Metropolis, Ill., Basks in Ties to the Man of Steel Superman Returns will bring fresh attention to the fictional city of Metropolis -- and its real counterpart, a small burg in southern Illinois that unabashedly promotes its ties to all things Superman. Tom Weber of member station KWMU reports.
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Metropolis, Ill., Basks in Ties to the Man of Steel

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Metropolis, Ill., Basks in Ties to the Man of Steel

Metropolis, Ill., Basks in Ties to the Man of Steel

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's continue our team coverage of this story. There is actually a real Metropolis. It's in southern Illinois. And whenever a new Superman movie or TV show debuts, the town gets an influx of visitors, like now. Metropolis is nestled along the Ohio River and it's more like Clark Kent's boyhood home of Smallville than a big city with tall buildings to be leaped in a single bound.

Tom Weber, of member station KWMU, made the pilgrimage to Metropolis.

TOM WEBER reporting:

As drivers on Interstate 24 approach the Illinois/Kentucky border at the Ohio River, a sign beckons them to exit and come visit the giant Superman statue in Metropolis. The town even draws you in if you miss that sign, which is what mother and daughter Gloria(ph) and Joanna Jackson(ph), of Chicago, did recently.

Unidentified Woman: We were driving to Florida and we needed a rest stop and we saw the big water tower, Home of Superman, and I said, we're taking a picture with Superman.

WEBER: Just a few turns off the highway and you quickly realize this is a town that leaves no rock unturned in making all things Superman. Town square near the courthouse is like many here, except for the enormous brown statue of Superman. A smaller wood cutout nearby lets you take pictures with your head on Superman's body. There is a phone booth with no phone, just in case the real Clark Kent ever shows up. And don't forget the Super Museum, where visitors are serenaded nonstop with Superman songs and themes.

(Soundbite of Superman Theme)

WEBER: If you've ever gone looking for Superman silly string and couldn't find it, search no more. The gift shop also has shirts, hats and, yes, rocks of kryptonite. And for $3, you can tour Jim Hambrick's personal collection of Superman stuff, which all started with a lunchbox back in 1959.

Mr. JIM HAMBRICK: You see that big plastic globe right there? My mother gave me that when I was five years old. And as birthdays and Christmas would progress, I ended up getting stuff and keeping the boxes and all of that and just went crazy from there.

WEBER: Hambrick moved to Metropolis 10 years ago from Hollywood so he could give his traveling Superman Museum a permanent home. He helps book big name guests for the annual Superman celebration, which, this year, drew a record 50,000 plus, including Stephan Bender, who plays the teenage Clark Kent in the new movie.

And if that's not enough to connect the town to the Man of Steel, in the '70s the local paper here renamed itself The Planet. Clyde Wills is the Planet's editor, a real life Perry White. He also has to be Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane from time to time to make sure everything is covered. Wills has seen Superman movies and TV shows come and go and says the drill is always the same.

Mr. CLYDE WILLS (Editor, The Metropolis Planet): We'll have more of the people, for the next few months, that are on the way from St. Louis to Florida or whatever, and they will say, hey, let's stop in Metropolis and see the statue or buy a souvenir.

WEBER: The town was named long before Superman's creators were ever born. So it's as much dumb luck that this city has a contract with DC Comics to be the official home of Superman. It's also default. It's the only Metropolis in the country and its heart is Superman. When the comic book killed him off in the '90s, residents here held a funeral.

Billy McDaniel, the Mayor of Metropolis, doesn't think the Superman stuff will ever get old.

Mayor BILLY MCDANIEL (Metropolis, Illinois): When you're six years old and you go out on the sidewalk and you jump off the curb and you jump five foot and in your imagination you've flown to the other side of the street, I believe that's built in all of us.

WEBER: In fact, the only thing Metropolis seemingly can't offer in the way of Superman is the actual movie. The town's only theatre closed nearly 30 years ago.

For NPR News, I'm Tom Weber.

(Soundbite of Superman Theme)

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

And I'm Susan Stamberg.

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