METROPOLIS, Ill. -- When comic book creators used the name Metropolis for Superman's home city, they probably didn't know there was a real Metropolis in Illinois.
Of course, the real Metropolis is a city of about 7,000 people, whereas the fictional version is something more akin to New York City.
"It's really more of a Smallville," said Jim Hambrick, president of the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce. "The tallest building right now is about four stories."
But that didn't stop city leaders in the real Metropolis from approaching DC Comics, the company that makes the Superman comic books, in the 1970s to ask permission to call the city the official home of the superhero.
"DC was using the name 'Metropolis' in their comic books," said Hambrick, who also owns the Super Museum in Metropolis.
The comic book company's concession allowed the city to start an annual Superman celebration, centered on the large statue of the fictional hero in the heart of Metropolis. Now in its 27th year, organizers are expecting the festival to draw 50,000 to 60,000 visitors to the tiny town starting from the festival kickoff today through Sunday.
Not only will the event draw tourists, but major media outlets like NBC and the BBC will be there to film some of the festivities.
The Superman phenomenon is truly an international craze, said Hambrick, with collectors and fans from all over the world flocking to Metropolis not only during the festival but throughout the year.
"A lot of these guys would like nothing more once they're done working than to come here and retire," said Hambrick.
In a way that's what Hambrick himself did. After working in Hollywood for many years and touring the country with a mobile museum featuring Superman celebrities, the Superman allure brought Hambrick to Metropolis 13 years ago, where he set about using some of his skills to help promote the Superman celebration.
One of the changes he brought to the celebration was to bring in those Superman celebrities he had worked with from the worlds of comics and films. Hambrick said this has helped bring in bigger crowds to the festival, giving visitors something extra to see.
This year the celebration will feature John Schneider, who played Bo Duke on the "Dukes of Hazzard" TV show and plays Clark Kent's father on the current WB show "Smallville"; Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in the Superman films alongside Christopher Reeve and will deliver a tribute to Reeve; Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in the 1950s TV show "The Adventures of Superman"; and comic-book artists Steve Stanley and Mark Waid, both of whom will give workshops on comic-book art.
The festival will also feature plenty of activities for children -- like a Superboy contest -- and a car show.
Hambrick said the celebration continues to succeed not just because of the activities and celebrities, but because America needs Superman's "truth, justice and the American way" now more than ever.
"We all need a hero, and Superman is a good role model for everybody," said Hambrick. "We're short on good news these days, with terrorism and Michael Jackson. With Superman it's all positive."
For more information on the festival visit www.supermancelebration.net or call the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce at (800) 949-5740.
335-6611, extension 182
* Want to go?
* What: Superman Celebration
* Where: Metropolis, Ill.
* When: Starts today at 1 p.m. goes through Sunday
* Info: Metropolis Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-949-5740