Whenever Metropolis Police Chief Chuck Short needs a little reassurance, he simply has to look over his shoulder. There, on his embroidered patch, is an image of the worlds most famous crime fighter: Superman.
The patch is a small reminder that this southern Illinois community of 6,822 is the official hometown of Superman. Larger reminders include the 15-foot, 4,400-pound bronze statue guarding the downtown courthouse square, and a museum housing a prolific collection of Superman memorabilia thought to be the largest in the world.
“Superman is part of our heritage, along with baseball and apple pie,” says Jim Hambrick, owner of the Super Museum. “I think its the Clark Kent side (of us all). He has those values: truth, justice, and the American way. And who wouldn’t want to be able to fly?”
Metropolis embraced the Man of Steel in 1972 after a local businessman, Robert Westerfield, convinced community leaders they should capitalize on the town’s name and adopt Superman as their own. The Illinois House declared Metropolis Supermans hometown, and the Metropolis News obligingly changed its name to The Metropolis Planet (after the employer of Supermans alias, Clark Kent).
The original Superman was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Metropolis, Ill., has no tall buildings or outlaw bullets, and few locomotives passing through. What it does have are clean streets, well-maintained homes, and a good time with Superman’s name.
Adopting the comic book hero has been a great marketing tool for the town. More than 15,000 people are expected to attend this year’s 22nd annual Superman Celebration, June 8-11, which will feature a lineup of celebrities, a parade, car show, and Super Strong Men contest. Thousands more drop in at other times.
“It’s brought us more name recognition than you could buy with advertising,” says Clyde Wills, editor and publisher of The Metropolis Planet, who helped conceive the first celebration in 1979, the year the first Superman movie came out.
John Holmes, who has worked at a downtown Metropolis office supply store since 1955, says he gets a kick out of the attention and the tourists who stop at the Superman statue for photos.
“On the weekend, they’re standing in line to take pictures with it,” he explains. “Metropolis residents offer to take pictures for the tourists so families can be in the photo together,” he says.
For Chief Short, having a superhero watching over the town can be fun, but it also is a bit annoying at times. Within days of adopting the new Superman patch a few years ago, his department was getting calls from people around the world wanting to get one.
And the police haven’t quite figured out how to summon Superman when they need him. “They took out all the phone booths in Metropolis some time back–maybe thats why we don’t see him,” Short says.
Or maybe it’s because Superman actually grew up in Smallville, Kan., and hasn’t moved to Metropolis yet.
For information about Metropolis, Ill., call the chamber of commerce at (618) 524-2714.