Travel/Metropolis | A super place to visit

Travel/Metropolis | A super place to visit

By FRANK HOSEK

Gazing out the window of Sissy's Sweet Shoppe, I sipped on a good cup of hot coffee, nibbling on a sweet something called a PB&J cookie, as a family of four emptied out of their late-model car.

The youngsters, maybe 10 and 12, scurried through the persistent drizzle toward the 15-foot-tall bronze statue of Superman standing resolutely in front of City Hall. Dad readied his camera as mom shouted encouragement. They then darted into the nearby Super Museum and gift shop.

Behind me, I overheard April Reed, owner of the Sweet Shoppe and known as Sissy to her grandmother, say to my wife, "I'm always amazed at how many people come to see our Superman. I love it."

If your town is the only Metropolis in the United States, and it was named such nearly 100 years prior to the creation of the superhero known as Superman, it goes without saying that your town and the one described in DC Comics must be one and the same.

The fact that Metropolis much more closely resembles Smallville, Clark Kent's fictional hometown, doesn't really matter.

Located literally at the tip of Illinois on the Kentucky border, nuzzled up against the shores of the stately Ohio River and surrounded by southern Illinois' pastoral rolling hills, Metropolis is one of those homey communities that everyone speaks of fondly long after they moved away from it in search of greener pastures.

Like many rural towns, this community of 6,500, which is steeped in history that predates the Revolution, has seen its share of struggles. But it continues to reinvent itself, and it's worth a visit.

In 1972, DC Comics rewarded a persistent Metropolis populace with the sole right to the title "Home of Superman." The city erected a 15-foot-tall colorful bronze statue of the Super legend in 1973; five years later, it hosted the first-ever Superman Celebration, a gathering of comic book artists, celebrities and fans decked out in costumes of their favorite super hero and villains. This weekend marked the 40th anniversary of the now four-day event.

In 1993, The Super Museum, featuring Jim Hambrick's personal collection of Superman paraphernalia, opened, bringing together more than 20,000 pieces of Man of Steel memorabilia. The museum is just across the street from the statue of Superman. The collection is extensive and quirky. Visitors are exposed to all manner of one-of-a-kind items salvaged from a decade's worth of various reincarnations of the superhero.

On display are the two costumes into which the "Adventures of Superman" star George Reeves hastily changed as he switched identities from mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent to Superman. The first Superman outfit in brown and gray was the one worn when the show was shot in black and white. For color film, a second suit — this one of blue, red and gold — was created.

If you've ever gone looking for an 18-inch-tall Superman candy dish holder and couldn't find it, search no more. Although, it's quite possible my wife bought the last one. The gift shop also has capes, figurines of every imaginable design and — yes — rocks of kryptonite.

As an accompaniment, just two blocks away from Superman Square, we discovered a statue of Noel Neill, the actress who portrayed Lois Lane in the original Superman TV series.

I found the local history to be just as captivating, if not more so. Long before Superman, Native Americans had settled the area. The Spanish explored it in the 16th century. In the 1700s, the French built a fort here. The British also briefly occupied the area. George Rogers Clark led a military expedition through here during the Revolution. In 1794, President George Washington ordered a new fort built, and for the next 20 years, it protected U.S. military and commercial interests in the Ohio Valley. In the fall of 1803, the Lewis and Clark Expedition stopped at Fort Massac on its historic trip west, recruiting two volunteers.

In 1903, through the efforts of the Daughters of the American Revolution, 24 acres surrounding the site were purchased by the state. On Nov. 5, 1908, Fort Massac was officially dedicated as Illinois' first state park. The parapets of the original fort lie adjacent to the George Rogers Clark statue and a replica of the fort lies just east of it.

A visitor center contains a museum with Indian artifacts, period clothing, weapons and other exhibits explaining the history of Fort Massac. Campsites and a boat launch are also available at the park, as well as several hiking trails.

Each fall, the park hosts historical re-enactors and skilled craftspeople representing French, British and Americans for the annual 1700s Fort Massac Encampment

For many, simply enjoying the panoramic views of the Ohio River, which is about a mile wide in this area, is worth the stop.

The Dorothy Miller Park is a great place to relish those River views. You'll also find the Hope Light there. Dedicated in 2014, the 30-foot-tall lighthouse is a national "Beacon of Hope" for cancer patients and survivors.

Another attraction in town is the 40,000-square-foot Harrah's Metropolis Casino. Located on the river not far from Dorothy Miller Park, its games of chance have provided a boost to the economy.

Many of the local businesses, like Sissy's, are just as delightful. The Sweet Shoppe just opened last October and, from what we saw, was already doing a steady business. The shop was filled with delectable smells as her cousin, Marcie, brought out a fresh-baked platter of cookies. If they don't already know your name when you walk in, they will by the time you leave.

Next door, we explored the Honeysuckle Row, an emporium of antiques, unique finds, handmade furniture and gifts. Across the way, Sixth & Vintage Boutique & Marketplace, a boutique of clothing, home decor, candles and specialty items.

As we headed out with a bag of cookies, Sissy, with a drawl reflective of her Kentucky neighbors, wished us a safe trip and to return soon.

I think that's a super idea.

If you go, Metropolis is located just off of Interstate 24, approximately 3 hours south of Champaign.

Frank Hosek of Bourbonnais is director of human resources at Carpet Weavers Inc. in Champaign. His hobbies include travel, reading, writing and photography.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (1):Travel