In keeping with the 200th birthday of the state of Illinois, the theme of the 2018 Popeye Picnic will be "Popeye Celebrates The Bicentennial, Where Illinois Began, " to be held Friday, Sept. 7 through Sunday, Sept. 9.
In the week prior to the picnic, residents will begin to notice visitors in town, as members of the Popeye Fan Club will be descending from all parts of the country and abroad. Fan club members each year arrive early and often stay late, even after the picnic has ended.
"It proves to us that Popeye the sailor man and all his friends are still very popular across the United States and also in other countries," said Debbie Brooks, owner of the local Popeye Museum and Spinach Can Collectibles.
Food sales at the Sweet Haven Harbor food court on State Street will begin at 4 p.m. Sept. 7. Those looking forward to the long-awaited picnic food will enjoy such menu items as fish sandwiches, walking tacos, fried chicken, chicken wings, Cajun shrimp, frog legs, pulled pork sandwiches, pulled pork nachos, pork steak, BBQ burgers, BBQ chicken, pork burgers, rib-eye sandwiches, boneless pork chops, curly fries, Brutus bratwursts, the ever-popular Wimpy burgers, pork cutlets, Italian beef sandwiches, corn-on-the-cob, homemade corn dogs, funnel cakes, ice cream, snow-cones, caramel apples, pie, cake, pastries, kettle corn, pork rinds, soft drinks and more.
"A person would have a hard time finding a larger picnic menu at any picnic in southern Illinois," said Bob Buckham, one of the Popeye Picnic trustees.
Castor Oyl's carnival rides, located on Spring Street, just behind the food court, will open at 5 p.m. Sept. 7, Advance tickets for rides will be sold, ten tickets for $18, at Chester National Bank, First Bank in Chester and the Swanwick Street and Rozier's locations of Buena Vista Bank. Advance tickets may be purchased at these locations until end of business on Thursday, Sept. 6.
Advance tickets will also be available at Spinach Can Collectibles until 5 p.m. Sept. 7. After that, the cost of tickets, at the carnival grounds, will be ten for $20.
"Buy early to get your discount," said Brooks.
The annual Popeye Trivia contest will be held Friday evening at the Chester Public Library. Teams are currently forming for that event.
Popeye's 5K run/walk and 1.5 mile fun run/walk will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday on Swanwick Street near Buena Vista Bank. Registration and packet pick up will be from 6:45 to 7:45 a.m. that day at the Buena Vista Bank parking lot. Awards will be given immediately after the event.
The annual Popeye Parade will be held on Sept. 8 with step-off at Chester High School at 11 a.m., heading downtown to the courthouse. Anyone with entries is asked to contact Charlie Bargman at (618) 615-9157. Line up will be behind the high school and on Swanwick Street, adjacent to the high school. Those planning to provide float entries are encouraged to utilize the Bicentennial theme, as well as Popeye cartoon characters. Float winners will be announced later that weekend.
The unveiling of the annual character trail statue will be at 1 p.m. at the Manor at Craig Farms, where Nana Oyl will make her dramatic debut.
The annual Popeye Cruise Cars will be on display at Chester High School, beginning at 2 p.m. on Saturday with the cruise through Chester at 5:15 p.m., ending at 6 p.m. at Tequila's Mexican Restaurant. The food court on picnic grounds and carnival rides will open at noon Saturday. Additional attractions on Saturday will be Olive Oyl's Cafe & Crafts at St. John Lutheran Parish Hall from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; the RC Model Plane Show at Breezy Hill (Cohen Complex) from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; and the inflatable amusements, sponsored by First Baptist Church, and located on downtown State Street, adjacent to the church.
Sunday, the final day of the picnic, will continue to feature the food court, carnival rides and the model plane show. In addition, the annual Sacred Concert will be held at St. Mary's Catholic Church with piano prelude at 1:45 p.m. and the concert at 2 p.m. Performers this year will include the First Baptist Church Choir, First United Methodist Church Choir, Vocal Soloists Steve Colonel and Melody Colonel, piano soloist Linda Roth, and piano accompanist Vicky Beers. The concert will last approximately one hour.
Other popular events on Sunday will be the Popeye Pet Show, sponsored by the Randolph County Humane Society, beginning at 1:30 p.m., and Wimpy's Wiener Dog Races, beginning at 3 p.m. both at the gazebo park, adjacent to Spinach Can Collectibles.
One of the most popular picnic events in recent years is Stewart Minor, who performs magic and more on picnic grounds intermittently throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday. Minor will do metamorphosis escapes, a 50 foot of chain escape and sword juggling.
"This is a real crowd pleaser," said Ken Wagner, a picnic trustee.
DJ Kevin Holliday will provide music on picnic grounds on Friday evening, from 7 to 9 p.m. Crystal & The Bone Shakers will play at the Chester Moose Club on Stacey Street on Friday evening from 8 p.m. to midnight. On Saturday evening, from 6 to 10 p.m., popular regional band Fertile Soil will perform on picnic grounds. Scattergun Jack will perform at the Chester Moose from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
The Chester Municipal Band will end its 2018 summer season on Sunday with a concert from 5:30-6:30 p.m., under the direction of Steve Colonel, at Chester's Gazebo Park.
The Popeye Museum will be open for viewing throughout the weekend at Spinach Can Collectibles and Popeye cartoons in classic black and white, will be shown on the big screen at Gazebo Park on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Popeye Fan Club will hold its annual banquet on Saturday evening at the Chester Eagles Club. Admission is for members only.
Medical professionals from Memorial Hospital in Chester will be on picnic grounds the entire weekend to handle minor first aid and if needed, emergency care.
"The Popeye trustees work 12 months a year to plan the best possible picnic events," said Brooks. "We hope those attending enjoy another year of Popeye fun."
She stressed that other than the carnival rides and food, all activities and events are free to the public.