Going, Going, Almost Gone: Wilmington’s Gemini Giant Up for Auction

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By Stephanie Irvine

 

Wilmington’s iconic Gemini Giant fiberglass “Muffler Man” statue, along with the contents of the former Launching Pad restaurant, have gone up for auction as of March 6.

 

The online-only auction is being hosted by Grafe Auctions and is scheduled to conclude on March 20.

 

Each year, those traveling historic Route 66 will stop and take pictures in front of the Muffler Man statues and other historic points of interest. The restaurant itself and the Gemini Giant are both included in the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame as of June 2000, according to the Route 66 Association of Illinois.

 

Nearly everything bolted and not bolted onto the property is included in the auction, resulting in around 500 items being up for grabs. Available items listed range from the Gemini Giant statue and The Launching Pad sign to napkin holders and Coca-Cola memorabilia.

 

“We are only selling the equipment and decor. We are not doing anything with the real estate,” said Bret Walters, customer service agent from Grafe Auction handling the sale of the Launching Pad Items.

 

At the time of publication, the commercial property at 810 E. Baltimore St. is still actively listed for sale on the MLS for $1.4 million. The real estate description states that the sale of the property includes the Gemini Giant, which is currently up for auction through Grafe.

 

Although a real estate contract would not be actionable until signed, not having the restaurant items and Gemini Giant included could impact the value of the property.

 

There was a $100,000 reserve rumored to be placed on the Gemini Giant itself, resulting from social media posts on X made by current owner Holly Barker on February 23, 2024. However, Walters rejected that notion.

 

“That’s the common question of the day! No, there is no reserve. That has not been discussed with us. I know there was stuff put out on social media, but nothing has been discussed. We are trying to sell everything at public auction. If something were to come about, we would put that out. But as of right now, nothing was told to us, nothing discussed regarding a reserve for any item.”

 

Walters explained that there has been a significant amount of interest in the statue and restaurant items. Expectations for the final sale price of the Giant and other items are unknown.

 

“Whatever it sells at, it’s going to sell. We wouldn’t take on the project otherwise. Grafe auction has been in auction for 65 years. We’re better and stronger with everything we can do.”

 

Walters further explained that interested bidders can check out the items in person prior to closure of the online-only auction at an in-person preview. He will be onsite along with the removal team to answer questions.

 

“We do have a preview the night before the auction on (March) 19th from 3 – 6 p.m., and so people can come in and look around, ask questions,” said Walters.

 

Bidders should be aware that the online-only auction comes with an 18 percent auction tax on top of a 7 percent sales tax, applicable to all items in the auction, which are being sold as-is and without any warranties. This information is prominently listed on the auction website as well as on each individual item available for bidding.

 

The duration of the auction, with final bidding beginning at 10 a.m. on March 20, is about two weeks so as to attract as many bidders as possible. Walters wasn’t sure what time the auction would end on the 20th, but said with the number of items included that it could go all day.

 

“We like to get as many people involved, so we like to have a two-week period to market and get things out there. We have some specialty items that we would like to get out there. People around the country would like to be a part of it,” said Walters.

 

Payment for auction items won is due by noon the day following the auction’s conclusion, and appointments must be made to pick up the items. The buyer must arrange for shipping and removal, and items not removed by the end of the removal period, stated on the website as March 21 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., will be resold or disposed of, according to the auction information.

 

“Very unique and a fun time for the town, for the bidders. The restaurant has been around for a long time. We want it to be successful going forward,” Walters said of the auction.

A grassroots effort dubbed “Save the Gemini Giant,” led by Ryan Jandura, has teamed up with the Wilmington VFW Post 5422 in an attempt to jointly raise enough funds to win the Gemini Giant statue at auction.

The group is accepting donations in person at the VFW and online via a GoFundMe, https://gofund.me/2a8a5c19.

Additionally, the group is selling T-shirts for $20 with $10 of each sale “earmarked for the Giant,” and the VFW Post will be starting a brick paver campaign soon, per a VFW Facebook post.

This joint effort has a unified goal of keeping the Giant in Wilmington, and the VFW will seek landmark status for the Gemini Giant if won.

As of Friday afternoon, the online campaign had nearly 150 donors and had raised $6,824. In the event that they do not raise enough funds to win the Gemini Giant, monies donated will be returned.

Questions regarding the fundraising effort can be directed to Ryan with the Save the Gemini Giant group or Scott with VFW Post 5422 at [email protected].

The Launching Pad restaurant and Gemini Giant that sits on the restaurant’s property has long been the subject of community discussion since the restaurant closed for good in 2022. The previous owners, Holly Barker and Tully Garrett had restored the restaurant and Giant, which had fallen into disrepair. Later, the pair split, with Barker taking on sole ownership.

 

A late-February 2024 update on the restaurant’s Facebook page by former owner Tully Garrett revealed some insight into the public turmoil over the auction currently taking place, where rumors online had implied he still had a stake in the restaurant or that he could stop the auction from taking place.

 

“For the last time, I do not have any financial ties to the Launching Pad Restaurant building nor am I a partner on a personal-business level with Holly Barker for some time now,” Garrett said in the Facebook post.

 

Shortly after the new year in January 2024, the Launching Pad made news cycles when Barker was cited after damaging the restaurant’s property, destroying some of the contents of the restaurant and leaving debris littered on the property. The Wilmington Police cited Barker for litter.

 

Barker lives next door to the restaurant, with the fence separating the two properties painted with graffiti. Barker’s car is often seen parked in front of the Gemini Giant, preventing passers-by from taking unobscured pictures.

 

Garrett and Barker had purchased the restaurant in 2017 with funds from Garrett’s late wife’s life insurance policy and Barker’s 401(k), the statement read. Monies generated from a GoFundMe along with community donations aided in restoring the dilapidated restaurant.

 

Previously, former owner Garrett took to the Facebook page in September 2022, attempting to dispel rumors of a permanent closure and explain the story of the Launching Pad and Gemini Giant’s restoration that took place under their joint ownership.

 

The restaurant subsequently closed for good later that year. In 2023, the Heritage Corridor and the Joliet Historical Society were potential buyers, though sales never came to fruition. The property itself, sans Gemini Giant and restaurant contents, remains for sale.

 

Stephanie Irvine is a freelance reporter.

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