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Hot Dog Muffler Man.

Hot Dog Muffler Man

Field review by the editors.

Atlanta, Illinois

Type: Classic (20 ft. tall)

Hot Dog Muffler Man.

Arm position: Standard

Accessories: Hot dog and bun

Nicknames: Bunyon, Tall Paul

The Hot Dog Muffler Man had his origins in the town of Cicero, Illinois, a few miles outside of Chicago on old Route 66. He stood at a meat-focused drive-in restaurant named "Bunyon's" for nearly 40 years (You can read our original report here).

Owner Hamlet Arthur Stephens traveled to southern California in late 1965 to buy a Muffler Man for his soon-to-open Bunyon's business. He paid $1,500 plus $400 extra for a custom giant hot dog -- a replacement for the statue's standard accessory ax. The Muffler Man was erected on January 8, 1966, and its big weenie proved to be a profitable investment; Hamlet told us that his most popular menu item was the hot dog. At its peak, according to Hamlet, Bunyon's sold more than 300,000 a year.

Hamlet was full of stories. He said that his father survived the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and named him Hamlet because he loved Shakespeare. He said that Bunyon's stood on a spot formerly occupied by one of Al Capone's favorite brothels. He said that the Hot Dog Muffler Man had been shot with over a dozen arrows over the years, and was once riddled with bullets from a .45.

Bunyon's hot dog man, Cicero, 1997.
Cicero, IL, 1997 -- our morning visit before the restaurant cranked up the grill.

We told Hamlet that the "Bunyon's" name was a bit confusing to us (and our attempts to categorize the fiberglass figures). We tried to explain to Hamlet that his Muffler Man was not a "Bunyan" or lumberjack model, which are clearly defined by a heavy beard and wool cap, and were both absent on the one holding the hot dog. Hamlet didn't care. As far as he was concerned, both his business and Muffler Man evoked the mighty tree-biter with "Bunyon's" -- a misspelling that was part oversight and part trademark differentiation from the Paul Bunyan (later Lumberjack) Cafe in Flagstaff, Arizona, home of the first Muffler Man.

Precision in Atlanta, 2003. Legs and torso must support hot dog.
Precision in Atlanta, 2003. Legs and torso must support hot dog.

Hamlet turned 80 on October 26, 2002, and closed Bunyon's a few months later. But his Muffler Man didn't retire. Several towns and businesses vied to purchase the big statue. As Muffler Men fans and trackers, we recall those anxious months of Hot Dog Man uncertainty.

Fortunately, the Preservation Committee of the Illinois Route 66 Association made an appealing proposal. The town of Atlanta, Illinois -- about 150 miles southwest of Cicero -- was chosen as the new home for the coveted landmark (technically, a forever "loan" from the Stephens family). Atlanta promised to display the man, his bun, and his wiener prominently on a downtown street as a symbol of Route 66.

The statue was moved, then bolted into place along Arch Street late in 2003, and he's stood there ever since. Now surrounded by bushes and flowers and planters -- a rare leafy setting for one of these roadside giants -- the Hot Dog Muffler Man serves as one of the Mother Road's easternmost ambassadors and most celebrated quirky attractions. Informational signs explain his history, and recall his origins in Cicero.

Hamlet died on June 2, 2012, living long enough to see his "Bunyon" established as a Mother Road must-see. The Muffler Man has secured Hamlet's legacy, although people who've just seen photos of the big guy (or who visit but don't read the signs) might wonder why he's clutching a giant hot dog.

Hot Dog Muffler Man

The Bunyon Giant

112 SW Arch St., Atlanta, IL
I-55 exit 140. Drive west into town. At the stop sign turn right onto SW Arch St. You'll soon see the Hot Dog Muffler Man on the left.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Mattingly Automotive: Official Route 66 MechanicMattingly Automotive: Official Route 66 Mechanic, Atlanta, IL - < 1 mi.
American Giants MuseumAmerican Giants Museum, Atlanta, IL - < 1 mi.
Happy Half-Wit Muffler ManHappy Half-Wit Muffler Man, Atlanta, IL - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Uniroyal Gal: Vanna Whitewall, Peoria, IL - 35 mi.

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