A Popeye To Be Proud Of
Since 1987, Alma, Arkansas's claim to be "Spinach Capital of the World" has rested on the drooping shoulders of a fiberglass and papier-mache Popeye statue, chained into a wooden hutch to prevent it from being swiped by students from the next-door high school.
Alma has now given itself an upgrade. A new, bronze Popeye was unveiled on April 21, 2007, as part of the town's annual Spinach Festival.
According to Mark Yardley, the town's Public Works Director, Alma had become a victim of its own publicity, which includes a water tank painted as "the world's largest spinach can" out by the interstate. "We were having a lot of tour buses stop by to look at our Popeye statue, and eveybody'd laugh and they'd drive off," said Mark, the instigator behind the replacement. "I told the town council that we either need to get our names out of the tour guides and don't mention this at all, or we give them something to get off and look at."
"To me," Mark said of the old statue, "it did not exemplify Popeye."
We stopped by to see the statue last summer. While it was not a typical Popeye, it was certainly original, and obviously worth a stop to us. (We realize that we get excited about things that others might not.)
Popeye Park, built in a former vacant lot, is a big part of Alma's image makeover. It is a place where people can get out and look at things. The centerpiece statue is glorified atop a fountain, and according to Mark the park will soon have two kiosks with flat screen monitors that will relate the history of Alma and Popeye. A large mural is planned for the wall of the adjacent water company building, with hidden Popeyes to engage children (and maybe the tour bus drivers).
Mark took it upon himself to find an appropriate model for the new statue, "the kind of Popeye that I remember growing up as a kid." He finally found a figurine on the internet that matched his memory, bought it, and sent it to a foundry in Indiana. "They did a terrific job," he told us, obviously pleased.
The original statue has not been thrown out like bad spinach. It's been moved a couple of blocks up Fayetteville Ave. to the interior of Kustom Kaps, a store run by the widow of the man who had it built 20 years ago. The store is also Alma's unofficial Popeye souvenir center, selling hats, shirts, mugs, etc.
Mark, however, is too happy with the new Popeye to think much about the old one. "With this in place," he told us, "I won't be embarrassed if a tour bus pulls up."[04/27/2007]
- Fayetteville Ave., Alma, AR
- Popeye Park. I-40 exit 12 onto US 71 south. Go through the traffic light, bear left, then turn right onto Fayetteville Ave./Hwy 162 into downtown. The Park is at the other end of town, on the right.
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