With his X-ray vision, experience with flying and penchant for catching the bad guys, the Transportation Security Administration could sure use Superman among its ranks. But you’ll only find the Man of Steel at one airport, greeting travelers and promoting the destination where he came to life.
No, this isn't Krypton, but Cleveland, Ohio, where a permanent Superman exhibit opens on Thursday in the baggage claim area of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, complete with a life-size statue of the superhero dressed in his iconic blue costume and red cape.
"We expect that it will become the place where people who are trying to meet each other at the airport will say, 'Meet me at Superman,'" said Ricky Smith, the airport director. "We think it’ll be a pretty popular site."
Officials are already having some fun on the airport’s website.
“We’re adding kryptonite to our list of prohibited carry-ons,” a Superman-branded message teases passengers.
So why Cleveland? It was here that science fiction fans Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster became high school friends in the 1930s and together created Superman, one of the most popular and recognizable comic book characters of all time.
Yet many visitors aren't aware of the Cleveland-Superman connection, something local residents and fans wanted to change.
"We’re very proud of Superman, but especially his creators," said Mike Olszewski, president of the Siegel & Shuster Society, a nonprofit organization that has made it its mission to celebrate Cleveland as the "Birthplace of Superman."
The group, founded in 2007, first focused on restoring Jerry Siegel’s house in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland. The effort included putting up a commemorative fence with the familiar “S” logo and renaming a nearby street “Lois Lane.”
Then, the society set its sights on creating a Superman presence at the airport.
“After we got done with the house, we thought, a lot of people come through Cleveland airport and may not even know that the house is there, or about Superman’s past in Cleveland,” Olszewski said.
“We thought, Superman is bigger than life, his creators created an international icon and a billion dollar industry as well, let’s make this something special.”
Besides the Superman statue—meant to create a perfect photo op for travelers—the interactive exhibit features a comic book-like background with the Cleveland skyline and “bubbles” letting visitors know about “Super-sights,” or places around the city that were important in the history of Siegel and Shuster, Olszewski said.
There are also depictions of phone booths, where Clark Kent changed into his alter ego, and a monitor playing scenes from vintage Superman movies.
Eighty percent of the people coming through the airport will see the display, Olszewski said. The Siegel & Shuster Society raised $45,000 to make it happen and the city embraced the idea.
Cleveland Hopkins International had already experienced Superman’s allure. Each year, the airport puts up variously-themed Christmas trees, and the Superman version—complete with Superman ornaments and other trinkets—is always the most popular, Smith said.
Many people complained that they couldn't get a chance to see the tree because it was on the secure side of the airport, so the exhibit’s location was chosen to make it accessible to everyone, he added.
“We hope that this will kind of break up the anxiety that comes with being in an airport environment, and that for kids it will be a source of entertainment,” Smith said. “It will set the tone for the experience they will have when they visit the city of Cleveland.”