Metropolis. The city where Superman hangs his cape. It’s a huge place on the order of New York or Chicago or somewhere of that magnitude. This is the image that comes to mind whenever I hear about Metropolis. Sure it’s also a renowned German movie from the silent film era. However, the Twelve Mile Circle identifies more with the larger contributor to pop culture so Superman gets the nod here.
It must feel odd to live in an actual, genuine town called Metropolis.
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Metropolis, the real one, serves as the seat of government for Massac County, Illinois. This is not an insignificant place. More than 6,000 people call Metropolis home. Neither is it New York City though. It clashes markedly with the image of Superman’s fictional city. I seems a lot more like Smallville, the Midwestern comic book town where a young Clark Kent grew up and began developing his Superman persona after arriving on Earth from Krypton.
Metropolis was Metropolis long before DC Comics introduced Superman in Action Comics #1 in 1938. This Illinois town along the Ohio River actually came into existence nearly a full century before the Man of Steel roamed a fictionalized version of our planet. According to the city history, "In 1839 the town of Metropolis was platted, situated about a mile west of the fort grounds. One of the town founders was a merchant who transported goods on the Ohio River. He picked the site because it was high above the river, with the hope that it would become a major transportation hub."
What is a town supposed to do after it’s fair name has been hijacked by a comic book? Should it moan and complain about character assassination? Should it mount a huge publicity campaign to overcome an unfair perception? No! Embrace it!
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As the Metropolis tourism website explains, "In the early 1970s, Robert Westerfield moved to Metropolis from Owensboro, Ky. and was surprised that the town did not have a formal association with Superman. Mr. Westerfield (now deceased) was the creative force behind the movement to officially adopt Superman as the town’s famous son."
1972 was a pivotal year in the history of Metropolis. First, the town somehow convinced DC Comics to declare Metropolis — the real one — as the "Hometown of Superman." Then it persuaded the Illinois State Legislature to resolve the same (read Resolution 572 if you’d care to examine that for yourself).
Metropolis erected a large Superman statue, opened a Superman museum, the local newspaper changed its name to the Metropolis Planet and the town began an annual Superman celebration featuring various actors who starred in Superman-related movies and television shows over the years. Recently they also placed a Lois Lane statue a couple of blocks down the road. Clearly they understand the tourism potential.
SOURCE: Flickr, via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Even the water tower has a Superman theme.
TANGENT ALERT: I noticed something interesting when I found this Creative Commons image on Flickr. The photographer is J. Stephen Conn. If that name seems familiar to you it’s probably because he’s the author of County Counting which is one of the blogs I feature on my blogroll on the right-side column. This has nothing to do with Superman. Small world, though.
Back to the point, Metropolis seems quite pleased and goes to great lengths to note its exalted position as the only Metropolis in the United States that has its own ZIP Code. I felt, purely for the good of the 12MC audience, that I had to determine the veracity of this assertion. I’m not being obsessive-compulsive. It’s for you. Right?
Anyway I sensed a need to check for other Metropolises (Metropoli?) in the USGS Graphic Names Information System. The claim is correct from a technical standpoint although I will note for the record that there are four other entries in the GNIS: two in Puerto Rico, one in Louisiana (the only other one that shows up on Google Maps map), and one in the District of Columbia.
Clearly the Metropolis in Illinois is by far the largest Metropolis, and probably deserves the "Home of Superman" title as much if not more than any other location. Even if it’s really because it’s Smallville.