Muffler Man: Gemini Giant
When I started planning my recent Illinois/Iowa/Wisconsin trip, I realized that I would be able to travel a bit of the beginning of Route 66, which officially starts in downtown Chicago. My flight arrived at O’Hare at 8:30am and I was due in Dubuque by the evening, a 2hr and 40min drive if you drive from point A to point B without stopping—something I rarely do.
I decided that the furthest I could reasonably go southwest on Route 66, before heading back northwest, would be Wilmington IL, home of one of the most famous Muffler Men, the Gemini Giant. By the time I had reached the Giant it was 3pm and I was 3hrs and 30 min from Dubuque, but it was completely worth the detour.
In 1965, John Korelc, owner of the Launching Pad drive-in, paid $3,500 (more than $25k in today’s dollars) for the astronaut-themed Muffler Man. When Korelc retired he sold the Launching Pad, which eventually closed in 2010. The last owner refused to sell the Giant separately from the restaurant and in 2017, Tully Garrett and Holly Barker purchased both. They have reopened the Launching Pad as a souvenir shop and have plans to add food in the future.
The Launching Pad was supposed to be open when I arrived, but the doors were locked. When I reached out via Facebook they told me they had an unexpected emergency and had to close up for a bit. I’m sad I didn’t get to meet the Giant’s new owners or squish a penny, but I’ve come to accept these little disappointments as inevitabilities in life (along with the sun, which is seemingly always in the worst position for photos). Thankfully, they sell some of their Gemini Giant- and Route 66-branded merchandise online and I might not be able to resist buying one of these little guys.
The Gemini Giant stands 30 feet tall and—not counting his rocket and concrete base—weighs 438 pounds. After he arrived at the Launching Pad, a contest was held with local school children to name the giant. Inspired by Project Gemini, NASA's second human spaceflight program from 1961 to 1966, a fifth grade student proposed the name “Gemini Giant.” At least two other astronaut variants were made by International Fiberglass—one stood at Coney Island’s Astroland—but only the Gemini Giant survives today.
810 E Baltimore Street
Wilmington, IL 60481
Store open daily, 9am-5pm, the statue is visible 24/7 in the parking lot outside.