Super City

On September 6, 2012 · 7 Comments

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.

Metropolis Water Tower
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.

On September 6, 2012 · 7 Comments

7 Responses to “Super City”

  1. Nach says:

    It’s about a 10 hour drive or about 2 hours (as the Superman flies) from the new Smallville.

  2. This makes me think of Cosmopolis, Washington, just east of Aberdeen in Grays Harbor County, which has all of 1,649 residents.

    • Pfly says:

      I always wondered if just maybe Cosmopolis was named for someone whose name was Cosmo. But no, looking it up, apparently it was named in 1853 by “a French homesteader who utilized the Greek language to coin the title, ”city of the whole world”.” Well! A bit grandiose perhaps, but certainly more colorful than, say, Mill Creek. Of course, Cosmopolis’s location could hardly have held promise for a major world city. At least Metropolis is located near the Ohio-Mississippi confluence, which must have seemed very promising once upon a time…

  3. Flicker -> Flickr (in the image caption). (Also, wouldn’t it be a good idea to add the photographer’s name to the image caption? As in, the -BY part of CC-BY-NC? I do see it further down in the article text.)

    • Typo corrected. Thanks! I have the world’s worst editor (me).

      The author’s name is already included in the code that Flickr auto-generated (hover your cursor over the image) and it also links to the Flickr page that houses the image which additionally provides the author’s name plus a link to his full photostream. Given that, it seems terribly redundant for me to list it a third time. I figure it has plenty of attribution already. I did list the author within the text of the article because this is a special case. Actually my little text string immediately below the photo is probably redundant too. I dunno. Any copyright attorneys in the vast 12MC audience wish to chime in? I think I’m pretty well covered by using the exact code generated by Flickr and using the image in a non-commercial manner that aligns properly with the Creative Commons license.

  4. Richard says:

    The classics geek in me can’t resist pointing out that the plural you’re looking for is “Metropoles” (rhymes with “fleas”), from an earlier form “Metropoleis”.

    We now return to your regularly scheduled broadcast of geo-oddities. 🙂

  5. Pfly says:

    I’ve driven through Metropolis! And another nearby town with a curious name, Mounds. I like to imagine a conversation…”So where did you grow up?” “In Mounds.”

    There’s also a North Mounds and a Mound City nearby. No doubt they relate to the ancient Mississippian Indian mounds of the region.

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