From the 1970s into the 1990s, the city of Carbondale was synonymous with the party image of Southern Illinois University, a school Playboy magazine ranked among the most epically festive campuses in the nation.
Then the infamous Halloween celebrations along Carbondale's Strip got too raucous. Community leaders clamped down, SIU calmed itself, and any notoriety the city might have had seemed to fade into the hundreds of thousands of acres of forested hills and hollows that nearly surround it.
Monday afternoon, Carbondale hopes the moon, the sun and meteorology will align to reintroduce the city as a gussied-up version of its old self, this version focused on live music and art.
An estimated 60,000 people are expected to descend on the city of 26,000 this weekend to view the first total eclipse to sweep across the continental U.S. since 1918. The path of total darkness, known as totality, runs through Carbondale. Makanda, a tiny, artsy and slightly hippiefied enclave 7 miles south, will claim the longest period of darkness, 2 minutes and 42 seconds.
"There's not anything — anything — we could do to bring fifty to sixty thousand visitors to our town for a weekend," Carbondale Mayor John "Mike" Henry said. "We couldn't do that in a year. Mother Nature has given us a gift."
Tucked near the Shawnee National Forest 330 miles south of Chicago and miles from major interstates, Carbondale aims to seize its moment in the shade.
For starters, downtown Carbondale has undergone a $2.3 million facelift. Unsightly aerial power lines have been removed. All sidewalks have been replaced. New planters, trees and lighting have been set throughout the neighborhood.
An old bar has been demolished for better parking, and a new bike path is nearly complete.
The work had been discussed for decades but took on added urgency when leaders began to appreciate the rebranding opportunity created by the eclipse, City Manager Gary Williams said. Instead of allowing work to stretch into December, the city has finished the project and is planning a ribbon-cutting for its new streetscape Friday afternoon.
"We threw every resource we could at it," Williams said by phone. "It's been a complete transformation of the built environment downtown."
From the time of that ribbon-cutting through Monday, the city and SIU are offering an array of celebrations and programs, including "Shadowfest," the Crossroads Art & Craft Fair, Eclipse Marketplace, Family Fun Zone, even an eclipse Comic Con. Most feature several live music performances.
More eclipse-centric visitors can cruise through the Crossroads Astronomy Science and Technology Expo at the SIU Arena on Sunday and Monday. Also on Monday, SIU has sold out Eclipse Day at 15,000-seat Saluki Stadium, where Planetary Radio's Mat Kaplan will host, the Marching Salukis will perform and the scoreboard will broadcast live eclipse video until electric lighting is doused at 1:10 p.m.
A few steps outside the stadium, NASA will host a 41/2-hour live "Eclipse Megacast" that NASA TV, local stations and national networks will pick up.
In keeping with the region's offbeat, backwoods bohemian ethos, places throughout southern Illinois will offer an array of novel attractions.
Heavy metal rocker and reality TV star Ozzy Osbourne is scheduled to perform "Bark at the Moon" at 1:20 p.m. Monday, the precise moment of totality, at Walker's Bluff Winery in Carterville.
About 45 miles southeast of Carbondale, near Belknap, White Crane Canoe Rentals & Guide Service is taking adventurers on a canoe expedition that will place them in total darkness in the ancient cypress swamp on the Cache River.
The 60,000 people expected to make the trip to Carbondale also are expected to bring nearly $8 million of economic impact to the city, said Jannika Lopez, who holds the title of eclipse specialist at Carbondale Tourism.
That prospect has sparked revenue maximization and an entrepreneurial spirit throughout the region.
Hotel rooms normally priced at $190 a night now go for $500. Farmers are renting plots for camping. Wineries have introduced eclipse-themed varieties, and the Eclipse Kitchen has opened in Makanda.
Eclipse T-shirts, mason jars, ornaments, art and jewelry are abundant, and at least two local bands have written and recorded songs about the eclipse.
Even SIU is jumping in the revenue stream. The school has slated Schneider Hall, a 17-story dormitory, for demolition in a few months. As its last hurrah, Schneider rooms were available for rent for several days around the eclipse. Meal plans and parking spots also could be purchased.
All rooms have been booked for weeks.
Speaking by phone one morning about 10 days before the eclipse, Lopez said the office had fielded 60 eclipse-related phone calls by noon. She also said the tourism office has ordered about 200 portable toilets for downtown.
"Nobody has ever been through this large of an event in the history of Carbondale," Lopez said. "I didn't even know what an eclipse was," when given the assignment in August 2015 to coordinate the tourism office's efforts. "Now," she said, "I feel like I know too much."
At the moment, "business owners are kind of freaking out," Lopez added. Earlier that day, she had tried to calm a local restaurant owner who was panicking about how many hamburger patties to order.
Part of the reason for the high anxiety, especially among restaurants and bars, is that they are concerned with weather forecasts that predict clouds for Monday.
"We're telling them it's going to be OK," Lopez said. "These events are happening rain or shine."
Elaine Ramseyer, a longtime Carbondale resident and SIU grad who has run the vegetarian Longbranch Cafe & Bakery in town for 20 years, said she's planning to double the number of servers she normally staffs. She also may offer eclipse cookies. And she'll close for about two hours around the eclipse.
"This is going to be very cool," Ramseyer said, "and obviously chaotic, but also so much fun."
Carbondale public safety officials began planning for the eclipse almost two years ago, police Chief Jeff Grubbs said. They have assembled "a multifaceted approach" of city police, firefighters and EMTs, SIU public safety officers, county sheriff's deputies, state troopers, conservation police and forest rangers.
Smaller communities throughout the region also have specific responsibilities, Grubbs said, although he declined to share precise numbers.
The biggest concern, apart from the weather, is traffic congestion, Grubbs and others said, which is why the city has established remote parking and shuttle service for about 15,000 cars 3 to 5 miles from downtown.
Carbondale also has taken the bold step of relaxing its liquor ordinance, allowing adults to walk through areas of downtown from Friday through Monday with open liquor purchased at licensed establishments.
"We wanted to create a true festival-like atmosphere," City Manager Williams said. "We want people to have fun while they're here."
Officials say they doubt that approach will turn the eclipse celebration into a reminder of Carbondale's wild, sometimes violent Halloween celebrations of the past.
They expect this celestial event to draw a diverse demographic that is more like tourists from all over the world and less like college kids from the Midwest looking to binge, brawl and launch full beer cans and flaming socks into a crowd.
"I've seen the Halloweens of the past, and this has nothing —" Grubbs said before stopping. "People are coming here for an eclipse."
People also are going there for college. Move-in days for SIU students were Wednesday and Thursday. The first day of classes would have been Monday, if administrators hadn't canceled classes for eclipse day.
If students and other eclipse enthusiasts venture south to Makanda, they will find a gallery, trading company, used goods shop, country store and an orange stripe through Dave Dardis' Rainmaker studio.
Dardis, who opened his metal artworks and jewelry establishment in 1973, painted the orange line after a French scientist told him about two years ago that the precise center of the eclipse path passes through his store.
"I kept it a secret for the longest time because I was just drawing on a T-shirt idea," Dardis said. Then he realized that everybody was making eclipse T-shirts. He turned to making eclipse-themed metal plaques, pendants and bracelets. Business has been brisk.
"You gotta take advantage of it," Dardis said.
Yes and no. For all the excitement the eclipse has generated in Carbondale, Makanda and much of deep southern Illinois, the region can view Monday's event as a dress rehearsal.
In 2024, another total eclipse is scheduled to sweep across the continental U.S. from Mexico to Maine. Carbondale and Makanda, so long hidden in the hinterlands, are in its direct path.