Orange line marks center of eclipse through funky arts town

As eclipse mania hit a fever pitch in Carbondale over the weekend, a small arts village about 10 miles south with an orange line painted through it popped a cold one and waited.

Makanda, pronounced muh-CAN-duh, has become famous of late because Dave Dardis painted a line through his Rainmaker Art Studio designating the exact location of the center of today’s total solar eclipse as it passes through southern Illinois.

The bearded and bellied 69-year-old learned his shop — set up in a century-old stone bank built when workers forged the Illinois Central Railroad — was in the eclipse path about a year ago and wanted to celebrate it.

Related: Carbondale, Ill., counts hamburger patties and Porta Potties as eclipse approaches.

When word spread that the 500-resident town with a handful of stores and a creaky boardwalk was in totality, people flocked to see the orange line.

“I just thought it was a line, but boy, did it bring us some attention,” said Dardis, noting that little Makanda did have some notoriety already with its annual Turkey Vulture Festival. “People are taking pictures of themselves on the line and they are spending money.”

Visitors to Makanda are first greeted by a bright yellow water tower painted with the 1970’s classic smiley face. They wind through a two-lane, sun-dappled road, where on this weekend, residents have strung yellow caution tape warning eclipse-seekers not to park, or camp, on their property.

Across a bridge and before the railroad tracks, Jake Parmly wore an orange road-worker vest directing people into a gravel lot with a handwritten sign that asked for a $5 “donation” to park. He played the banjo, had a warm Miller High Life in the cup holder of his beach chair, and when he wasn’t picking, a cold Natural Light in his right hand.

“This place has always been a funky elbow in the road,” said Nina Kovar, owner of Visions Art Gallery, which sits down the boardwalk from Dardin’s Rainmaker Studio. “And we know how to party. We’re ready for whatever comes.”

In Carbondale, NASA scientists were busy at Southern Illinois University setting up the NASA EDGE show, a four-hour broadcast that will last the length of the eclipse from Oregon to South Carolina. While images from towns will cut in when the eclipse passes their area, NASA EDGE is the only continuous program.

Related: Best places to see the 2017 solar eclipse.

Chris Giersch, program manager and host of NASA EDGE, was excited about a 20-inch heliostat that will project an image of the sun into three high-powered telescopes with three wavelengths of light. The images from the 13,000-pound SunLab — an air conditioned mobile space lab built in Tucson, Ariz. — will be broadcast live from the NASA EDGE show.

Giersch described the show like a science-style “College GameDay”, referring to ESPN’s college-football preview show which broadcasts most Saturday from a lively college campus.

The eclipse will begin in Carbondale at 11:54 a.m. CDT, and peak at 1:20 p.m. CDT.

Across campus, it looked like freshman move-in day at 50-year-old Schneider Hall student dorm as spillover from hotels with no rooms found the vacancy light on. The hall, which is scheduled to be torn down, has 416 rooms that can fit up to four people. A suite — two rooms connected by a bathroom — costs $800 for three nights.

“We figured we would use all the space we could and we sold out in less than three weeks,” said Jon Shaffer, director of SIU student housing. “The waiting list got to be 250-people overnight and then we had to shut it down.”

Carbondale, a city of 26,000, has been planning for two years for this day. Shop owner Chris McKinley carries the metal hair pins and jewelry created by Dardis in Makanda. McKinley called him the “King of Makanda.”

When banjo-player Parmly was asked Saturday where the king could be found, he laughed and said to ask the king about his garden.

While the orange line is the “if you build it, they will come” attraction, Dardis has worked on a sweeping garden behind his shop for four decades. The labyrinth of lattice and climbing ivy has stone paths, bridges and archways that promise to reveal secrets at every turn.

It’s a treasure, with a Sanford and Son charm. Scattered among the greenery is a weathered safe, its lock turned patina, an ancient wood-burning stove, time-battered wooden doors with colorful peeling layers of paint people pay extra for at Anthropologie, rusting old farm plows, whiskey barrels and steel window frames belonging to a building long abandoned.

The garden is free to visitors. A band plays in the back. Fountains drip peacefully in between sets.

Some regular Makanda visitors are worried the secret has gotten out with the orange stripe and aren’t sure if it’s a good thing, or whether it will topple the magic of a village where bridge graffiti urges people to become vegans.

“It’s good economically for the town,” said Elsa Carll, who lives in suburban Chicago but visits Makanda often. “Some people we know go to Hawaii, but we can come here for the weekend and enjoy the beauty and forget city life and just relax.”

Back in Dardis’ shop, he sat in overalls behind his jewelry showcases and greeted tourists who asked if he would take selfies with them.

When told he was given the title king of Makanda, he laughed.

“Well, that’s cute. I think prince is a better word,” he said, popping the top on a Pabst Blue Ribbon.

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