Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Muffler Man & Other Chicagoland Kitsch

This week business took me to Chicagoland and during my trip I was able to investigate some local "weirdness". If you have been following this blog you'll know that recently I have been on the trail of unusual roadside Americana that I refer to as either "weirdness" or kitsch.

One of the most famous roadside Americana/weirdness/kitsch is a creature called Muffler Man. Muffler Men are giant twenty foot tall fiberglass humanoids that were produced in the 1960's and early 1970's for use as outdoor advertising props. They were used to promote muffler shops, gas stations, restaurants and tire shops and various other businesses. To the left you see the basic Muffler Man...with a beard. If you look closely you will notice that the left hand points down. You can't see in this picture but the right hand points up. This is the classic means of identifying an original Muffler Man.

Variations on this basic model include a Paul Bunyon, a space man, a "half wit" with an Alfred E. Neuman head and other characters.

There are people that spend enormous amounts of time searching for and documenting Muffler Men. I learned about these things on several months ago and have been anxious to see one ever since.

Chicagoland has one of the largest concentrations of Muffler Men in the country so I made sure that I had time during my business to seek out at least one of these pieces of Americana. I was in luck and got to see not only one but two genuine Muffler Men and a giant fiberglass Indian that was produced by the same company that made Muffler Man.

The image to the right shows not only a Muffler Man with an axe but a giant cow too! Hmmm, wonder what this Muffler Man has on his mind? The cow seems to be wondering too.

This Muffler Man is at an amusement park north of Chicago. If you look closely at the picture you can see snow on the ground so you can imagine this was not the best time to try and get photos. When I got to the amusement park it was closed...DUH...but I was able to locate a maintenance employee and asked if I could go in and take a picture. Surprisingly, she said yes and added that "lots" of people stop by just to see him. She also said that representatives from Master Card and Nike had been there recently to take promotional pictures with "Muffler Man" maybe I'm not as strange as you thought!

Anyway, I consider this trip a success and know that there are at least4-5 more of these things in Chicagoland that will be on my "to do" list for future trips.

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