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Gemini Giant.

Gemini Giant: Space Age Muffler Man (In Transition)

Field review by the editors.

Wilmington, Illinois

Type: Classic customized Spaceman (23 ft. tall)

Gemini Giant.

Arm position: Standard

Accessories: Space helmet, rocket

Nickname: Gemini Giant

The Mother Road joined the Space Age in 1965. That's the year that John and Bernice Korelc paid $3,500 for a 23-foot-tall astronaut -- the Gemini Giant -- and stood him outside their Launching Pad drive-in restaurant on Route 66.

The astronaut is a customized Muffler Man. Instead of a muffler, he carries a rocket, and the inside of his helmet -- which looks more Iron Age than Space Age -- was built to light up at night.

International Fiberglass, the company that popularized the original Muffler Men, made at least two other astronauts from the same molds, but the Gemini Giant is the only known survivor.

The astronaut was given his name soon after his arrival, thanks to a contest among local school kids. Fifth grader Cathy Thomas came up with the catchy title, linking the giant to the then-current Gemini space program (If he'd arrived a couple of years later, he might have been "Apollo Al").

The Gemini Giant survived surprisingly well over the decades, although his original mini-rocket -- cradled in his arms -- was stolen repeatedly and has been replaced with what appears to be an aerial bomb.

The Korelcs retired in 1986 and sold the Launching Pad, which continued under a series of owners until it closed in 2012. For five years the Gemini Giant guarded an empty restaurant that rapidly fell into ruin, with a sagging roof, shattered windows, and potholed parking lot. When we spoke with the realtor in early 2017, he said he'd received "a zillion phone calls" about the Giant, but that the owner wouldn't sell the astronaut unless the buyer also bought the Launching Pad. "He's not gonna give up the spaceman," the realtor told us. "Not unless you want to pay the price for the whole place. Then you can have the spaceman."

"Spaceman" was available in an International Fiberglass catalog dating from 1965-66.

Tully Garrett and Holly Barker were out shopping for antiques when they came across the Gemini Giant and Launching Pad, and quickly decided that they would be the new owners. On October 16, 2017, they closed on "the whole place" and began repairing and refurbishing the property and restaurant. Their first project: giving the Gemini Giant's nameplate base a fresh coat of paint.

The grand reopening of the Launching Pad was on May 3, 2019, and by the end of the year the Gemini Giant's helmet was once again lit from within at night.

However, the COVID pandemic threw a rocket-size wrench into the works of the Launching Pad. It was never able to recover. The property was again listed for sale in late 2023, and the the Gemini Giant was auctioned off on March 20, 2024. It was purchased by the Joliet Area Historical Museum for $275,000, and quickly moved to secret spot for restoration. The museum director said that the Giant will have a new home in Wilmington along Route 66, possibly by August 2024.

Gemini Giant: Space Age Muffler Man

Currently in storage.
In Transition

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