Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Southern Illinois, Day 3, Afternoon: Superman

Click here for Day 1: Sunday Drivers.
Click here for Day 2: Garden of the Gods, Pounds Hollow, and Golconda.
Click here for Day 3, Morning: Fort Massac.
Click here for Day 4: Record-Players and Fireflies.

"Truth, Justice, and the American Way"
After a lunch of restaurant leftovers, we decamped from the over air-conditioned house to the swing in the small side garden, where we looked at the albums of wedding photos I had brought with us for precisely this purpose. (Many of you celebrated with us, and it was amazing to see how young we all looked back then!) Then it was time to walk to the Super Museum.

Along the way, we looked for the murals that a local artists' group painted showing various scenes from the history of the town. If you could overlook the undergraduate-quality prose in the pamphlet, you learn quite a bit. Metropolis has been the home of Superman only since 1972. In the 1800s, it was a bustling river town of up to 22,000 inhabitants. When the railway bridge came in 1907, it marked the beginning of the end. One neat fact: you've seen the movie The Longest Day about the D-Day invasion, right? Well, one of the parachutists who got hung up on the steeple of St. Mere Eglise Church was John Marvin Steele, native of Metropolis, later played by Red Buttons. If I had known he is buried in the cemetery north of town, we could have stopped to pay our respects on Memorial Day.

The mural also depicts African-American soldiers from
World War I and WACS/WAVES who served in WWII.

Metropolis, IL, has been known as the hometown of Superman since the Illinois Legislature declared it so in  1972. Plans for an amusement park deteriorated for lack of funding, but in 1986 the city put up a 7-foot-tall fiberglass statue. It wasn't bulletproof, so in 1993 it was replaced with a 12-foot-tall bronze one. The Super Museum opened in 1993, too. Here's what the Super Museum has to say about itself:
"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. 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."
Overstuffed, indeed! Dear Husband observed that it was like visiting some guy’s basement. In fact, as a boy Hambrick turned his bedroom into a museum and charged a nickel entrance way-back-when. Sprawling it is not. It does take up a small city block, but the feeling inside is rather cramped, thanks to the thousands of cases, posters, toys, props, costumes, and other memorabilia grouped roughly in themes.

Neither of us knew very much about the character or the series, but from scattered labels and the documentary playing on a television set, we learned a few things. (But not the name of the documentary, available on DVD in the gift shop, which I had to look up later: Look, Up In the Sky! [2006].)
  • Highschoolers Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster first created Superman as a villain and got a story published in 1933. Later that year, they re-imagined him as a superhero with a mild-mannered alter-ego. They eventually sold the rights for $130.
  • Superman stories appeared as comics and radio plays before moving to the big screen and then the small screen. His costume for the black-and-white features was actually brown and gray, so it would convey the proper color ratios.
  • Kirk Alyn (1910-1999) was the first actor to play the superhero (1948-1950), but the most famous is probably George Reeves (1914-1959), whose run in the tv series was cut short by his suicide. He seems to have been unhappy with his inability to find other work during the unpredictable tv-filming schedule: he was too famous to play anything other than the caped hero.
  • Both DH and I recognized Christopher Reeve (1952-2004) as Superman, although I was only five when he last appeared in that role.
  • Supergirl has just been an excuse to create a sex symbol.

Over breakfast the next morning, Dear Husband asked me what I would collect if I could have a museum, and I had to confess that I couldn’t think of anything that I wanted to own so much of. As a historian, I would want to have a few representative examples that I could contextualize and with which to tell a narrative. This is part of what made the Super Museum so frustrating and the documentary DVD so useful. Besides what was dusty or missing, little was labeled in the museum. The OCD part of me wanted to go in to clean, organize, and label, label, label. Otherwise, it's mostly just curiosities to ogle at rather than objects imparting information. I wish we had been allowed to take photographs at the private superhero museum in Indianapolis when we visited for our second anniversary, for comparison's sake. I'm not sorry we went, but I was disappointed.

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