Well, the folks in McCook, IL have finally drunk the Kool-Aid: they are now suddenly big boosters of Route 66. Perhaps village officials were bitten by the bug last year when Terry Carr Sr. opened up a vastly remodeled Steak N Egger on Route 66 in the historic former Snuffy’s 24-Hour Grill building.
I say this because they chose to put their new ‘Welcome to Fabulous McCook’ sign right next to the sidewalk on Joliet Road on the corner of the Steak N Egger parking lot. Carr’s place has all kinds of Route 66 items worked into its 1950s classic diner décor. The old Snuffy’s, of course, had none of that, merely a prime location on what was a major thoroughfare before the interstates came around.
But honestly: McCook fabulous??? That’s more than a little hype, especially for such a dinky town. We have absolutely nothing against the tiny burg, which is perhaps 95 percent industrial, but you can drive through it on Joliet Road/historic Route 66 in less than 5 minutes. Still, you have to admire their ambition, not to mention the sign. It’s not like you can miss it when driving by, especially at night. More’s the pity that you can’t see it from I-55, where all the major traffic is these days.
The thing is, this kitschy sign seems wildly familiar, despite the Route 66 shield at the top. And well it should – minus the shield, it’s an inch-by-inch copy of the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada” sign, designed by commercial artist Betty Willis and installed in a median strip on South Las Vegas Boulevard near the airport in 1959. That sign’s become the symbol of Sin City ever since. You’re thinking: Wait, they can’t copy that! The Vegas design must be copyrighted or trademarked. Nope: Ms. Willis never copyrighted or trademarked the design because she wanted it to be widely copied in order to promote the city, explaining that it was her gift to the city. And boy, has it been overused: in Vegas, it’s on almost anything and everything that you can sell to a tourist. Thus, because the design is in the public domain, it seems the village of McCook gets a pass to copy it for their own sign. Real chutzpah, that.
The new McCook sign differs from its Vegas ancestor in four ways. First, it has the Route 66 shield way up at the top, which is an addition to the Vegas design. Second, it’s a lot less glitzy than the original – it doesn’t have any neon outlining either the star at the top or the individual letters of WELCOME. Kind of looks like they went for the less expensive version. Third, they were dumb enough to put the mayor’s name on the McCook sign (ego much?); not only is this tasteless, but it’ll also cost the town to change the sign each time there’s a new mayor (yes, we know: it could be a while before there’s a new mayor in McCook; both the Better Government Association and the Chicago Crime Commission have in the past taken great interest in the political goings-on in McCook, where they strive to have as great a family dynasty in the mayor’s office as the Daleys had in Chicago, except that McCook practices a lot more nepotism because there are more family members, according to the Chicago Sun-Times). Fourth, McCook’s sign is identical on both sides. Not so with the original, which says Drive Carefully, Come Back SOON on the back side (you’d see it driving southbound on Las Vegas Boulevard, going out of town). Copying that probably would’ve been a bit too much. Well, maybe the whole thing is a bit too much, but sometimes nothing succeeds like excess.
And they didn’t use neon on the McCook sign, which was a mistake – it’s why, after the novelty has worn off, the McCook version is lacking a certain snap, crackle and pop. It doesn’t jump out at you as much because it’s lacking the vitality and glitz that an artful use of neon (which the original has, in spades) can bring to a sign. The McCook version is just flat. Even in sunlight, it looks less than three-dimensional because of the missing neon.
Two things we do wonder: 1 – how much did that thing cost, even in this cut-rate, knock-off version (and where’d the town get that kind of money during the Great Recession??), and 2 – did they use the same sign company that now owns and services the Vegas sign, which is leased to the city of Las Vegas (i.e., YESCO)? YESCO didn’t construct the original Vegas sign – the now defunct Western Neon Co. did while artist Willis was working there, after one of the company’s salesmen suggested to her that the town needed a welcome sign. That same salesman sold the sign to Clark County, Nevada for $4,000.00. We’ll bet the McCook sign cost a whole lot more.
Here’s a slideshow of the original (below), for comparison.
Until next time,
Your curious scrivener, Marie