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Superman Helps Put Metropolis on the Tourism Map

The small Illinois town of 6,000 has a giant statue, a museum and an annual celebration linking the Man of Steel with the namesake fictional city where he battled for truth, justice and the American way.

A large outdoor statue of Superman.
Photographs by David Kidd
Fans of Superman know that he has been fighting a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way, ever since he first appeared back in 1938 on the cover of Action Comics No. 1. Those who follow the adventures of Superman from comic books, movies and television know that much of his heroic crimefighting takes place in Metropolis, a sprawling city of skyscrapers and home to 11 million people. In reality, Metropolis is much more akin to rural Smallville, where Superman was raised by his adoptive parents, Pa and Ma Kent.

By decree of the Illinois House of Representatives and DC Comics, owner of the copyright to Superman, Metropolis, Ill., was officially declared the “Home of Superman” in June of 1972. Plans for a nearby $50 million theme park to be known as “Amazing World of Superman” were soon announced. Visitors would enter beneath a 200-foot statue of DC’s superhero. The little city of 6,000 on the banks of the Ohio River was destined to become the epicenter of all things Superman.

But the Amazing World of Superman and its namesake statue were never built, victims of the oil embargo and a faltering economy. Instead of Superman’s likeness soaring hundreds of feet into the sky, the town made do in 1986 with a seven-foot-tall representation, rendered in fiberglass. It was much unloved.
The Super Museum in Metropolis, Ill.
The Super Museum contains one of the greatest collections of Superman artifacts in the world.
Costing $120,000 and funded by the sale of commemorative bricks, a new, larger statue was unveiled in June of 1993. Instead of fiberglass, the 15-foot-tall Man of Steel was this time cast in bronze and painted in the familiar shades of red, blue and yellow. He presides over Superman Square, in front of the county courthouse, keeping a watchful eye on Metropolis. A few blocks away, a bronze statue of Daily Planet reporter (and Superman admirer) Lois Lane stands ready with her notebook and pen.

The Super Museum on Superman Square has been in business since 1993, stuffed with more than 70,000 items amassed by its creator, Jim Hambrick. The collection started with the lunchbox he got on his fifth birthday and grew from there. Family owned and operated, the museum is looked after today by Hambrick, his daughter Morgan and son-in-law Adam Siebert. “I was a Marvel guy,” says Seibert, of his life before marriage. “I grew up with the X-Men. And here I am taking care of the museum, and the godfather of all superheros.”

The second-generation museum curator is the father of three daughters, Allison, Charlotte and Zelda. “No Lois,” he says. Having married into the job, he is not counting on his girls to take over some day. “I’m grooming them to do something that they want to do.”
Adam Siebert.
Running the Super Museum is a family affair for Adam Siebert.
Eyeing the giant Superman from the front of his museum, Seibert takes note of the statue’s pristine condition, but finds fault with a few of the color details. “It used to be painted about every three years by yours truly,” he says. “For free.” A few years ago, the statue was stripped to the metal and painted with a marine-grade coating. “It’s an epoxy shell. It’s supposed to last 30 years.”

Even though the museum and all the buildings around Superman Square seem to celebrate an earlier time in American life, Seibert insists that Superman is not a relic of the past. “Superman is just Superman,” he says. “He’s evolving with the culture. He’s been changing since he was created. Every single person who draws him, draws him different.” DC Comics recently decided that Superman will now fight for “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow.” The old “American Way” was deemed too narrowly focused for a worldly superhero. Still, the chance to experience the Superman of an earlier era seems to be what brings people to town.
A woman posing for a photo in front of the Superman statue in Metropolis, Ill.
Posing for pictures in front of the Man of Steel.
Standing outside the Super Museum on a sunny morning in May, Seibert watches the passing parade of tourists. A woman walks by, outfitted head to toe in Superman-themed garb. “You see it all the time,” he says, wearing his own similar shirt over a pair of khaki cargo shorts. On occasion, a hard-core visitor to Metropolis will introduce him to their children, named after characters in the Superman universe. “They come in and they feel the need to tell me,” Seibert says. “This is Kal-El (Superman’s birth name). This is Clark.” “Hello Clark.”

Tori Cook and Christie Gragg are visiting from Alabama. They came here specifically to see Superman and the museum. “I’ve been a lifelong Superman fan,” says Tori. “And this is just a really cool place.” Her highlight that morning was “getting to see all the memorabilia, like Marlon Brando’s wigs. Even stuff from the older movies and the TV shows.” The couple had planned to come for her 50th birthday in February, but the museum was closed for renovations.
05_Metropolis 54a.jpg
The Superman theme can be seen all over downtown Metropolis.
Back in 1972, Metropolis tied its fortunes to Superman as a way to draw people to town. While the oversized statue and Super Museum do their part to attract visitors every day, an annual festival known as the Superman Celebration is the centerpiece of the small town’s tourism efforts. This year’s three-day event is expected to draw more than 20,000 enthusiasts to Metropolis. Costume contests, a car show, comic artists, Superman-related celebrities and movie screenings will be among the many attractions. Celebrating 50 years since Metropolis was officially designated as Superman’s home, this year’s festival runs from June 10-12.

Standing tall in his place of honor in downtown Metropolis, a few of today’s visitors notice that the Man of Steel is sporting a black armband. He wears it to honor two comic artists, George Perez and Neil Adams, who recently passed away within a month of each other. “Any of the artwork you see around town, that’s Neil Adams or George Perez,” says Siebert. “All the artwork for the signs in town, the billboards, the cutouts…”
The Superman statue on the side of the Super Museum depicting him leaping up into the air to fly away.
Up, up and away!
The writer and artist team of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in the 1930s. Young and inexperienced, they sold the rights to their creation for a pittance. Decades later, it was Neil Adams who took up the cause for artists’ rights, specifically on behalf of Siegel and Shuster, successfully fighting for their recognition and renumeration that had been long overdue. “Neil Adams was the guy,” says Siebert.

As a boy, Super Museum owner Jim Hambrick charged his friends 5 cents to see his burgeoning collection of Superman memorabilia. He was happy to make a dollar a week. As he grew older, he sometimes worried what others would think of his passion for collecting. It is estimated that not more than 100 original copies of Action Comics No. 1 — featuring Superman’s first appearance — still exist. The cover price was 10 cents. In the past few years, at least two buyers have paid well over $3 million for a good quality example. Jim Hambrick owns three. Hambrick and the little town of Metropolis have arguably profited from their association with Superman, though maybe not as originally envisioned.
An old phone booth in Metropolis, Ill.
A phone booth is always available in Metropolis, should it be needed.
David Kidd is a photojournalist and storyteller for Governing. He can be reached at
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