In Superman's home town, Metropolis, across the street from the statue of the Man of Steel, sprawls the Super Museum. It is stuffed with over 20,000 items relating to the 60+ year old Superman saga, from his first appearance in comic books to his latest indignity in "Lois and Clark" and other post-modern adaptations. The Super Museum is the life's work of Jim Hambrick, who also owns the overstuffed Superman souvenir and collectibles store you must pass through to reach the museum entrance.
Jim is very serious about his Superman collection, one unequaled in the world. If you playfully suggest that today's youngsters may not know who Superman is, you can feel Jim's heat vision melting your skull.
Jim has been actively collecting since 1959, and now owns over 100,000 Superman items. He originally lived in California and owned a traveling Superman exhibit that would do the US county fair circuit. In 1985, he decided his collection belonged in Superman's hometown, Metropolis, Illinois. For a variety of reasons, Jim took eight years to complete the move (it took an entire year to pack), The museum opened on Superman Square in 1993.
The place is a dense assemblage of collectibles, movie props, superman products, and promotional materials. There are costumed mannequins, theater lobby cards, posters, and thousands of toys and plastic figures. It's organized around particular eras and portrayals of Superman, spanning TV, movies, and comics; and is changed frequently, to encourage repeat visits.
Jim points out the phone booth used by Kirk Alyn, the first man to portray Superman on film. The George Reeves Era display exhibits his original color costume. His costume for the black and white TV era, actually brown and gray, is also here.
George Reeves' original "flying pan" from 1951-53 was suspended from the ceiling — the torso-molded special effects device that allowed Superman to fly on TV. The pan was attached under his costume, then he was lifted by crane, and hurled by cityscape sets and landscapes. Flying pan technology was abandoned after a mishap where the cable broke, dropping the actor 16 feet onto the set floor. Later Supermen flew courtesy of a "Blue Screen" or computer effects...
Jim explains the story behind Mr. Kryptonite. George Reeves actually made more money from doing personal appearances than from the TV show. As part of the act, he hired one of the early pro wrestlers, Gene LaBelle, to wear the Mr. Kryptonite suit. While Reeves was talking to the crowd, Mr. Kryptonite would appear, and hit him in the head with a balsa wood baseball bat.
There are many rare pieces from the Superman films, including the Kryptonian crystal that helped Christopher Reeve create the Fortress of Solitude. There are also sections devoted to the side players — Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White.
In a section devoted to the Superboy TV show, Jerry Seinfeld's favorite mutants are celebrated— the blocky faced creatures of Bizarro World. Bizarro face and hand makeup are lovingly presented. Jim muses about ways to extend his Superman into more of the community of Metropolis. "I want to do something for the kids. It's called Bizarro's World, a playground where everything works in reverse!"
The Super Museum appears to be doing well; Jim says he gets about 200 visitors a day. The previous museum and attraction attempted by the town of Metropolis — The Amazing World of Superman— failed, "and that had corporate sponsors and a half million in funding." Jim knows every angle of Superman museum promotion and management, and notes: "I've done more than anybody to bring people to this town and keep Metropolis on the map."
Also leaping the town into the headlines was a new, improved Superman statue, erected in front of city hall in 1993, replacing the original sad seven-footer featured in New Roadside America. "After 'Roadside America.com' appeared on Oprah, everyone in town was complaining about that old statue clip, after they had worked so hard to get the new one put in..." Oops. The complaints were vocal enough that Oprah sent a crew down to reshoot for the rerun of that program.
It should be no surprise that Jim wanted the decommissioned statue, kept in storage now. "The old statue was terrible looking — a cross between a farmer and a truck driver. People would shoot at it."
With Jim now buying and selling stuff on the Internet, there's no stopping his collection's growth. "I just got the boots of the Kryptonian Elders from the first Christopher Reeve movie."
Jim hopes he'll someday be able to display all 100,000 items, including the horrid original statue. "I have a 30,000 square foot space outside of town. As soon as the interstate goes 4-lane there, we'll see about moving...."
The museum has received many honors as well including being awarded "#1 Small Town Attraction In America". It has also been proudly featured on television on the shows Entertainment Tonight, EXTRA, Treasures in your Home, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, "Kovel's on Collecting", TNN, 'E' Entertainment Television, & Unsolved Mysteries as well as dozens of documentary and News programs around the world. If you ever have the oportunity to travel to Metropolis, be sure to stop by the museum for some SUPERFUN FOR THE ENTIRE FAMILY!!!
The Super Museum & Gift Shop is open daily from 9AM to 6PM and can be reached by phone at 618-524-5518.