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September 1, 2018
Chester, Illinois: In Search of Popeye

We had an early day today in Chester, Illinois. We landed in town before 8:00 am and had to be back aboard by 12:30 pm. We had time for a quick breakfast at the Front Porch Café. (Russell had to replace his normal crunchy granola with soft oatmeal in order not to stress his teeth.)

Chester was once one of the biggest castor oil producers along the Mississippi River. The Cole Milling Company had its own electric generator, so Chester was also one of the first U.S. cities to have electric street lights.

Today, Chester is known mainly for one of its native citizens: Elzie Crisler Segar, the creator of “Popeye.”

While this overall trip has been Gail’s bucket-list adventure, she considered Chester to be Russell’s stop. As a life-long collector of comics and comic strips, Russell is a huge fan of E.C. Segar. He knows that the comic strip was actually called “Thimble Theatre.” He knows that the comic strip Popeye was nothing like the dumbed-down Saturday morning cartoons with Bluto and spinach. The original strip had characters to rival Charles Dickens, and elaborate storylines full of adventure and humor.

We were greeted at the dock by Popeye himself (actually Sandra, a very nice local volunteer)

We started at Spinach Can Collectibles and Museum, billed as “the only Popeye collectables store and museum in America.” Russell was disappointed that most of the paraphernalia revolved around merchandised toys, with almost nothing about Segar himself. Nevertheless, he bought a couple of tee shirts.

The Spinach Can museum and store

Just about every business in Chester uses Popeye to attract customers

More interesting was the Popeye Character Trail. Scattered throughout Chester are life-sized statues of Popeye characters. The town currently has 13 such statues, and citizens raise funds to build a new one every year. The trouble is, they are spaced huge distances apart from each other. Nevertheless, we decided to try to find as many of them as we could before day’s end.

We got a map at the Popeye museum, but it was not accurate and not to scale. Some statues were a mile apart from each other. We enlisted the help of people we met on the street and even the local police officers. They were just as stumped as we were, and some of them went off on scouting missions to help. We only ended up finding eight statues, but we had a lot of fun searching. Many of them were found in locations that suited their characters.

(We would have used bicycles, but Chester is high up on a bluff. So today was a walking day.)

We asked local police officers Bobby and Joe for help with the map, but they weren’t sure either. They finally asked Mariah, a local who was out working in her yard.

Our visit to Chester ended on a humorous note. We were still racing to find our last statues as the last hop-on hop-off buses were passing through town. We ended up being the only ones on the last bus, so the driver was willing to stop and wait for us as we hopped off to take quick pictures before hopping back on. We also had our own personal tour guide.

Wimpy was erected in 2006 at Gazebo Park, site of the original Opera House (see below for the significance)

King Blozo was erected in 2017 at City Hall

Prof. O.G Watasnozzle was erected in 2014 at the High School

Castor Oyl and the healing Whiffle Hen were erected in 2009 at the Memorial Hospital

Bluto was erected in 2008 at the Bank

Cole Oyl was erected in 2011 at the Library

Olive Oyl, Swee’Pea and Eugene the Jeep were erected in 2007 at the Courthouse

Popeye himself, the only statue made of bronze, overlooks the Mississippi River. His was the first statue, erected in 1977, and the last one we got a photo of.

Aboard the empty bus, Donald the tour guide went off-script to tell us how Segar based his characters on Chester people he knew as a child.
Popeye was Frank “Rocky” Fiegel, a local scrapper. (Photo from listal)
Olive Oyl was Doral Paskel, a spinster who ran a shop. (Photo from Popeye Wikia)
J. Wellington Wimpy was Segar's mentor J. William Schuchert, who ran the Opera House. Schuchert would often send young Segar to fetch him a hamburger. “Tell them I'll pay for it on Tuesday.” (Photo from Popeye Wikia)

We arrived back on board just before the familiar loudspeaker announcement of “All aboard who are going aboard, and all ashore who are going ashore.”

Gail had us make one last tour bus stop at the Cohen Home, which Mark Twain described in his writings as “The house with the blue windows”


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