While tourists continue to visit the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois, despite the closing of the Launching Pad Drive-In restaurant in 2013, one new twist recently emerged — visitors slapping stickers on the iconic fiberglass figure.
According to the Daily Journal, Wilmington Mayor Roy Strong and some residents don’t have a problem with tourists affixing stickers on the Route 66 landmark. But others do.
While the city’s residents enjoy the attention the Giant brings, some have expressed concerns about tourists putting stickers on the city’s icon. On Thursday, the statue had 25 stickers posted on its legs, as well as someone’s name engraved on it.
“It’s very disrespectful,” said Debbie Marchbank, who has lived next door to the former restaurant for five years. “It’s a landmark. What they are doing is destruction of property.”
“I don’t like that they are doing it,” said another neighbor, who declined to give their name. “They’re ruining the guy. Everyone I talk to says the same thing. It’s very disrespectful to the people who live here.”
Residents agree the restaurant site has become an eyesore since its closing four years ago. The newspaper reports the building’s exterior has continued to deteriorate, and weeds are growing in the parking lot. The restaurant’s original menu board also was destroyed by a wayward truck.
Owner Morey Szczecin closed the restaurant a few years after buying it from longtime operators Jerry and Sharon Gatties, who retired.
Szczecin tried to auction the Gemini Giant and Launching Pad last year. But a local couple’s bid of $177,500 didn’t meet the undisclosed minimum. Both continue to sit.
And without an owner on the premises to keep an eye on it, visitors will continue to plaster the Gemini Giant with stickers or try to carve their names into the fiberglass. Either can’t be good for the statue’s paint job or its long-term health.
Szczecin should be commended for insisting the Gemini Giant and Launching Pad be sold as a package deal. He said he has turned down offers for the Gemini Giant alone.
However, Szczecin from the beginning wanted too much money for a restaurant that will need a lot of renovation work from any new owner. It initially was put up for sale in 2010 with an asking price of $650,000, with no takers.
John and Betty Korelc opened a Dairy Delite at the site in 1960. It was renamed the Launching Pad after an expansion in 1965. The Gemini Giant statue landed there in 1965 after John Korelc saw a Muffler Man during a restaurant convention and bought one. Most Muffler Men were cowboys or lumberjacks. Korelc had his custom-made so it looked liked an astronaut; it remains the only spaceman model of a Muffler Man.
The Launching Pad and Gemini Giant were inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 2000. It long has been one of the biggest photo opportunities for Route 66 travelers.
(Image of the Gemini Giant on May 24 by Chris Beadle via Facebook)