He’s Popeye the Sailor Man
He got you to eat spinach before it was a “superfood” and if pressed, you’ll admit you said “I yam what I yam” at least once in your life. But if you have no idea what I’m talking about, then I suppose a visit to Chester, Illinois will be for a reason far different from mine.
I’m a sucker for a statue and all things pop culture.
Even if there was only the original bronze statue of “Popeye the Sailor” that overlooked the Mississippi River (put up in 1977), I would have asked to stop on our way to St. Louis, Missouri. But I just about insisted on stopping when I heard there was a whole trail of statues being developed of cartoon characters created by Chester’s own E.C. Segar.
By sheer luck, the road we drove into town on led us straight to the front door of Spinach Can Collectibles, a shop and museum located in the Opera House that was once owned by William “Windy Bill” Schuchert, said to be the inspiration for the hamburger loving (I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday…) character of “Wimpy.” Before entering art school, Segar worked at the Opera House as the motion picture operator and played the drums in the band.
I went inside to ask if there was a map of the statue trail and I was greeted by the effervescent Debbie Brooks. She and her husband Mike moved to Chester some 15 years ago because they were such uber-fans of Segar and the comic strip Thimble Theatre which he created in 1919. They run the shop, museum, and the official Popeye Fanclub.
What most folks don’t know, and what Debbie told me, was that Popeye didn’t appear in the strip until ten years later. Olive Oyl (Popeye’s eventual love interest) came first. Segar apparently based the characters on local Chester residents Dora Pascal and Frank “Rocky” Fiegel.
If you’ve done your math, then you know this marks Popeye’s 80th birthday and Thimble Theatre is the big 9-0, which will no doubt be celebrated at the 30th annual Popeye Picnic to be held in historic Chester this September.
The first granite statue in the “Popeye and Friends Character Trail” was unveiled at the picnic three years ago. Wimpy will forever look lovingly at his hamburger on the spot of the original tavern where Schuchert got his burgers. Two statues have followed, including one of Olive Oyl with Swee’ Pea and Eugene the Jeep, as well as one of Popeye’s nemesis, Bluto.
Debbie says there will be a total of 16 statues by 2021, and maybe more if there is still interest. The statues are funded by proud donors who can have their named etched on the pedestal.
Waning interest? If there’s one thing I remember from hours of childhood cartoon viewing, it’s that Popeye’s “strong to the finich” because, well you know…