During the heyday of RT.66, travellers passed hundreds of signs, murals and other forms of roadside advertising, each hoping to grab their slice of attention. Among the more famous of these stood the fibreglass giants which were created in the 1960’s by International Fibreglass of Venice, California.
Originally designed to hold an axe the first of these was a “Paul Bunyan” figure, done for the Paul Bunyan Café on Rt. 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona, in about 1962. Most of the statues were derivatives of that one mold. As the retail attention-getters became popular, many of them were placed in front of service stations, holding such things as automobile mufflers and tires. They soon became known as “Muffler Men.”
In 1965, H.A Stephens purchased one of these giants, swapped its original axe for a hotdog, and placed it in front of his restaurant on Rt.66 in Cicero, Illinois. Mr Stephens purposefully misspelled the name of his business “Bunyons” in order to avoid a potential trademark conflict with the Paul Bunyan café. A legend was born, and over the next 38 years, “Bunyons Statues” became a Rt.66 landmark.
Stephens, with the help of his family and long-time manager, Agnes Abruzzo, operated Bunyons through January 2003. At the time, he sold the real estate, and was faced with the prospect of relocating the giant (which still serves as the business’ trade symbol). The family was approached by John and Lenore Weiss representing the preservation committee of the Illinois Route 66 Association. Even though large cash offers had been made for the giant, the Stephens’ generously agreed to keep their Bunyons Statue on Route 66, so he could remain a Route 66 icon. Because of its central location, enthusiasm and support Rt.66, Atlanta, Illinois was chosen as the statue’s new home, and welcomes all Rt.66 travellers to this friendly mid-west town.
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