Chester, Illinois: The Birthplace of Popeye

Hanging with Popeye in Chester, Illinois.

With every trip I take, I am always looking for something interesting.  Not just a one off quirky statue somewhere, but hopefully something bigger.  Back in October when I visited Route 66 in Illinois, I looked for something interesting to see on the way home.  Thanks to my good friends at, I was guided to the river town of Chester, Illinois.  It sits on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River just across from Missouri.

Welcome to Chester, Illinois

The view of the Chester Bridge over the river from Segar Memorial Park is really a splendid view and the town itself is a pleasant little town.  That in and of itself was worth the visit.  But, the real treasure to this town is its connection to the famous cartoon character Popeye.  Indeed, Chester is the birthplace of the iconic sailor with a pipe in his mouth and a squint in his eye.  The aforementioned Segar Park is named after Elzie Crisler Segar (pen name E.C. Segar) who had become an illustrator in the early 1920s.  On January 17, 1929, Elzie introduced the character of Popeye in his “Thimble Theatre” comic strip.  By August Olive Oyl kisses Popeye on the cheek and the love affair begins.

Chester Bridge over the Mississippi River as seen from Segar Park.
Popeye Statue in Segar Park
Dedication to E.C. Segar on the Popeye Statue

Popeye was famous for eating spinach to make him stronger and eventually led to an increase in spinach in consumption in the 1930s.  In the 1960s the Allen Foods Company from Arkansas got the copyright to add Popeye to their label and sell Popeye Brand Canned Spinach, which is still available to this day.  In 2009 I visited Alma, Arkansas, which claims to be the “Spinach Capital of the World.”  They are also home to a large bronze statue of Popeye.

With the Bronze Popeye statue in Alma, Arkansas in 2009

Back to the Popeye story. According to numerous report, Segar’s characters were all inspired by real-life people from Chester.  A scrappy old bartender and immigrant from Poland named  Frank ‘ Rocky” Fiegel (1868-1947) was apparently the inspiration for Popeye. He smoked a pipe, was strong as an ox and even had a squinty eye. His gravestone in Chester actually bears an engraving of Popeye’s face as it first appeared in Thimble Theatre. Sadly, I didn’t have time to get there and check it out, but I did get a photo of it.

Gravestone for Frank “Rocky” Fiegel in Chester, Illinois (stock photo found on Google)

The fun part of Chester is their Popeye / Character Trail.  A bronze Popeye statue had been installed in Segar Park in 1977 to honor E.C. Segar.  Jump to 2006 and someone had come up with the idea of creating statues with the characters from Popeye and dot them around the town.  The first of these was “Wimpy”, who stands proudly in the Chester Gazebo Square with the burger in hand. From that time onward, the Tourism folks in Chester began adding more granite character statues, one per year.  I visited on October 2022 and there now stand 19 granite statues around the town.

Map of all of the Popeye Characters (not to scale)

I had plans to visit as many as I could find, but I also had a tight schedule, so I didn’t get to most of them.

Visiting with the 2006 statue of Wimpy. “I’ll gladly pay you Thursday for hamburger today.”

The Wimpy statue in Gazebo park was actually patterned after another member of the Chester Community.  J. William Schuchert, inspired the character J. Wellington Wimpy in the Thimble Theatre comics.  While Segar was a teen working at the Opera House, Schuchert was  his boss and later became a benefactor. Like Wimpy he was rotund and had a voracious appetite for hamburgers.  Like Popeye, Wimpy also laid claim to a food business.  In 1934 an Indiana man named Edward Gold opened the Wimpy Grill.  By 1978 there were 25 locations nationwide and a number of units in the United Kingdom.  Gold has said that the inspiration for the name came from the J. Wellington Wimpy character.  Ironically, a few years ago I had snapped a photo of a Wimpy’s Famous Hamburgers sign in the Dallas, Texas area.

Wimpy’s Famous Hamburgers sign taken in Dallas, Texas
Wimpy Plaque

My next stop was to find Bluto / Brutus.  Back in 2015 my wife had teased me that I was so scruffy looking that I reminded her of Bluto.  So, I did a little montage…

So, on this trip I had to also get a nice shot with the Bluto statue.

Bluto look alike?
Bluto statue created in 2008 in front of Buena Vista Bank
Bluto plaque

Of course, a tour of Popeye characters would not be complete without the lovely Olive Oyl (Oyl was actually here last name). She is said to have been modelled after Chester resident Dora Paskel, a store owner who was apparently “unusually tall and thin and wore a bun at the nape of her neck.” Olive Oyl was actually a main character in the Thimble Theatre comic strip for nearly a decade before Popeye’s appearance, having first debuted on December 19, 1919. Her parents were Castor Oyl and Crude Oyl.  Her baby Swee’Pea was also a cutie.  Then there was Eugene the Jeep which had some magical abilities.

Olive Oyl with Swee’Pea and Eugene the Jeep.  This set was made in 2007.
Dora Paskel gravestone in Chester, Illinois

I continued to drive around town to shoot what I could and got a couple of others.

Professor Watasnozzle created in 2014
Cole Oyl, Olive Oyl’s father -created in 2011 in front of the Chester Public Library
Harold Hamgravy was erected in 2021
Alice the Goon was erected in 2012and sits in front of the Chester Center on Route 3

Besides the statues, the town square has a large mural celebrating the town, the river and the Thimble Theatre.

Chester Mural celebrates E.C. Segar
Another Popeye-themed Mural

The county welcome sign also includes a drawing of the Popeye family of characters.

Welcome to Randolph County

Chester even has a Popeye-themed gift shop.  Spinach Can Collectibles is “Your One Stop Popeye Shop,” and museum located on State Street next to the park.

Spinach Can Collectibles in Chester, Illinois

On a final note, way before Popeye was a thing, America’s famed explorers Lewis and Clark visited the area now known as Chester. Throughout all of my blog posts, I have tried to include any Lewis and Clark monuments.  Segar Park has a small corner dedicated to their visit of November 27, 1803.

Lewis and Clark Monument in Chester, Illinois
Lewis and Clark Historic Marker

So, like Lewis and Clark, if you meander your way into the Chester area, make a visit to the home of Popeye.  And don’t forget to eat your Spinach!

If you like what you see, you can check out my books which cover so much more!

Enjoy the Ride With Sumoflam

You can get my books online!  The series now has five books and I am working on books six and seven. Book Six will be all about murals from all over the country!! Watch for them later this year.