Forget Smallville, the fictional home of Jonathan and Martha Kent and their illustrious son Clark (aka Superman), the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce wants visitors to think of their town Metropolis as the legendary residence of Kal-El, the last son of Krypton. For over two decades now, the small vill(ag)e of Metropolis, Illinois, has welcomed tourists and curiosity seekers to the one-and-only home of the comic book hero. A billboard with the image of Superman points the way to downtown Metropolis for motorists entering the city from the east side. Other images of the super hero can be found all around this town of less than seven thousand inhabitants.
Superman souvenirs are available everywhere as well — my favorites are the piñatas. When you pick up the phone in the booth outside the Chamber of Commerce, Superman speaks to you. At one time, the Chamber gave away free packets of Kryptonite to children but were forced to cease this tradition when "DC Comics" claimed the practice was a copyright violation.
Things haven't always been so rosy in Metropolis though.
In 1972, the town had plans to build a thousand-acre "Amazing World of Superman", a $50 million theme park, with a 200-foot-tall statue. Cars would drive between Superman's legs to enter the park. Then the Arabs shut off the oil and the bankers shut down Metropolis's dream.
The town took over a decade to recover. Then, very cautiously, Metropolis scraped together a thousand bucks in 1986 and put up a seven-foot fiberglass Superman (left picture) in the town square. It quickly became a target for literal-minded vandals who wanted to see if the Man of Steel was stronger than a speeding bullet. He wasn't, and once again Metropolis's efforts to celebrate their hero were thwarted. What could a small town like Metropolis do?
In 1993, they did a lot. On June 5th, citizens of Metropolis unveiled a new fifteen-foot bronze statue of Superman (bottom right picture) preceding the town's fifteen annual Superman Celebration. Built by the same company that created the Emmy statue outside the
Academy of Television Arts in Hollywood, the monument to the most famous flying hero ever stands proudly in
full color in front of the courthouse on Superman Square. Tens of thousands have since visited the statue, and it has become a focal point of the small town's revival in both an economic and cultural sense. (Several community service groups raised over $100,000 for the project by selling personalized bricks that beautify the base and walkway around the statue.)
Across the street from the Man of Bronze sprawls the Super Museum, the life's work of Superman fanatic Jim Hambrick who moved his Museum to Metropolis in '92, just before the '93 windfall in which the town began its' economic turn-around and held it's first annual Superman Celebration. Exhibits include George Reeves' belt and the Power Crystal from the '79 movie. Hambrick inherited the old statue, absorbing it into his 40,000-item collection without apparent affect. Unfortunatly, the statue lies in storage as there is currently not enough room to display it. Also included in the sixty year-old collection are life-size figures of Lois and Clark, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor and (of course) Superman, original movie props and film production miniatures, gigantic antique toy displays, comic books and much much more. The general admission to the museum is a very reasonably priced $3.00, and children five and under are free with a paid adult. The museum's gift store, located in the front, has one of the largest selection of currently licensed Superman merchandise this side of Krypton. A particular favorite is a blue-colored t-shirt with the Superman logo and the town's name embossed on the front.
Each year, during the second week in June, the town continues to hold its' annual Superman Celebration. Most of the activities, centered around the statue of the big guy in Superman Square, reflect the simple traditions of small-town America. The time-honored events include a four-mile run through town, a thirty-mile bicycle tour of Massac County, an armwrestling tournament, a children's costume pageant and an amateur theatrical production of a Superman drama. And, of course, the real Superman drops into sign autographs and kiss babies. Past celebrants have included Kirk Alyn, Dean Cain, Phyllis Coates, Noel Neill and Jack Larson.
Those visitors who can't make the celebration are certainly welcome throughout the rest of the year. Superman's phone booth awaits special callers, and the business district has no less than three comic book stores. Clyde B. Wills publishes The Metropolis Planet, a bi-weekly newspaper which alerts readers of other local "Super" events. For history buffs, the Curtis House Museum and the grave of the "Birdman of Alcatraz" are within walking distance of the statue. Small groups of re-enactors provide living history at nearby Fort Massac State Park and Museum, and Las Vegas-style gaming is available on a newly constructed replica of an old fashioned riverboat at Merv Griffin's Landing & Players Casino on the Ohio River.
Metropolis, Illinois, is located just across the Ohio River from Padukah, Kentucky. From Interstate 24, follow Route 45 West for about five miles. Once you cross Massac Creek, the highway twists left then right before turning into Fifth Street. The Superman statue, located at the center of town, is at the intersection of Fifth and Market Streets. You can leave your car in any of the designated parking spots, and easily walk to all of the sites.
Read the story of me (your Superman Super Site webmaster Neil) and my wife's (Jennifer) journey to Metropolis, Illinois on November 1, 2005 here; our return trip for the 30th Annual Superman Celebration in June, 2008 here, our third trip for the 31st Annual Superman Celebration in June, 2009 here and fourth trip for the 32nd Annual Superman Celebration in June, 2010 here..