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Superman Museum In Metropolis, Illinois

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Collecting The Man Of Steel: Super Museum

A Museum In Metropolis With Two Million Pieces Based On All Things Superman, Founded By Jim Hambrick

Superman Museum In Metropolis Illinois [Photo Credit: Dan Schwen-CC]

Jim Hambrick easily has over two million pieces in his Superman collection, the largest known Superman collection on earth. He's graced the covers of popular magazines, been featured on television shows all over the world and Hollywood comes to him for advice on their Superman productions.

But even Hambrick can sometimes find himself face to face with stubborn sellers and excessive prices that won't budge. And if there's anyone who doesn't take no for an answer, it's Hambrick.

“Where there's a will, there's a way,” he said. “You use the strengths of Superman. No matter how hard it is – [you] do it. [You] just shut up and do it. You don't accept no. If you're in the frame of mind of Superman, you just do it. You don't bail. You don't give up. You may fall down many times, but there's always chapters in a war. It's you against the world. I know about positive attitudes.”

Hambrick is the founder of the Super Museum, located in Superman's hometown of Metropolis, Illinois. Originally from Hollywood, Hambrick ended up in Metropolis after starting a mobile museum that travelled all over America for 15 years, captivating everyone from Warner Bros to so-called “roadies.”

Now, the Super Museum is the biggest attraction in Metropolis. Director of Tourism Trish Steckenrider said it's made a huge impact on the town, attracting a constant flow of visitors. “We can't even quantify the importance of having the Super Museum,“ explains Steckenrider. “It's what people expect when they come here.”

Along with the Super Museum, Metropolis also hosts a Superman Celebration in June, a long standing 4 day festival that welcomes over 30,000 people yearly. Hambrick's favorite part is the Superman costume contest, which sees more and more contestants each year.

The Super Museum is not your average museum. Steckenrider recalls the museum being open on Christmas. After Hambrick saw a few tourists taking photos with the town's Superman statue, he opened the museum to give them a personal tour.

“Seeing how he interacts with the public…that's what people get when they come to this town,” she continued. “It's absolutely unbelievable. Never met someone so passionate and knowledgeable about one specific area. He has completely dedicated his entire life, everything he has… everything for him revolves around Superman and his collection. He can tell you little known facts about everything in the museum, or about the production of older Superman movies or television shows. He's just a wealth of information. [And] because of him, we can offer our visitors so much more.”

The Man Of Steel Statue At The Super Museum [Courtesy/Metropolis Chamber Of Commerce]

And it all started with a lunchbox.

Back in 1959, Hambrick received a Superman lunchbox on his birthday. He had been infatuated with the 1950s Superman series, starring George Reeves. He had viewed him as a surrogate father and looked up to him for helping others. Hambrick continued to receive Superman themed items every year for his birthday. The lunchbox he received when he was five was “what started it all.”

Hambrick will be turning 62 soon. He's been collecting Superman memorabilia for 57 years. Why?

“It teaches me about how the world changes and how some things stay the same,” explained Hambrick. “People love hotdogs, apple pie, baseball and Superman. He's the American way. There's different things that have to be done with the character to bring him up to date. The museum likes to recognize the past, present and future – where he's been, where he's at and where he’s headed. I think it's important for people to see.”

To Hambrick, Superman has always represented “things that are good,” including hope, helping people, heroics and saving others. To be associated with Superman is a big responsibility, said the collector. “I take it very seriously because kids look up to this character.”

Hambrick used to charge his classmates a nickel when he was 10 years old to see his Superman collection. It's no surprise to Hambrick that he now has the largest Superman collection in the world.

But what would surprise some people to learn is that Hambrick was once slightly embarrassed of his obsessive collecting. In the early 60s, it wasn't considered cool in the slightest to be a collector or a “nerd.”

So when Hambrick was asked to put part of his collection into The Daily News building in New York City to promote the original Superman movie in 1978, he was concerned about what people would think of him. Luckily, people responded positively…even with a sense of respect and awe, making the 70s and 80s a “breeze” for the collector. After that, it seemed like a no brainer to continue collecting and start his own museum.

Before the internet, Hambrick would scour through yard sales and religiously check classified ads in newspapers and specialty magazines, looking for ways to accumulate even more Superman memorabilia. The Internet now has broadened his search and he now knows all of the major Superman collectors around the world.

A Vast Array Of Superman Collectables And Items At The Super Museum [Courtesy/Metropolis Chamber Of Commerce]

It's hard to believe that there are more items to collect. Hambrick has over two million items in storage and the inside of the Super Museum is ever changing. But he is always on the hunt. Any Superman item he does not already own is an item he deeply desires. For Hambrick, the hunt is fun every day. It doesn't get old.

“I used to be after certain things, like statues, figures, costumes...I have all of that stuff now,” said Hambrick. “There's always props and costumes from movies that are one of a kind. I want all the things I don't have. It's a very difficult thing to be a collector of something and selling it, because you have to part with it. People associate it with hoarding. It's an excuse to hoard but it's organized. I figured out a way to get away with it – a museum. I have a museum – [but]I have to keep up with the Joneses. Collectors come and want to see new stuff. At least that's what I tell my four daughters.”

While filming an interview for another television show, Steckenrider visited the Super Museum. She said the uniqueness of the collection always leaves her in awe.

“You expect to see costumes and figurines and drawings. [But] he has little, unique things [too]. One thing that stood out to me is display of the wigs that were worn in Superman productions throughout the years. It's [the] things you wouldn't think of. He's got storage spaces full of other things. They try to rotate the collection but there's just so much. It's hard to do. He has the first script of first Superman movie, before Christopher Reeves or anyone was even cast…things you'd never think you'd ever get to see.”

Despite having the largest collection in the world, Hambrick said his favorite piece in the entire collection is still the lunchbox he got when was five. It will always be his favorite piece.

When Hambrick is not busy collecting Superman memorabilia he relaxes by collecting even more things. Hambrick also has a Hollywood themed museum…a way to not feel homesick. “I surround myself with things about movies,” claims Hambrick. “I'm always into that stuff. I read about it…and learn about it. As a kid, it helped me through a lot of things. I couldn't get outside at the time [because of an illness] I put my time into the things I like and fell into that and stayed there.”

He also collects antique cars, classic cars, John Wayne memorabilia, Casablanca memorabilia, and Elvis. Hambrick is always collecting, always learning. “It helps you learn about different subjects and learn about yourselves. It's a competitive thing – to be the best…[and] have the best…[to] learn and have knowledge. That's what my life is. I've never used the word 'bored.' I don't want to be bored.”

           

Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

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