A hometown superhero
In June, 60,000 heroes converged on Metropolis, Ill. Not the heroes that often come to mind — a police officer or a life-saving doctor. Instead, a band of superheroes — the comic book depictions of bravery and valiance — charged into the city of 6,200. After all, every year, Metropolis hosts its Superman Celebration, an homage to the red-caped “Man of Steel” that attracts enthusiasts from across the country and around the world.
Efforts to make Metropolis Superman’s hometown began in 1972, when a resident, an avid fan of the caped crusader, worked with other locals to propose that the city adopt the “Last Son of Krypton.” Metropolis, which shares its name with the fictional city that Superman protects in the comic books and movies, then signed an agreement with National Periodical Publications, now known as DC Comics, to officially adopt the beloved character. During the same year, the state designated Superman as the city’s “distinguished son.”
Metropolis residents and visitors honor Superman during a four-day celebration with costumes, contests and celebrities. Now in their 28th year, the festivities swell the tiny community’s population nearly tenfold. “We get in the people [who] are serious, serious fans,” says Karla Ogle, chairman of the celebration and president of the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event. “We draw such a wide variety of people. It’s like one big Halloween when you’re here during the celebration.”
What began as a small street festival with hamburger, hot dog and snow cone stands, and a game of tug-of-war between the fire and police departments, has expanded to a weekend of non-stop events. Most activities take place in a four-block area near the center of downtown, in the presence of a 15-foot Superman statue. Events include costume contests, a car show, weight lifting competitions, BMX biking shows and a Supergirl and Superboy pageant. Each year, celebrities also are in attendance. This year’s stars included Michael Rosenbaum, who plays Superman’s nemesis Lex Luthor on the WB network television show “Smallville;” Stephan Bender of the 2006 film “Superman Returns;” and Noel Neill, the original Lois Lane from the 1950s series “The Adventures of Superman.”
Metropolis and its celebration have attracted fans from countries such as Australia and Japan, and even garnered the attention of the “Today Show,” which recently made a live broadcast from the Superman statue. “Probably the greatest thing [about the festival is] the reward of seeing the people that really, really enjoy it,” says Metropolis Mayor Billy McDaniel. “If you really want to see something, go up to the statue, and you [may] see a four-year-old child [that] just comes to the top of the boots. You can just see it in their eyes. They really think they can fly.”
The Chamber of Commerce worked with more than 100 volunteers and various community organizations and city departments for this year’s celebration. While the water and light departments set up electricity and water sources for vendors, other city crews erected tents and barricades. With thousands of extra visitors inundating the small community, the police department assisted with various duties, such as crowd control.
In the coming years, Ogle expects more superheroes to flock to the town near the Ohio River to celebrate Superman. “He’s the greatest superhero of them all; the way he stands for truth, justice and the American way,” Ogle says. “That’s what Americans need right now. They need that guy with the red cape [that] stands for everything good.”
McDaniel agrees. “All of us deep down need some kind of a hero.”