Illinois community basks in glow from Superman

Since 1938, a red-caped superhero impervious to most earthly pitfalls has captivated the imagination of comic book, television, and movie fans around the world.  Superman has become a cultural icon of the United States, and the merchandising and promotion of the character is a multi-billion-dollar industry worldwide. The release of the newest Superman movie, “Man of Steel,” is helping one small Illinois town cash in on its connection to one of the most beloved comic book heroes of all time.

Plano, Illinois, has a population just under 11,000, and is as American as the flags flying throughout the downtown streets.

Plano Mayor Bob Hausler said, “I would say a great Midwestern small town, and we epitomize that.”

Hausler was in charge of the city’s government in 2011 when a Hollywood production company came to town. “There was a lot of secrecy about what the storyline, and even who the main character was.”

But in a town as small as this, it’s hard to keep a secret. Once the trucks, lights, and movie cameras moved onto Main Street, news quickly spread it was not just any Hollywood movie, but the big budget “Man of Steel,” a new version of the beloved and iconic comic book hero Superman.

“It was very exciting that our town would be picked for a major motion picture. I used to watch him on a black-and-white TV, and it was one of my favorite shows growing up,” said Hausler.

For several weeks in the summer of 2011, film director Zach Snyder, along with hundreds of cast and crew members, transformed Plano, Illinois, into Smallville, Kansas, hometown of Superman’s adopted parents Jonathan and Martha Kent. The location plays a significant backdrop in several key sequences in the new film.

Resident Jim Martens is the chairman of the Smallville Superfest, a three-day-long, city-wide party dedicated to the fictional character that has helped put Plano on the map of the Superman universe.

“We really couldn’t believe something as big as Superman could be filmed here,” he said.

Martens said that even before its release, the movie attracted fans from far and wide. “They had to get a piece of the action and see what was going on.”

Hausler said the increase in tourists has brought new life to Plano’s Main Street. “We have seen more and more of the vacancies being filled with retail spaces and other shops.”

Some of those businesses embraced the connection to “Man of Steel,” keeping the artwork created for the movie sets on their storefronts. Hausler said preserving the look of the fictional Smallville helped Plano get through the recent economic downturn.

“From 2011 we’ve actually seen our sales tax revenue grow just about every month since then. We’ve had that much economic growth,” said Hausler.

While visitors may not be able to see the superhero known for traveling faster than a speeding bullet, or more powerful than a locomotive, they can soon visit a Smallville museum in the town’s historic train station, featuring movie set props and other items related to the filming of “Man of Steel.”

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