Popeye Museum and Spinach Can Collectibles - Atlas Obscura

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Popeye Museum and Spinach Can Collectibles

A museum and gift shop in a small Illinois town commemorates the work of E.C. Segar and the local figures on whom he based his characters. 

Sponsored by The Illinois Office of Tourism
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Chester is a small town in southern Illinois whose most famous historical citizens are today immortalized as characters in the Popeye the Sailor universe (PTSU). Indeed, the show’s creator, E.C. Segar—also a one-time Chester resident—took influence from real-life local figures in creating not only the Sailor Man himself, but also Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and others. The endearing story of how a young, small-town artist turned his neighbors and fellow townsmen into animated characters that were, at one time, more popular than Mickey Mouse, is one told through a tiny museum in downtown Chester.

Spinach Can Collectibles is half museum, half gift shop, and wholly dedicated to Popeye the Sailor Man. It’s housed in a former opera house (where a young Segar once worked) built in 1875, that later became a movie theater. The museum comprises over 2,000 pieces of memorabilia dating back nearly a century, including figurines, posters, costumes, and other ephemera for Popeye enthusiasts. 

The owners, husband-and-wife team Mike and Debbie Brooks, moved from out of state just to open Spinach Can Collectibles in 1994. They were named Chester Citizens of the Year in 2015 not just for revitalizing the previously empty space, but for spearheading other Popeye-oriented projects throughout town over the years. 

The Brooks were the driving force behind the gradual creation of the Popeye & Friends Character Trail. What started as a single bronze statue of the main character in 1977 has grown to over a dozen statues depicting distributed around town. Characters include, of course, Popeye (based on Frank “Rocky” Fiegel, a local tough and navy sailor), Olive Oyl (based on Segar’s sister, who had a lithe frame and jet black hair), and J. Wellington Wimpy (based on Segar’s boss from the opera house, who would often send him to a local tavern to fetch a hamburger). 

After visiting Spinach Can Collectibles and each of the statues, visitors can even comb through the town cemetery to see where the inspirations for these timeless and globally beloved characters were laid to rest.

Sponsored by the Illinois Office of Tourism. Learn more and plan your getaway here.

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