Origins of Superman Celebration

By | Friday, February 14, 2020 Leave a Comment
I think it was right around the turn of the millennium that I first learned of Superman Celebration in Metropolis, IL but it's actually been held every year since 1979. Using the town's name to play off the well-known fictional home of Superman seems obvious enough, but since I've never been a particularly huge fan of Superman himself, I never bothered exploring how/why it started.

The city was actually named and founded in 1839, with the thinking being that it would become a major transportation hub along the Ohio River. It never did, and it remained largely agriculturally based with the biggest industry otherwise being uranium processing for nuclear reactors. The Honeywell processing facility was built in 1958 and its presence largely inhibited anyone else from setting up there.

Apparently, in the late 1960s/early 1970s (I can't find precise dates) the city started playing with the Superman connection. The town managed to get DC to officially recognize the city as Superman's hometown in a formal ceremony on "Superman Day" -- January 21, 1972. Superman was, of course, a well-known and well-loved character by that point but DC was still a relatively simple comics publisher. They had only just been bought by Kinney Corporation and -- despite having worked the Superman license for decades -- was still largely thinking in a comic book publisher mindset, as opposed to a media organization like Disney. So DC likely saw this as an opportunity to push themselves forward onto a larger media stage.

Superman Theme Park
Enter The Amazing World of Superman.

DC basically proposed a Superman theme park, not unlike Disneyland. They got Neal Adams to design up some sketches, which seemed to draw inspiration from the Supermanland story from Action Comics #210. In 1973, they helped to set up an exhibition in Metropolis showcasing Adams' ideas along with original comic book art and a collection of Superman memorabilia. The exhibit opened in late May but only a few months later, the OAPEC members who controlled around 3/4 of the world's oil started deliberately slowing production to protest other countries who supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Coupled with the stock market crash that had begun in January, the US economy -- particularly the tourist economy -- all but collapsed. When it became clear that this wasn't just an overnight event, the idea of building a new theme park anywhere was dropped.

Superman Statue
It took another six years before the city could attempt revitalizing their attempt at building a tourism industry. That's when Superman Celebration first started, trying to capitalize off the first Christopher Reeve Superman film. But it was still a small start. A seven-foot, fiberglass Superman statue that only cost $1,000 wasn't erected until 1986. (I can only find this one small photo of it, at the left.) It wouldn't be until 1993 that it would be replaced by the fifteen-foot, bronze statue that is more well-known today. That was also the year that the Superman Museum opened right behind the centrally located icon. The Noel Neill statue didn't debut until 2010.

In virtually every article I've seen discussing the theme park, there's almost unilaterally a wistful "what we almost had" touch to it. But I wonder if it would have ever been as good as it was imagined. At a projected cost of $50 million (roughly $300 million today) how great a theme park would that have actually built? It sounds like a decent chunk of change, but the recently opened Star Wars themed Galaxy's Edge cost roughly $1 Billion and that consists of essentially only two rides. A single, straightforward roller coaster is typically in the $20 million range. Honestly, to me, it sounds like the original budget would've resulted in a fairly cheap-looking attraction relative to the scale of Adams' drawings. We'd have ended up with either a severely limited version of what he proposed, or a very shoddy looking one. Neither of which, I suspect, would have fared well for more than a decade.

And we wouldn't have the Superman Celebration that we do today!
Newer Post Older Post Home