A gigantic statue of comic book hero Joe Palooka stands in the little town of Oolitic, Indiana. It seems incongruous today as hardly anyone remembers Joe Palooka, but In 1948—at the dawn of the Cold War—building this statue made perfect sense.
1948 marked the 100th anniversary of the Indiana Limestone Company. With quarries in Bedford, Indiana—“The Limestone Capital of the World”— their stone had been used on buildings throughout the nation, including the Empire State Building and the National Cathedral. A fitting monument was needed to celebrate the company’s role in shaping America.
First appearing in a newspaper comic strip in 1930, Joe Palooka had quickly become a cultural icon. The cartoon followed his adventures as a good-natured boxing champion. By 1932, he had his own radio series; in 1934 his first movie appeared. Joe’s transformation from cultural to patriotic icon happened in 1940 when he was the first comic strip hero to enlist in the US military. He spent the following five years fighting Nazis.
A statue of Joe Palooka was the perfect fit for the Indiana Limestone Company’s celebration. Joe’s creator, Ham Fisher, dedicated the statue in the nearby town of Bedford in July 1948. The statue stared proudly into the distance, his fists clenched. This is a man ready to face any danger. Three weeks before the dedication ceremonies, the first major confrontation of the Cold War—the Berlin Airlift—had begun in earnest. The statue of Joe Palooka captured the zeitgeist perfectly.
But time has moved on. Joe’s popularity waned after the 1950s and the strip was eventually ended in 1984. To stop him being vandalized, the statue was moved to the town of Oolitic in 1980. Today he stands next to the Town Hall. His historic moment and celebrity have long-since passed but Joe still stands proud—staring into the future, ready for whatever may happen.
Know Before You Go
Joe is easily visible and stands on a grassy verge next to the sidewalk. There's on-street parking both sides of the road.