MAKANDA, IL (KFVS) - Adjusted Census numbers for 2014 put Makanda, Illinois' population at 547 people. How does a small town of artists prepare to be inundated by thousands on the day of the Great American Eclipse? They get creative.
"I like making things," said Makanda Eclipse coordinator Joe McFarland. "I came up with some slogans for our little village, made some T-shirts designs, things like that."
McFarland has been making T-shirts, bumper stickers, post cards, you name it – all telling folks to be "nowhere else on earth" on August 21.
The small town bills itself as the "Eclipse Crossroads" based on its unique location centered in the paths of totality of the 2017 and 2024 eclipses.
"This little spot called Makanda has not seen a total solar eclipse since 1442, I believe it was, which was nine years before Christopher Columbus was born," said McFarland. "So, it'll have been 575 years since this spot has seen a total solar eclipse. When I heard about the two solar eclipses that are coming to this spot this year and in 2024, I got really excited. I realized it was going to be a huge thing for this town."
Along the Makanda Boardwalk, the Eclipse Kitchen is already serving lunch, and stores have stocked their shelves with eclipse-themed merchandise.
"There's a lot of creative people in this region," said McFarland. "For instance, Visions Art gallery has lots of local eclipse art – really good stuff."
Even the United States Postal Service is getting in on 62958's big day. Postal workers will hand stamp mail that comes through the Makanda Post Office on August 21 with a special cancellation stamp.
"We're very excited to have it," said U.S. Postal Service clerk Mariann Roedel. "It's called a pictorial postmark. It was created by the eclipse committee. Basically, what a pictorial postmark is - is hand stamp that we use the cancel first class postage for special events like the eclipse."
The cancellation stamp depicts the sun covered by the moon and touts Makanda's unique position along the path of totality.
"On the day of the event, which is August 21, we'll have a total solar eclipse station standing out in front of the Makanda post office, and you can come by and bring your stamped cards, stamped envelopes and we'll hand cancel the postage for you," Roedel said. "There's also the mail back service. That's for customers who are not available to attend the event. They can send their stamped cards of envelopes along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Makanda Post Office, we'll hand stamp it, and send it back to them. It's a free service and it's available for up to 30 days after the event."
Nationwide, the U.S. Postal Service released a special edition, first-of-its-kind stamp printed in thermochromic ink. The blackened sun turns into the moon with a touch of your finger.
Now, folks in Makanda are just hoping for a clear day to enjoy the view.
"If it's a clear day, they'll be blown away," said McFarland. "They'll be instant fans of eclipses and say what a lot of people say when they see one: "When's the next one?" Unlike other people who have to travel the world to wherever the next eclipse might be, they don't have to go anywhere – they can stay here in Makanda. That's where I plan to be."
Eclipse organizers say while Makanda is the best place to view the eclipse in their minds, visitors may want to consider experiencing the event at Southern Illinois University. Parking, bathrooms and other amenities will be limited in the small town.
"If we were standing shoulder to shoulder – we still couldn't accommodate more than 1000 people," said McFarland. "That's why I'm steering people away to nearby Giant City State Park, which will have almost the identical experience there, or at SIU Stadium – yes, you'll sacrifice a few seconds of totality by going a little farther north, but there is something to be said about watching a total solar eclipse with a big crowd of people."
The total solar eclipse will occur in Makanda at 1:21 p.m. on August 21, 2017.