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A tale of the solar eclipse, thunderstorms, Abraham Lincoln and the Cubs

You might not think those things go together. Gather ‘round and I’ll tell you a story of how they did on Monday.

The sun, 96 percent eclipsed, at Springfield, Illinois
Al Yellon

With a Cubs homestand ending Sunday, I didn’t make plans to head to one of the areas of totality for Monday’s solar eclipse, figuring I wouldn’t be able to get there in time, or would get stuck in traffic somewhere.

But I did want to try to get somewhere that I’d see more than the 87 percent of totality available in Chicago.

I discovered late last week that some minor-league teams were going to have brief eclipse ceremonies at the moment of peak coverage; they’d stop the game for about 10 minutes, then continue. (Later I learned that this was being done by every minor-league team with a game scheduled Monday afternoon.)

The closest such team to Chicago is the Peoria Chiefs, the former Cubs affiliate now affiliated with the Cardinals. So I decided I’d make the two and a half hour drive there to combine baseball with eclipsing.

Unfortunately, dark clouds loomed on the western horizon driving down I-55 and I-74 and by the time I got to Peoria, it was raining pretty hard, with dark thunderstorm clouds still around. Figuring I wouldn’t be able to see much there (and the Chiefs game did wind up being rain-delayed, twice), but seeing mostly clear skies on the southern horizon, I headed south to Springfield (it was by then too late to get to St. Louis, where totality awaited in some areas). I’d at least get 96 percent totality there.

Driving into the center of town, I looked for an open area where visibility would be good. I found and parked my car next to a small park where a couple of dozen people with eclipse glasses were looking up at the sky.

It was a pretty good view, at 96 percent totality. Even at that percentage, though, it never got close to being dark, but the sky did turn a deeper shade of blue and a dusk-like aura fell. It’s hard to describe... not really like dusk, but clearly darker than it would normally be at 1 p.m. The temperature fell from around 80 to around 70. And the semi-darkness triggered the lights in this park to go on:

Al Yellon

After watching all this, worth traveling for even without seeing the total eclipse, I realized the serendipity of the parking space I’d chosen. It was directly across the street from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, which since March has been the host to an exhibit called “The Rivalry: Cubs vs. Cardinals.”

When heading to Springfield, I knew about this exhibit and wanted to see it. I didn’t know that totally by accident, I would park right across the street from it, at a street parking space where you can actually still throw coins into a parking meter, and can park for up to five hours. About $1 worth of coins (there was time left on the meter) gave me enough time to see this exhibit.

This is a must-see exhibition for any Cubs fan. It has timelines of Cubs and Cardinals history, both in and of themselves and of various rivalry games and times in the common history of the two teams (such as the 1998 home-run chase and the 2015 postseason series, the first ever between the Cubs and Cardinals). There’s Hall of Fame-grade memorabilia in this exhibit, much of it on loan from the teams. That includes the cap worn by Don Cardwell from his 1960 no-hitter, a glove worn by Ken Hubbs during his Rookie of the Year season, a baseball from Ken Holtzman’s 1969 no-hitter, the cap worn by Kerry Wood from his 20-K game, and the spikes Greg Maddux wore for his 300th win in 2004. There’s also some nice older memorabilia, including a Cubs World Champions watch fob from 1908, as well as quite a bit from last year’s Cubs World Series win. With that, I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s on display there, which you can see in these photos:

The first image shows donation boxes where people have put dollar bills in support of their favorite team. The Cubs box had more in it, though not by much. The touch screen noted in photo 10 is a map showing the most popular team in each county of the USA. There are also four touch screen trivia question spots where you can add “runs” to your team’s total by correctly answering questions about the Cubs or Cardinals. You’ll be pleased to know I added 12 “runs” to the Cubs total by answering all 12 questions I found correctly. There’s also a lot of Cardinals history in the exhibit, much of which I didn’t photograph, figuring you’d be much more interested in the Cubs portion of the history depicted.

This exhibit is really well put-together and is definitely worth the ride to Springfield, even if you’re not chasing a solar eclipse all over Illinois. The Lincoln museum, with stories of the 16th President’s life and times, is well worth visiting beyond the baseball exhibit, which runs through December 31.

And that’s how I spent the day of the 2017 eclipse. The next total solar eclipse visible from large portions of the USA will happen on Monday, April 8, 2024. As you can see on this map, the Dallas and Cleveland areas are within the range of totality (and so is Montreal, and who knows, maybe Montreal will have a big-league team again by 2024). Major League Baseball could schedule afternoon games that day in those cities (possibly even home openers!) for baseball fans to experience the eclipse at the ballpark.