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Rochester's moment in the sun

It’s not very often you can say that Rochester is the center of the universe, but come 3:20 p.m. on April 8, 2024, all eyes will be on us as, for the first time in 100 years, our region is in the path of totality of a solar eclipse. The path of totality is the track of the moon’s shadow during a total solar eclipse. The path is approximately 100 miles wide and 10,000 miles long. 

For Debra Ross and Dan Schneiderman, the eclipse has been the center of conversations for nearly seven years. It’s great for us who live here, but impact data from 2017’s Great American Eclipse indicates that Rochester can expect between 375,000 and 500,000 visitors from other parts of the country and the world. 

“Solar eclipses happen somewhere in the world every eighteen to twenty-four months, so the phenomenon is not wholly unique,” says Dan Schneiderman, eclipse partnerships coordinator for the Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC). “But the last time that Rochester was in the path of totality was 1925, and the next one won’t be for another 120 years.” 

The 1925 solar eclipse left its mark on Rochester. Archives show newspaper articles written in advance of the event generated excitement and provided advice on how to view it safely; some even mentioned the next time that Rochester would be enveloped in darkness. “They were off by one year,” says Schneiderman. “But they were certainly aware of the uniqueness of what they were going to witness.” Not unlike us today, Rochesterians of 1925 organized viewing parties. The Pont de Rennes Bridge was host to a viewing party of 2,000 people, even physically cracking under the pressure of so many. 

Debra Ross credits her daughter, Ella, with enlightening her about eclipses. “In 2012, Ella came to me and said, ‘Mom, in 2017 we have to go to Missouri so that we can be a part of the eclipse.’ Five years later, we made the road trip to the tiny town of Kimmswick, south of St. Louis, and experienced this phenomenon together. Given that we knew the path of totality for the 2024 eclipse would go right through Rochester, I came home from that experience on fire and ready to help our city get organized to make the most of it.” Ross, a Brighton resident, is the founder and CEO of and its sister site,, a network that celebrates local activities in fifty-two regions in the US and Canada. “I make communities visible to themselves through all the wonderful things that are happening in them, so being the cheerleader for Rochester and Eclipse 2024 was a natural thing.” 

In 2018 Ross connected with Hillary Olson, then the newly appointed president and CEO of the RMSC, about how Rochester could mobilize as a community to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. Rochester is unique in that the Strasenburgh Planetarium is part of the RMSC. In many other cities, planetariums are operated by a college or university. Olson was already on it. She recognized very early on that managing this event from a museum standpoint would require a full-time, dedicated position, and she found that person in Dan Schneiderman. “As the RMSC was starting eclipse planning and developing a coordinated eclipse project to engage the region in planning, Dan was the absolute perfect candidate for the role of Eclipse Partnerships Coordinator,” says Olson. “He had experience coordinating community and academic partnerships with maker fairs, was an RMSC volunteer, and was passionate about science education and communication.”

Schneiderman has been looking to the skies since he was a kid. He attended camps and events at the RMSC from his youth and attended Rochester Institute of Technology. He’s been living, eating, sleeping (and dreaming) about the eclipse for the past four years. He is clearly inspired by the science of it, but through this he has been able to meet so many different people and hear so many stories. “It’s the perfect mix of all my passions and scratches my event-running itch!” says Schneiderman. He estimates that in 2023 alone he spoke to nearly 60,000 members of the community at Rotary Club meetings, senior living centers, school groups, scout troops, companies, festivals, fairs, and more. “Dan has been instrumental in organizing local and national groups to fulfill the RMSC’s goal of creating an incredible positive shared experience in science engagement for our entire community and beyond,” says Olson. 

No one owns the eclipse. You can’t trademark it. Everyone under the sun is a stakeholder. Community conversations actually started back in 2018, just after the last major eclipse in North America. The excitement started with Visit Rochester among the nearly 400 member hotels, restaurants, attractions, shops, and services, and the Genesee Transportation Council, gradually rippling to other community members who were welcomed into conversations, and then it was open to any organization, company, group, etc. 

Planning really started in 2019. “How do you get people excited to work for no pay on an event happening years in advance, that will only last for three minutes and thirty-eight seconds?” asks Ross. 

The biggest coup was assembling the largest collection of regional stakeholders that Rochester had ever seen to work together on an immense community project. The purpose was not to organize one particular event, but to create conversations about how people would mark the occasion. One of the first things that Olson and Schneiderman were able to do was to talk to the Rochester City School District (RCSD) and the Monroe County School Board and make sure that kids would not be sitting on a bus or in a classroom and miss out on this event. Nearly all the schools in the region will be closed on April 8. 

“We learned a lot from our counterparts in Nashville during the 2017 solar eclipse, and our city and county leaders, accessibility experts, emergency services, and the department of transportation are all on board,” says Schneiderman. A website was created and hosts a wealth of information, including a list of events that will be happening across our region. Regular stakeholder meetings have been held since October 2019, keeping everyone in the loop. 

There have been eclipse beers and wines created, coffee blends, jewelry, baked goods, hats, and other merchandise available all over the city. And the art that is being created encompasses music, dance, theater, and visual arts. With help from the City of Rochester, the RMSC enlisted Tyler Nordgren to design a poster for the city. Nordgren, an artist and astronomer based in Ithaca, designed posters for cities and parks in the path of totality in 2017; that series was acquired by the Smithsonian for its permanent collection. Nordgren’s exhibit of posters for that eclipse and the upcoming one in April have been traveling throughout our region for nearly a year at a different venue each month. Nordgren encapsulates the flavor of each city in the art that he creates, and his poster for Rochester features lilacs, the Rochester skyline, and the Genesee River. 

Rochester is one of several major cities on the 2024 path, including Dallas, Indianapolis, and Cleveland, so why exactly are all eyes going to be on us? “We were the first city to mobilize in the way that we have,” say Ross. “We studied cities in the path of earlier eclipses and learned from their successes and their mistakes. No other city has rallied their community in the way that we have. We are fortunate to have county and city leadership that communicates and works well together.” 

“We’ve been working on this, talking to people, meeting with people for several years, but when we hit the oneyear mark in April [2023], interest really started to peak,” says Schneiderman. “It’s now amazing how many requests Deb and I receive to speak to a group or bring over the big glasses.” The big glasses are five feet wide, fully functional eclipse glasses. You may have seen them at any one of a number of arts festivals throughout the summer and autumn of 2023. More than 250,000 people have seen the glasses as well as RMSC’s inflatable sun and moon since last April.

But two people can’t educate the community alone. It takes a team, and the RMSC assembled a team of fifty Community Eclipse Ambassadors. “They incorporate as many zip codes and demographics as you can imagine,” says Schneiderman. “Corporations, clubs, churches, mosques, temples, educators, senior living representatives—you name it.” This group is tasked with helping to spread the word about the event but also to ensure that people are safe while viewing it. “No matter how many outreach events we do, there will still be people who won’t know about the eclipse until the last minute, and we do want people to be safe while attempting to watch the phenomenon.” The RMSC has ordered hundreds of thousands of eclipse glasses, which are on sale in their gift shop. 

Ross currently serves as the co-chair of the Solar Eclipse Task Force of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), putting Rochester on the map nationally. At the last few AAS meetings of the task force in Albuquerque and San Antonio, Rochesterians presented on accessibility, transportation, marketing, media, and running large-scale events. 

The way that Rochester has collectively mobilized for this event has been unparalleled and everything has been documented. For cities in the path of future eclipses, this will be the textbook for how to successfully organize the community to work together. Visit Rochester has been heavily promoting Rochester to national and world press as the place to be for this once-in-a-lifetime event, and these efforts have also been covered in publications such as Forbes, Astronomy Magazine, The New York Times, and websites such as CNN, Fodors, Lonely Planet, and more. 

Rochester’s early and energetic preparation caught the attention of Sandbox Films, an Oscar-nominated production studio in New York City whose focus is the intersection of science and society. The company is producing a documentary tentatively entitled Totality, about the efforts of three communities in the 2024 path: Rochester; Uvalde, Texas; and Vincennes, Indiana. Throughout 2023, the filmmakers gathered footage in our area and will return to capture the culmination of Rochester’s efforts on April 8. Totality is projected to be released in late 2024 in time for film festivals worldwide. 

What do they hope people take away from this experience? There’s the science, but then there’s the beauty of it all,” says Schneiderman. 

“Everyone will experience the eclipse in their own way,” says Ross. “Everyone’s eclipse story will be different. We hope that people will write the story for themselves that’s memorable. The more you plan for it, the more memorable that experience can be. That’s a beautiful thing. I also hope that the community feels their identity in the way that we have responded to this phenomenon— what it means for who we are.” 

Both Schneiderman and Ross see the April 8 eclipse as a way to celebrate the best of Rochester while we experience a major, worldwide phenomenon and encourage people to record and share their stories. Some people are using this occasion to get engaged or married; one person is using the uniqueness of this event to scatter her mother’s ashes. 

And what will our city be like after April 8 when the visitors are gone? “We’ll have wonderful stories to tell,” says Schneiderman. “I hope that the partnerships that have been forged over the past four years continue. There are papers to write, information to assess, and stories to collect.” 

“I can’t wait to hear the stories afterward,” say Ross. 

Ross sees this project as her legacy. “The story of how Rochester navigated the eclipse is a permanent story,” she says. “Years from now, people may not remember, but everyone here on April 8 will remember the eclipse for the rest of their lives, partly as a consequence of how well the community came together and made the most of our moment in the international spotlight. Having been a motivational force behind this is what drives me.”

Says Schneiderman: “Look up.” (Remember to do this safely. The only safe way to view an eclipse is through solar filters, such as eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers.) 

The RMSC has created a specific website for all things eclipse-related: For information on ordering an eclipse poster by Tyler Nordgren:

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