Home of Popeye sign.

Statue of Popeye

Field review by the editors.

Chester, Illinois

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois, grew up, and moved away. He was an obscure 34-year-old newspaper cartoonist in New York City when he introduced a minor character into his Thimble Theatre strip, a grizzled sailor named Popeye. Nine years later, when Segar died, he was the most popular cartoonist in the world. Popeye, an instant superstar, was the reason why.

Segar was in his grave almost 40 years when a group of sorority sisters in his hometown decided to honor him, not with a statue of Segar, but of Popeye. Bronze, six feet tall on a six-foot-high base, the 900 pound sailor man with the balloon forearms, pendulous jowls, and perpetual squint looks even stranger in 3-D than he does in the Sunday Funnies.

Popeye statue.

He's also as tough as his namesake. In 1996 vandals lassoed Popeye, chained him to a pickup truck, and ripped him from his stone pedestal. He landed on his face, but sustained surprisingly little damage, and Popeye fans from across the country called Chester with donations to restore the statue to its place of honor. It was, and the human Blutos were apprehended and prosecuted.

Segar created a whole menagerie of odd characters, several of them based on people he remembered growing up in Chester (including Popeye). In 2006 a group of townspeople decided to expand Chester's hometown tribute by erecting a new statue of some member (or members) of Popeye's cartoon family every year.

This ambitious, decades-long plan won't be finished until 2020, when Chester will have a "trail" around the town of 21 Popeye characters, from the familiar (Olive Oyl, Bluto) to the obscure (King Blozo, Prof. Watasnozzle). The effort was spearheaded by the town undertaker, and his familiarity with tombstones led to the statues being carved from solid granite -- a permanence that would probably flabbergast Elzie Segar, whose work was on flimsy newsprint.

Also see: Popeye the Sailor Man

Statue of Popeye

Segar Memorial Park

Address:
Hwy 51, Chester, IL
Directions:
On the east side of Bridge Bypass Rd (Hwy 51 in Missouri) just north of the Mississippi River bridge.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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April 23, 2014

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