Alma, Arkansas calls itself the Spinach Capital of the World. Here's how that happened. Back in 1987, residents George Bowles and Wolf Grulkey were sitting around drinking coffee and doing some noggin scratching over the question of how to put their little community of 2500 on the map. Spinach is what they came up with. At the time, Alma-based Allen Canning Company canned way over half (65%, according to the paper) of all the spinach canned in the U.S., some 60 million pounds a year coming from the local area. And if you're the Spinach Capital of the U.S., then you're the Spinach Capital of the whole darn world, by gum. That was the thinking, and nobody argued but the Texans.
Well, one Texan briefly considered putting up a fight. It was Dale Barker, publisher of the Zavala County Sentinal that sent Bowles an unsigned postcard reading "Greetings from the spinach capital of the world -- Crystal Springs, Texas," thus announcing that they had since 1937 been and continued in 1987 to be, thanks to the local Del Monte cannery; and by the way THEY had a statue of Popeye, the cartoon patron of all things spinachy, in the town square and therefore they and not the hillbilly usurpers were the true and legitimate Spinach Capital of the World, thank you very much.
Bowles tried to stir up some publicity by fomenting a good-humored rivalry between the towns. He shipped a package of Popeye Brand spinach (Allen Canning is the official licensee of the Popeye trademark.). Also in the package was a bundle of Arkansas soil and a bottle of Arkansas water (Texas has for years tried to buy agricultural water from Arkansas.). Bowles never heard back from Crystal City. I have to conclude that they would have been embarassed to contest Alma's claim.
Just to drive the point home, Bowles commissioned Alma's own eight-foot statue of Popeye and a four-foot base for the town square. Here it is across the street from City Hall, next door to the water company. The work was done in papier mache by Red Moore of Mountainburg, assisted by his wife, Barb. For his work, Red got $2400, about half of which was donated by Allen Canning. The statue was unveiled at the town's annual May Daze Festival and was shortly thereafter stolen, probably by kids from Alma High School (home of the Fightin' Airedales), just a hundred yards away. The sailor man was later recovered from a Wal-Mart trash bin.
After he was stolen again a year later, Bowles printed up a sign offering a $500 reward for information about the stolen Popeye. The sign now hangs in Kustom Kaps (run by Sharon Bowles) just a couple of blocks north of the statue. Popeye later turned up in the middle of the street, as if directing traffic.
Enough was enough. And after all the wear and tear and two-years' exposure to the weather, Popeye was getting a little soft in spots. He was spruced up and given a hard shell of fiberglass, which served to make him much heavier and harder to steal. He was also chained to his base, where he has remained ever since.
Before we get off the subject of fiiberglass Popeye statues, here's a link to another one at the Allen Canning plant in Lowell, between Springdale and Rogers, a little over fifty miles north on highway 71. Here's a link to the Roadside Project's page on Popeye statues.
The overwhelming spinach-packing volume of Allen Canning and the officially licensed Popeye statue ought sufficiently to legitimize the Spinach Capital claim. Just in case it doesn't, though, in 1991 Alma arranged for a distinctive new paint job for its water tower as seen in the lead photo of this story. It's the "World's Largest Can of Spinach" a million gallons worth, which can be viewed by motorists driving east on I-40. The artwork on the water tower was painted by Fort Smith painter William Bland, who also transformed the Rancho Viejo, TX water tower into a teed-up golf ball. When I look at that water tower I imagine the city council meeting where they decide to save a buck by just painting over the old lettering with a shade of green that's SURE to blend into the old paint.
[People are sometimes surprised to learn that the moon can be seen in the daytime. There it is in the center of the left half of the top photograph.]
If the name Red Moore, the artist responsible for Alma's Popeye statue, sounds familiar, it might be that you remember his July of 1999 induction into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame for his 1959 arrangement Red Moore and the Rhythm Drifters' "The Crawdad Song" which sold well in Europe, I'm told.
To see more of his sculpture you'll have to travel extensively. Practically all of it is privately commissioned for individuals and practically all of it deals with western themes, cowboys, scouts, bears, western figures both historical and mythological. All life-size.
Here he is with his current project, Gene Autrey. That's Red on the right, waiting for the papier mache to dry so he can start putting on the color.
Sources: Arkansas Gazette, 3/1/87 A:09/1; 3/20/87 A:08/5; 5/12/87 C:03/1; 8/31/91 B:03/2. Interviews w/ Red and Barb Moore and Sharon Bowles.
Red sent me a photo of the finished Gene Autrey statue. Here it is. He's also got a new website that shows off some of his other work. Here's a link to that.