UPDATE! Gemini Giant Staying in Wilmington!

Ryan Jandura, left, organizer of Save The Gemini Giant, shakes hands with Greg Peerbolte, Chief Executive Officer of the Joliet Area Historical Museum. The museum, aided by a $275,000 state grant, bought the Giant at auction and is having it moved to South Island Park, so it will stay in Wilmington. (Photos courtesy of Ryan Jandura)
Ryan Jandura, left, organizer of Save The Gemini Giant, shakes hands with Greg Peerbolte, Chief Executive Officer of the Joliet Area Historical Museum. The museum, aided by a $275,000 state grant, bought the Giant at auction and is having it moved to South Island Park, so it will stay in Wilmington. (Photos courtesy of Ryan Jandura)

By Stephanie Irvine

Beloved Wilmington Route 66 icon the Gemini Giant, which stood outside the Launching Pad restaurant on historic Route 66 since the early 1960s, has sold at auction for a stunning $275,000.

The winning bidder, Customer ID# 213226, turned out to be a friendly bidder.

A press release issued by the City of Wilmington Mayor Ben Dietz announced that the Joliet Area Historical Museum placed the winning bid, which was made possible through a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, supported by state Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights.

The release noted they had been working toward this outcome for over a year, and that the Giant would find its new home on the South Island in Wilmington as part of a new, reimagined Route 66 Park approved earlier in 2024.

The new park would also feature another Route 66 monument not yet disclosed, but Dietz noted that it would be a ”must-have photo op.”

Significant efforts were made by a community-led group, Save The Gemini Giant, which worked in conjunction with the Wilmington VFW Post 5422 to keep the Giant in Wilmington. Save The Gemini Giant was organized by Ryan Jandura.

“We agreed that we should work together to reach the ultimate goal to keep the Gemini Giant on Route 66 and to keep the Gemini Giant in Wilmington,” said Scott Durano of the Wilmington VFW about working with Jandura and the community.

Jandura started a Go Fund Me during the two-week period that the auction was live, which raised just shy of $40,000 at the time of the auction’s close. Along with the community, Jandura and Wilmington VFW collected cash donations, sold brick pavers, along with T-shirts and keychains, to have enough funds to bid on the Giant.

An impromptu bar crawl fundraiser that took place over St.Patrick’s Day weekend raised $5,400 for the cause was organized by Wilmington resident Patty Baskerville. About 40 people participated in the impromptu event.

“We’re just elated at the outcome and how our community came together and supported our small movement to save an iconic statue. And kudos to the VFW for stepping up and helping us get the word out even more,” Baskerville said of keeping the Giant in Wilmington.

Dietz’s press release made a special mention of the efforts made by Jandura, the VFW and the community, before also thanking the American Giants Museum for guidance and the Joliet Area Historical Museum for their “dedication to helping preserve the Route 66 story for years to come.”

“It has been a crazy past two weeks and our volunteers and employees have been pushed to the extreme. We cannot thank them enough,” said Durano of the effort.

Previous owner of the Gemini Giant, Holly Barker, took to the social media platform X to post a two-minute video response after the Giant sold.

“I’ve told the auction company that I don’t want to hear anything. I don’t want to know who bought it. Just give me a total at the end of the day,” said Barker in the video.

Toward the end of the video, Barker threatened lawsuits over the removal of the Giant, but it was unclear on what basis.

“Then I’m going to sue you, your organization, you as an individual. And then I’m going to claim assets. Take it back. And then I’m going to sell it again. Keep running this through and getting my money’s worth out of it. Or if somebody off in the distance bought it, so be it,” said Barker.

The Save the Giant Facebook group quickly amassed 3,500 members in just a few weeks’ time. Those in the group included locals and people from abroad. People shared photos and opined the loss of the Giant before the news was made public that the Muffler Man would be staying in Wilmington.

Grafe Auctions, which hosted the online-only auction, held an in-person preview the day prior to the closure of the auction. Agent Bret Walters explained that they do not disclose the winning bidder of any items, and that it is up to that person if they want to make it known.

“We’ve had people come in, we’ve heard a lot of history about the restaurant itself and the items inside,” Walters said of the preview.

“People seem to have a lot of knowledge about it. Some are local, some are from out of town. It’s been a good preview. Lot of phone calls, a lot of people asking questions. It’s been very positive.”

The next steps are to pay the final invoice, which includes 7 percent sales tax and the 18 percent online premium, and to then schedule removal of the Giant to bring it to its new home, just a little bit further down Route 66. Due to its size, removal of the Giant required a crane.

“In short order, guided by the technical expertise of the American Giants Museum, the Gemini Giant will be carefully taken down, protected, and transported offsite for temporary storage,” the release explained.

At the time of publication, the Giant was already being dismantled and moved. Jandura was present for the removal and live-streamed the extrication to the Save The Giant Facebook page.

“And we have liftoff,” said Jandura.

The bidding of the complete collection of Launching Pad items is expected to continue through the afternoon. At the time of publication, the auction was bidding on item #236 of approximately 500 or so items.

According to the terms of the auction, 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 21st between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., will be resold or disposed of, according to the auction information.

While the auction included items inside the Launching Pad restaurant, it did not include the building itself, which is still listed for $1.4 million. Previously, an offer from the Joliet Historical Society to buy the restaurant including the Gemini Giant totaled $620,000 but was rejected by Barker.

Each year, thousands 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.

“It’s been a whirlwind of a day!,” Jandura said. “In the end, we worked together as a community and city to save the giant and keep him in Wilmington on Route 66!”

Stephanie Irvine is a freelance reporter.

That rocket will have to be pried from the Giant’s cold, dead hands, as he grasps the missile on his way to his new home on South Island in Wilmington.

 

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