoff and family came from the Philadelphia area to visit the national park, Christmas Story House and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. For the event itself, they’ll be sticking close to an AirBnB near Akron.

“I have a little bit of a concern about traffic in general,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is going to go out of their minds or anything like that, but of course you’ll have the animals doing their night sounds.”

Four people standing outside the Great Lakes Science Center look up. A small model rocket is in the foreground.
Matthew Chasney
Ideastream Public Media
Josh, Judy, Abby, and John Federoff from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, watch a rocket-making demonstration at Total Eclipse Fest at the Great Lakes Science Center.

Riley Robinson, from Baltimore, is more cautious. She said Monday afternoon could be an astrological alert, foretold by this month’s East Coast earthquake and the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse.

“Everyone is in a changing part of their life with the eclipse energy,” she said. “Eclipses either force you to close a chapter or walk through a door. And it’s up to you whether the eclipse punts you through that door or forces your chapter closed.”

Two women and a man stand on a grassy area.
Matthew Chasney
Ideastream Public Media
Samantha Robinson, Riley Robinson, and Bill Robinson traveled from Baltimore, Maryland, to watch the eclipse in Cleveland.

Maria Leysens from Valley City, Ohio, isn’t concerned and will use Monday afternoon to invite friends over for eclipse-themed food and drink.

“Sun chips, moon pies,” she said, and quoting lyrics from Dean Martin's "That's Amore," “’When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie,’ we’re going to have pizza!”

People walk around beside white tents outside the Great Lakes Science Center. Downtown buildings are in the background.
Matthew Chasney
Ideastream Public Media
Crowds visit exhibit tents for Total Eclipse Fest at the Great Lakes Science Center on Saturday, March 6, 2024.

The Science Center is also hosting events after the eclipse, as the Cleveland International Film Festival presents “Small Town Universe,” a documentary about the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The festival continues through April 13 at Playhouse Square.

Stars in the sky and on the court

Alongside eclipse and film activity, Downtown Cleveland has been alive with the NCAA Women’s Final Four. On Friday, South Carolina surged past N.C. State, ending the season for fan Carla Stevens from Raleigh. She and a group of friends made a last-minute decision to spend the weekend in Cleveland to support their team. She’s glad women’s basketball is getting more attention than in years past.

“It’s a shame it’s taken this long,” she said. “If you’d watched women’s sports, especially basketball, it’s more interesting than men’s sports. You have more fundamentals… a lot of times, men play street ball and women play fundamental ball.”

University of Iowa alumni
Kabir Bhatia
Ideastream Public Media
The Rhineharts are both alumni of the University of Iowa. They drove from their home in North Liberty to support the Hawkeyes at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

The attention on the Hawkeyes compelled Iowa alum Shawn Rhinehart and his wife to drive from their home in North Liberty to see Caitlin Clark’s final game.

“We’re forever thankful that we’ve been able to watch games that she played in,” he said. “And thankful, I have two younger daughters, that they’ve been able to see her play basketball.”

Ticket prices for the games at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse reached into the four figures. Emily Quinn drove from Washington, D.C., to support the South Carolina Gamecocks and paid close to $400 for her ticket.

“I did go to the Taylor Swift Eras tour earlier this year, and that ticket was cheaper, which is kind of funny,” she said. “It’s bigger than Taylor Swift!”

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.