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Popeye statue turns 40

  • The bronze statue of Popeye the Sailor Man is shown at Segar Memorial Park next to the Chester Welcome Center. The statue celebrated its 40th anniversary on Sunday.

    The bronze statue of Popeye the Sailor Man is shown at Segar Memorial Park next to the Chester Welcome Center. The statue celebrated its 40th anniversary on Sunday.
    Pete Spitler/Herald Tribune

 
By Pete Spitler
Editor@heraldtrib.com
updated: 6/25/2017 10:12 PM

One of Chester's iconic monuments celebrated its birthday on Sunday, when the bronze statue of Popeye the Sailor Man quietly observed its 40th anniversary at Segar Memorial Park next to the Chester Welcome Center.

"Forty years later, we're still extremely proud of what the community started back then," said Popeye & Friends Character Trail spokesman Mike McClure.

McClure noted that the six-foot, 900-pound Popeye statue - and the controversy that came with it - ultimately spawned the Character Trail, which started in 2006 with Wimpy at Gazebo Square.

This September, as part of the 38th annual Popeye Picnic, King Blozo will take up residence outside Chester City Hall as the 13th statue in the series.

"The complaint was people would come across the bridge and see the (Popeye) statue and leave," McClure said. "It wasn't bringing any money to town.

"There were folks in town who were wanting it moved to town to draw the people all the way to Chester, that way they could spend money in Chester."

The statue, obviously, survived these attempts at relocation and a few decades later, McClure had an epiphany.

"I woke up one day and said to my wife, 'Segar created so many characters, why don't we just put up another statue?'" he said. "We formulated an idea and started pitching it. Everyone I talked to thought the idea was fantastic and wanted to be a part of it."

Unlike the Popeye statue, which is bronze, the modern statues are made of granite and are paid for through donations and sponsorships.

McClure noted that he has the Character Trail planned out to 2042. After King Blozo, Nana Oyl (2018), Harold Ham Gravy (2019) and George W. Geezil (2020) will follow in the series.

"Segar was a genius," McClure said. "What kept his strips viable or fresh is he would write another character into the plotline and when he was done, that character was gone.

"But by then another one or two had worked their way in."

The Popeye statue was presented to the City of Chester on June 25, 1977 by the XI Upsilon Chapter of Beta Sigma Phi

"They were the ladies that spearheaded that," McClure said. "Funds were raised by every organization imaginable."

The future for the Popeye statue could get interesting. The Missouri Department of Transportation is conducting an environmental study on the nearby Chester Bridge, which will celebrate its 76th anniversary in August.

Representatives with engineering consultant CH2M recently told local media that replacing the bridge could come with the option of a downstream location, potentially affecting the Welcome Center and Segar Park.

"I have given it a thought if he's bounced to the other side (of the road) or what happens," McClure said. "The faction that put the statue there and the people who helped raise the money, it's a romantic thing for a sailor to be looking over the river and guarding the bridge."