Popeye Character Trail going to the dogs.
In 1977, after a massive fundraising campaign, Chester's favorite sailorman was honored with a six-foot, 900-pound bronze statue in Elzie C. Segar Memorial Park near the Chester Bridge, welcoming visitors to the town where his creator was born and raised.
Popeye remained the sole Segar character in Chester until 2006, when the Popeye & Friends Character Trail added a granite likeness of "Wimpy." Each year since, a new character from the comic strip has been added, giving residents and tourists alike always something new to see.
Now, in 2019, something unique is happening. To celebrate the 125th anniversary of Elzie Segar's birth, two new statues will be dedicated.
The first will be unveiled on Sept. 7 during the annual Popeye Picnic, in front of the Chester Fire Department. It will be a likeness of Popeye's dogs, "Snits", "Fido" and "Chester."
"Snits" was introduced in 1920 in the cartoon "Thimble Theatre," a predecessor to "Popeye" that Segar started drawing in 1919 for the New York Journal. Snits would stay alongside Popeye and Olive Oyl throughout Segar's life.
"Fido" was Olive's faithful dog, who like a cat had nine lives, and was featured throughout the 1920s.
"Chester" was introduced by Popeye cartoonist Hy Eisman in 1996 as a tribute to Segar's hometown.
Dec. 8, 2019 will be the 125th anniversary of Segar's birth. Coincidentally, Dec. 12, 2019 will be the 100th anniversary of "Thimble Theatre," the strip that introduced the world to Olive Oyl, Castor Oyl and Harold Hamgravy.
The coincidence was too much for the Popeye Character Trail committee to pass up, said Chairman Michael W. McClure.
Therefore, during this year's Christmas on the River celebration, a live-size statue of Segar himself will be unveiled on the 1400 block of Swanwick Street, just down the road from Bluto and King Blozo.
Segar's statue, however, will pay homage not just to the man but to one of his passions, the great detective Sherlock Holmes.
Segar was a lifelong fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's creation, using plots from the Holmes adventures in his early cartoons and featuring parodies of the detective throughout the life of "Thimble Theatre." Early characters wore the famous deerstalker hat, including Olive Oyl's first boyfriend Ham Gravy and her brother Castor Oyl, who was depicted running his own detective agency along with Popeye in a "Thimble Theatre" storyline.
Bud Sagendorf, who took on "Popeye" after Segar's death in 1938, later revealed that Segar was working on a new comic strip featuring a Sherlock-parodied sleuth in the late 1930s. But Hearst Entertainment declined to pursue the new comic after Segar died.
Keeping all of this in mind, the statue of Segar will have him clothed as his inspiration. McClure said this is a big shout-out to Segar's unfinished business and passion. The statue will have clue-like salutes on it alluding to Conan Doyle's books and the walkway leading to and surrounding the statue will be in the shape of a magnifying glass.
The character trail statues are funded by private donations from groups and individuals and are traditionally unveiled during the Popeye Picnic.
McClure says the Character Trail Committee is seeking sponsors for these two statues and many have already come forward.
Sponsorships start at $150, and sponsors have their names -- or their business, their organization or the name of someone close to them -- etched into the statues' bases. Spaces are limited and sell quickly. Contact the committee at email@example.com.
Also this year the committee will be selling "Chips Off the Old Block," -- a series of poker chip-sized commemorative coins that depict each of the Character Trail statues and sell for $3 each. Buy them at Spinach Can Collectibles or through the committee.