The Launching Pad Drive-In restaurant in Wilmington, Illinois, announced it has begun a restoration of its 50-plus-year-old and iconic Gemini Giant fiberglass statue.
Co-owner Tully Garrett stated in a Facebook post Monday for the restaurant it would be the first time in a quarter-century the big spaceman has undergone maintenance. And the Launching Pad is getting a lot of the help for free:
John Mercer Painting is donating his expertise on this epic project. With decades of experience we know he will treat the Giant with the love it deserves. He starts Tomorrow morning and we are so excited. Everyone please give a shout out to John for his willingness to donate his time and effort on this project!
As well the giant is 28 feet tall so we have to get a boom truck to be able to paint him. At the end of the day we need a 40 foot boom in order to get complete access to him.
Obviously the expense for such a big piece of equipment could be a hindrance. After speaking with Sunbelt Rentals and telling them what we needed the aerial piece of equipment for they immediately wanted to be part of this project and they are donating 100% the arial left to complete this project for free.
Sunbelt Rentals is based in nearby Joliet, Illinois.
Co-owner Holly Barker elaborated in a text message on the work that will be done to the Gemini Giant:
He needs to be repainted as his paint is worn and in some places worn off. His shoes need the Fiberglass repaired as some places are cracked and have holes. He used to have electric lighting in his helmet and we are looking at restoring that. Lastly, the bolts holding his helmet up need replacement as they have rusted out and his helmet is tilted forward. […]
He’s in good shape but needs a real tune up. Especially his feet. People stand on them all the time.
The couple, who purchased the long-closed restaurant in the fall of 2017 and held a grand reopening about a week ago, recently said they plan to exchange their marriage vows under the Gemini Giant on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. moon landing, which is July 21.
The Launching Pad and Gemini Giant were inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 2000. Both long have been one of the biggest photo opportunities for Route 66 travelers.
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 landed there in 1965 after John Korelc saw a Muffler Man during a restaurant convention. Most Muffler Men at the time were cowboys or lumberjacks. Korelc had his specially made so it looked liked an astronaut. John Korelc retired in 1986.
Morey Szczecin bought the property in 2007 after longtime owners Jerry and Sharon Gatties retired. But the restaurant struggled and closed in 2010.
UPDATE 5/15/2019: The restoration work necessitated taking off the Gemini Giant’s helmet for the first time in probably 50-plus years.
Take a long look; the helmet will go back into place probably by Friday: