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Texas Trails Jan. 6, 2023

published: January 6th 2023
by: Clay Coppedge
source: Southern Livestock Standard

We like to think everybody has heard of Popeye, the legendary character of comic strips, cartoons and movies who is sometimes referred to formally as Popeye the Sailor Man, but not everybody knows that Popeye was a Texan.

 Popeye first appeared in a comic strip called “Thimble Theater” which was drawn and written by Elzie Crisler Segar, a staff cartoonist for the New York Evening Journal. Popeye just sort of showed up one day in “Thimble Theater” and never left. In time and with the aid of innumerable cans of spinach, Popeye ran the whole strip. He would go on to be a star of television cartoons and movies and an effective spokesman for the spinach industry; his popularity coincided with a dramatic percent increase in spinach demand.  Much of that spinach was grown in Texas.

We can credit Popeye with saving the spinach industry in Texas, as well he should because he was so dependent on it for his physical strength and emotional and mental well-being. Every time the situation looked hopeless for Popeye he popped a can of spinach and – bam! – he got stronger and things got better. Doctors today believe that Popeye had a “hyperactive spinach gene.”

Born in Victoria as a full-grown sailor man, Popeye was not a typical Texan. He dressed in sailor’s clothes and never wore cowboy boots or packed a six-shooter, though his pipe was sometimes employed as a weapon, power tool, and sometimes as a spinach-delivery system. It was very handy, that pipe, which is probably why he never bothered to actually smoke it.  He was born, incidentally, near the heart of spinach country.

In 1929, “Thimble Theater” mainstays Ham Gravy and his brother-in-law Castor Oyl went looking for a sailor man to aid them in their search for the legendary Whiffle Hen. Castor Oyl approached a man with a pipe, sailor’s uniform, and some of the freakiest forearms of all time and asked, “Are you a sailor?”

“Ja think I’m a cowboy?”  Popeye replied.

Soon Ham Gravy and Castor Oyl all but disappeared from the strip. Olive Oyl stayed around as a love interest. Popeye clearly loved Olive Oyl but she never really committed to him. More than one manly man more than once stole her heart, but she always ran back to Popeye after he beat up her evil suitors. Every time. We have wondered more than once why he bothered.

Where Popeye came from was a mystery until 1934 when the Victoria Advocate published a special edition celebrating its 88th year. Segar contributed a special strip for the occasion, in which Popeye said: “Please assept me hearties bes’ wishes and felicitations on account of your 88th anniversary…Victoria is me ol’ hometown of account of tha’s where I got borned at.”  The Advocate was the first paper in the country to run “Thimble Theater.”

Popeye’s legacy in Texas is considerable, especially in relation to the state’s spinach growers. The first documented shipment of spinach out of Texas was in 1918, and large-scale planting commenced soon after. The industry received a tremendous shot in the arm when Popeye showed up in Segar’s comic strip and on TV using used canned spinach to attain truly superhero powers. Generations of kids were told to eat their spinach so they might grow to be strong like Popeye. Spinach demand increased dramatically.

Crystal City in South Texas became known as the spinach capital of the world and staged the first annual spinach festival in 1936. A year later the city erected a Popeye statue across from city hall. Asked to comment, Popeye said simply, “I yam what I yam.”

And what he yam is Texan.

 

 

 

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