How “Popeye the Sailor” put a rural Illinois town on the international map

Chris Koehler, of St. Louis, Missouri, rides a bicycle decorated as a giraffe while dressed up as Popeye the Sailor on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2019, during the annual Popeye Picnic and Parade in Chester, Illinois. This year marks the centennial celebration since “Thimble Theater,” E.C. Segar’s original comic strip which later featured Popeye, was published. Koehler is a member of the St. Louis-based “Banana Bike Brigade” group describe themselves as “a group of St. Louis artists dedicated to the art of the parade and the nurturing of the creative child in everyone.”
Mike and Debbie Brooks pose for a portrait in their Spinach Can Collectibles shop on Friday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Chester, Illinois. The couple moved to Chester, Ill., from Memphis, Tenn., to start the Popeye-themed shop in creator E.C. Segar’s hometown. This year marks their 25th year of promoting Popeye and the town of Chester.
A mural depicting Thimble Theater creator Elzie Crisler Segar is painted on the side of the Chester Opera House on Friday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Chester, Illinois.
Fairgoers walk past Spinach Can Collectibles while on their way to the 2019 Popeye Picnic in Chester, Illinois. The store and Popeye Museum sit in the former Chester Opera House, bought and renovated by Debbie and Mike Brooks.
A bronze statue replica of Popeye the Sailor, placed as a tribute for E.C. Segar, overlooks the road on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 , outside of the Chamber of Commerce and welcome center building in Chester, Illinois.
Marty Bert, Chester Fire Chief and former mayor, right, unveils the latest addition to the town’s character trail titled “Popeye’s Pups” on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2019, during the annual Popeye Picnic and Parade in Chester, Illinois. 2019 marks the centennial celebration since “Thimble Theater,” E.C. Segar’s original comic strip which later featured Popeye, was published.
LEFT: Matthew Snider, 19, of Chester draws E.C. Segar’s “Popeye the Sailor” for illustrator Ken Wheaton while his mother Katy, both of Hilton, New York, watches on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, at Spinach Can Collectibles in Chester, Illinois. Ken has served as an illustration mentor for Matthew for several years. RIGHT: Kerry Huffman, of Pittsburgh, Penn., shows off his collection of Thimble Theater tattoos on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, at Spinach Can Collectibles in Chester, Illinois.
Jim Dello and Cathy Bello, of Bellwood, Illinois, wait for the start of the 40th annual Popeye Parade on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Chester, Illinois.
LEFT: Elizabeth Meek, of Beloit, Wisc., hands a flower to Miles Eklan, 2, of Ana, on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2019, during the annual Popeye Picnic and Parade in Chester, Illinois. Meek said she has been attending the parade for about four years and started passing out flowers to children along the route to brighten their days. RIGHT: Chris Koehler, dressed as Popeye, and Cindy Turner, dressed as Olive Oyl, and both of St. Louis, Missouri get their picture taken by Beth Bell, of Dyersburg, Tenn., on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2019, before the annual Popeye Parade in Chester, Illinois.

Brian Munoz is a freelance multimedia journalist based in southern Illinois who tells stories out of the Midwest. He also enjoys playing classical trombone.

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