Popeye the Sailor Man remains one of America’s most enduring cartoon characters. Sure, he may not be as popular today as SpongeBob SquarePants or Dora the Explorer. But he was a military hero keeping us safe from bullies and reminding us to eat our green vegetables long before it became fashionable to do so.
Popeye the Sailor Man was born on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in the southern Illinois community of Chester. In reality, it was Popeye’s creator Elzie Segar who was born in Chester in 1894. Popeye actually came to life in Segar’s cartoon strip in New York in 1929.
But Chester Illinois claims Popeye, Olive Oyl, Brutus, Wimpy and the gang. Their images decorate street corners, city parks and murals throughout the community about 75 miles south of St. Louis.
Spinach Can Collectibles is where you can buy all things Popeye the Sailor Man. But for the true Popeye enthusiasts, plan a visit to Chester the first full weekend in September each year for the Popeye Picnic.
There are parades, 5K runs, a Sweet Pea Petting Zoo, and lots of food dishes containing spinach. Of course there are Wimpy’s hamburgers too. Unfortunately, you have to pay for them at the time of consumption, rather than next Tuesday, as Wimpy always promised.
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Beyond Popeye & Olive Oyl in Chester
Other than Popeye, Chester is perhaps most-well known as the home of a maximum security prison. All sorts of real life bad guys live there. In the 1993 movie “The Fugitive” with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, Chester is where Dr. Richard Kimball was being transported when the train wreck occurred. When Tommy Lee Jones orders the “search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, hen house, outhouse, and dog house” — that’s Chester they’re searching. Bummer that those scenes were shot in North Carolina rather than Illinois.
Why do I know and care so much about Chester, Illinois? It’s located on Illinois Route 3, The Great River Road. About 30 miles south of Chester, you cross the Big Muddy River near where it flows into the Mississippi. Look west and you’ll find my favorite travel destination in all the world.
That place is our family farm. That place is home.