(ODD)yssey, Blog Post

Big John giants are cousins to Muffler Men

When Sweetums and I were heading to Collinsville, Ill., in 2016 to see the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle, we detoured to see another giant: the Superman statue in Metropolis, Ill. Metropolis is such a cool place with the Superman Museum and the huge statue in the center of town. I’ll share photos of it later this week.

Today, I’m writing about a lesser-known giant we came across in Metropolis: the Big John grocery man. Big John figures are similar to roadside Muffler Men (click here to read about them) but, believe it or not, they are typically as much as 5 feet taller.

Big John in Metropolis, Ill. (Kelly Kazek)

Like Muffler Men, Big Johns are a roadside marketing ploy. The figures were meant to draw attention to a chain of grocery stores called Big John’s.

According to the guys over at American Giants, a company that helps preserve roadside oddities, the figures were the idea of Bob Martin and Frank Bayley who owned grocery stores in Illinois and a few in Kentucky and Tennessee.

In about 1967, they ordered 10 to 15 of the 28-foot-high man known as Big John from General Sign Co., in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Big John held four giant grocery bags in his arms. He wore a checkered shirt and a work apron.

The figure we saw outside the Big John’s Grocery in Metropolis was one of only two still used for their original purpose of advertising Big John’s stores.

There is a Big John in Cape Coral, Fla., but it was created for Craig Hollinsworth, who was apparently friends with the Illinois grocers, according to RoadsideAmerica.com.

Another Big John was located, and may still be, in Lake View, Miss., near the Mississippi-Tennessee state line, according to the Library of Congress.

Other Big Johns can be found in Carmi, Eldorado and West City, Ill.; Unger, W.V.; and Gainesville, Texas.

A repurposed Big John in Lake View, Miss. (Carol Highsmith | Library of Congress)
This is actually only the top half of a Big John in Eldorado, Ill. (Carol Highsmith | Library of Congress)

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