My wife and I have a twice-yearly tradition of spending our respective birthdays together traveling to some new place or attraction as a one-day road trip — partly as an excuse to spend time together on those most wondrous days, partly to explore areas of Indiana we’ve never experienced before. My 2016 birthday destination of choice: the northern Indiana city of Elkhart, with a bonus stopover in South Bend, both some 100+ miles north of here. Elkhart was regrettably cut a little short because the weather was miserable and tried to freeze us in our tracks, but we had enough fun to fill out another four-part miniseries starring a candy factory tour, a super-hero roadside attraction, and a selection of the “art” in Elkhart. Also, food.
Part Two of Four: a birthday celebration for a venerated super-hero at a museum made by a fan for fans.
Deep in the heart of Elkhart, the Hall of Heroes Museum is easy to miss because it’s in the middle of a wooded residential neighborhood. The museum’s owner and founder, Allen Stewart, is a real estate agent with a longtime passion for comics, super-heroes, and Captain America who has turned his collections into one large exhibition piece. He had the Museum built in his backyard, with plans to upgrade to a larger commercial space someday. Frankly, I felt weird parking in his lawn.
We first heard about the Hall of Heroes from booths they set up at a few of our past cons. In previous entries we’ve shown readers pics of their Captain America actual-movie-prop shield signed on the inside by several cast members from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as the Shelby Cobra that Tony Stark crash-landed on during suit-testing in the original Iron Man. When Anne and I were still gathering birthday ideas the week before, we just happened to catch a segment about the Hall of Heroes on one of our local morning shows and remembered this was a place we might want to check out. Nice timing, that.
As luck would have it, we’d chosen to visit the day they’d planned a mini-fest in honor of Captain America’s birthday. Now 75 years old, the Star-Spangled Avenger is healthier than ever, ruling the American box office and sporting not one but two noble guys with the name and costume in Marvel’s current comics continuity. The bottom floor and a few outdoor party tents were set up for expanded collection viewing, a sort-of dealers’ room for a few other fans with comics to sell, that damaged Shelby Cobra, face-painting for the kiddos, special guest Allen Bellman (a Timely Comics artist as a teenager while Simon and Kirby were serving overseas in WWII), and two local artists selling their own self-published wares.
And, of course, the one thing every successful comic book party needs: cosplayers!
Part of the first floor and all of the second are devoted to the bulk of Stewart’s impressive trove of comics, books, toys, high-end statues, and other nifty hobby collectibles. Guys like me have seen our share of action figures at cons, but they’re always boxed, stacked, hanging, or otherwise unnaturally shackled. Most of the heroes in this Hall are unboxed, posed, free-standing display items grouped with their friends, enemies, and other corporate cohorts out in the open. Touching isn’t invited, but with some pieces, I couldn’t help stopping and staring.
One corner of the first floor is a virtual Batman shrine. One of the most beloved, most heavily merchandised super-heroes in the medium’s history deserves no less.
To be honest, the Hall of Heroes wasn’t exactly what I imagined we’d find after a nearly three-hour drive, but it’s a fun place to be. For a modest yet fair entry free, local fans and newcomers to super-heroing get to see a scintillating panoply of faces and universes, giving them a better appreciation and a deeper dive into the vast imaginary worlds of Marvel, DC, and more. Only a fraction of a fraction of those characters have ever made the transition to summer action blockbuster event movies and are likely strangers to the general public. Stewart’s Hall of Heroes is a neat diversion, a potential educational tool, and maybe even a handy gateway to new reading possibilities for kids and adults alike.
It might even spur new collectors into the hobby, though some rookies might do well to keep their expectations realistic and their hopes grounded. We chatted briefly with one young starry-eyed lady who asked if I have any comics (I casually mentioned “some longboxes”) and bragged that her boyfriend owns “a dozen boxes worth a million dollars!” I thought about my thirty-seven years of comics fandom, my 50+ longboxes, many years spent skimming Overstreet price guides, and that one short time I tried eBay on for size, and I had to fight the urge to reach over and pat her on the head.
To be fair, though, based on what we saw of Stewart’s own accumulations, he would’ve had full bragging rights to come up and pat me on the head.